Skip to Content

Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Duxford (St John), Cambridgeshire (*CCT) C.15

The Warning to Sabbath Breakers?

Duxford, Warning to Sabbath Breakers

I am far from certain that this is in fact a Warning to Sabbath Breakers – there is simply not enough of it left for certainty. But on the balance of probabilities it seems to me likely. There has been something in the now blank centre of this painting, most probably a central standing figure. I think that this was a figure of Christ – what looks like a head and shoulders appears about one-third of the way down.

Some of the objects arranged around the centre are identifiable. At the upper left is a pole-like implement with two short opposed handles halfway down its length. It looks like a flail for threshing corn. Below this is a square, frame-like construction which could be one of several things, perhaps the frame of a seed-drill, which would have nail-like teeth attached to it and be dragged, weighted with a heavy stone, behind a horse. In the Trés Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry¹ that is being done with an implement similar to this. Below this and closer to the centre is another flail or threshing-tool with two projections on a long pole, and below this at the bottom of the painting is a cart-wheel. Moving right, there is a short stake-like object, with an unmistakable spade leaning beside it. Moving upwards on the right hand side comes the head of a rake, with what is certainly a scythe above, and above that a fairly clear griddle-like implement which may be another seed-drill or harrow. At the top centre is what might be another scythe-blade. All the objects here look like agricultural implements to me.

None of which, of course, identifies this indisputably as a Warning to Sabbath-Breakers. The possibility (though an increasingly remote one, I think) remains that it is a Consecration of Labour, which is briefly discussed in the Introduction to these subjects (links to it above and below). Opinions are welcome.

There are many other paintings, most of them sadly fragmentary, at Duxford, and some of them are very early indeed. But one of the better-preserved subjects, the Martyrdom of St Margaret is now on the site.

¹The Duke of Berry’s Book of Hours, ed. F.Hattinger, Hallwag, Berne, 1962, Calendar for October, Plate X [1A Selection of the paintings]
† in page heading = Diocese