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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Croughton, Northamptonshire (†Peterborough) C.14

Weighing of Souls

Weighing of Souls, Croughton

This very fine Weighing of Souls is one of the rare near-intact survivals among the paintings at Croughton, with St Michael and the Virgin Mary both still showing reasonably well.

Michael is at the left, with the faded remains of a small horned devil apparently crouching beside him. Michael holds the scales in front of him. He is a sumptuous figure, and must have been even more so before his right-hand wing (left-hand as you look at it) lost its colour. His other wing, though, is resplendent in gold, with a good many of its individual feathers carefully delineated. This may, conceivably, be gold leaf, although I think this is unlikely – just as medieval painters were exceptionally skilled at faking a rich blue pigment in default of the cripplingly expensive ultramarine, so they were also very good at making gold pigment look like genuine, laid-on, gilding. Only scientific tests on the pigmented areas could confirm or refute this. And the tests themselves are usually well beyond the financial means of English rural churches today. They order this matter better in France – and indeed almost everwhere else in Continental Europe.

At the right of the photograph stands the Virgin Mary, in the act of interceding for the now-vanished soul in the also vanished scale pan. Little or nothing can be seen of the act of intercession, but Mary may once have had her hand, or possibly her rosary, on the balance-bar. She has a crown and a halo similar to Michael’s. Her long golden hair falls loose on her shoulders to signify her perpetual virginity. Her figure has suffered more damage than Michael’s, but it would once have been equally impressive.

The painting is on the north wall, beside the chancel arch. There are several others in the church, survivals of a once complete Life of the Virgin/Christological cycle. Some of these scenes (for example the Flight into Egypt) have been on this site for several years. Many others have deteriorated beyond salvaging, but some have survived in a less danaged state and I am hopeful of including a few more of these in the future – the Harrowing of Hell, for example. Watch this space.