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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Genesis Scenes

Introduction & Links

The apparent lack of interest in the scenes from the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament) shown by medieval painters in the English Parish church has been noted by everyone writing about the subject. Even dramatic incidents – such as the Flood – seemingly offering good opportunities for graphic treatment were, on the face of it, ignored. There is a painted Commandments Board at Moulton St Mary in Norfolk showing the Ark on Mount Ararat, but that is probably 17th century. At Friskney in Lincolnshire on the South wall the Offering of Melchisidech and Manna in the Wilderness are recorded, and there are 19th century reproductions of them in volumes of Archaeologia. JC Wall’s drawing of Manna in the Wilderness is now reproduced on the page for the Last Supper at Friskney. The heavenly provision of Manna was a ‘type’¹ of the Last Supper and is found as such in manuscript illustration particularly, but it is very exceptional in wall painting.

Some of the few subjects from Genesis (along with Moses from Exodus) are listed in the table below. Others will follow but there are not many still in existence. The Creation itself is so rare as to be non-existent in the English parish church so far as I know – but then it is rare everywhere, perhaps because it needs a Matthew Paris, Michelangelo, or William Blake to do it justice. But a painting from Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire which shows either the Creation of the Animals or Adam Naming the Beasts is now (July, 2004) on the site. The Fall and Expulsion, along with accompanying scenes, have such obvious moral force that it is not surprising to find them painted in the local church. According to Keyser’s List (see Bibliography) there were 12 examples of ‘Adam and Eve’ at the end of the 19th century, but that figure was probably out-of-date even then. Certainly their number has dwindled to around half that now.

Click here for a MS image showing Cain murdering Abel from the Morgan Library.

¹ Biblical typology – the process whereby events in the Jewish Bible or Old Testament were believed to prefigure those in the Christian Scriptures – is found throughout the Middle Ages. As late as the 16th century, Eleanora Ippolita Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino, had a Book of Hours with typological scenes including Manna in the Wilderness/Last Supper. [Bodleian MS Douce 29, fols.55-6]. More information on typology and the Biblia Pauperum is online at The Internet Biblia Pauperum