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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Corby Glen, Linconshire (†Lincoln). c.1325

St Anne Teaching the Virgin to Read

St Anne teaching the Virgin to read, Corby Glen

One of the clearer paintings in the church, this subject is on the north wall at Corby Glen. It has its origin in the considerable body of apocryphal tales about the girlhood of the Virgin and about her life and death generally.

The Virgin’s mother St Anne is the taller figure at the left, dressed like a pious 14th century lady and with her left arm around her daughter. The Virgin, dressed in a robe which was once blue, haloed like St Anne and with her hair loose, is reading not from a conventional book, but from something that looks like an alphabet primer or horn-book used to teach medieval children their letters. She is probably now the youngest Virgin painted in the English parish church¹, the few scenes that remain of her own birth being barely identifiable.

A very few other examples of this subject remain. One, newly on the site, is at Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire, and another, soon to have its own page, is visible in the photograph of St Eloi & the Possessed Horse at Slapton in Northamptonshire. But it is easy to confuse the scene with paintings of the Virgin and Child, and some paintings, for example a (forthcoming) faint one in a window-splay at Little Tey in Essex, have been misidentified as such. Corby Glen itself has a painting of the Virgin & Child at the Nativity, but a more useful one for comparison between the two subjects is the Virgin & Child at Wickhamford in Worcestershire.

Website of St John the Evangelist, Corby Glen

¹ No longer true. The Virgin in a painting of the same subject at Bradwell Abbey is clearly a much younger child.