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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Corby Glen, Linconshire (†Lincoln) c.1325

King Herod, with the Magi and other scenes from the Infancy of Christ

King Herod (scene from an Infancy cycle, Corby Glen

In this painting, one of several remaining at Corby Glen, Herod sits in his pomp on an elaborate throne, crowned and brandishing his huge curved sword or falchion. His legs are crossed, variously a sign of authority, or of a tyrant – in Herod’s case, either or both may be implied. He raises his left hand, perhaps to acknowledge the two approaching (or possibly departing) Magi (the third has gone) also painted on the south wall. The most remarkable thing about him, perhaps, is his shoes, with their exaggeratedly long pointed toes. Such ridiculously extended shoes were the height of fashion in the early 14th century and thus, probably, the painter has drawn attention to Herod’s vanity, and the fact that practicality need not concern him overmuch.

Journey of the Magi, with King Herod and other scenes, Corby Glen

The fashionability aspect probably accounts for the fact that the two remaining Magi also have shoes of a similar length, although they are less elaborate than Herod’s. The two are, as so often, differentiated by costume and by apparent age; the first (photo, left) of them in a long robe of the kind worn by middle-aged or elderly men.

This senior Magus holds his gift, in the form of a lidded vessel, and a speech-scroll, indecipherable now. The second Magus (photo, below right) also holds his gift and has a similarly unreadable speech-scroll. His youth is emphasised by his almost risibly short doublet, certainly the shortest worn by any Magus (or indeed any other figure) featured on this site. Both Magi have crowns, and both their garments are decorated with ermine, or vair, to signify their royal status.

Magus, Journey of the Magi, Corby Glen

These royal and authoritative figures must have seemed exotic indeed to the farmers and fishermen of Corby Glen. More recognisable and familiar figures are also here, though, in the shape of the shepherd and his sheep also painted on the wall.

Shepherd and sheep, Nativity scenes, Corby Glen

The shepherd’s thick robe, made for winter outdoors, the crook held over his shoulder with lantern suspended from it, and above all, the heavy clogs on his feet, provide a massive contrast to the sumptuously-clad royalty elsewhere on the wall. He must have been a reassuring figure, and he is certainly an endearing one.

The paintings of the St Anne teaching the Virgin to read, and the Nativity at Corby Glen have been on this site for several years, and the addition of this page completes the Nativity/Infancy sequence. A Warning to Swearers and a Doom are still to come.

Website of St John the Evangelist, Corby Glen