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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Eaton, Norfolk (†Norwich) C.14/15

The Warning Against Idle Gossip

Warning against Idle Gossip, Eaton, Norfolk

This painting is above what is now a door at the west end of the nave leading to a modern extension. The two gossiping women sit at a trestle table, heads together, lounging across the table as if in boredom. A rosary dangles from the languid right hand of the woman on the left.

Two standing devils flank the women – the one on the right, whose wings and tail are fairly clear, may well be Titivillus, collector of unconsidered syllables ‘dropped’ by inattentive women at Mass. A rectangular tablet beside his foot has various letters still visible on it, but none of these make sense, or add up to a coherent word.

I suspect that the women may once have been surrounded by several devils – the original plaster has gone from the area above the painting, but something that looks like devilish hair can be seen beside the head of the woman on the left, and it is not part of her quite conventional medieval headdress. And on the right of the surviving painting are some faded details which were probably another devil or devils.

The table itself is quite surprising, and it might in itself raise questions about the seating arrangements in medieval churches. Seating was provided in churches from the later fifteenth century onward, and most if not all of the Gossips in these pages are clearly seated – mostly on rough-hewn benches. But the table, which would clearly have taken up a good deal of space, is something I have not seen before in an English wallpainting. It is an interesting addition.

† in page heading = Diocese