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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire (†St Albans) C.15

Christ in Majesty

Houghton Conquest, Hampshire, Christ in Majesty

It is darkened with age and badly faded in parts now, but this is an example of a subject rare in the English parish church. Paintings of Christ in Majesty obviously have much in common with the typical English Doom, but the narrative and dramatic element is mostly lacking – there is no sign here of souls rising from graves, the saved and the damned, the devils, St Peter, or St Michael. Here the emphasis is on symbolic aspects of the once-despised but now powerfully enthroned Christ.

Christ is seated on a rainbow, as in most paintings of the Doom, and his feet rest on the orb of the world, but his entire figure, with hands raised to show his wounds, is framed within a mandorla, the almond-shaped aureole that came into Christian art from an early date.

A scroll, now unreadable, curves across his body. On either side of him is an angel with Instruments of the Passion; the one on the right has the Pillar of the Scourging.

Apart from these, no other details can be made out, with the exception of the elaborate star-shaped frame with something rectangular inside at the lower right. Caiger-Smith¹ suggested that this too might contain Instruments of the Passion, and that is certainly possible. There is another, apparently identical, star-emblem in the south aisle, but the hint of a figure standing at the left beside this one may be illusory rather than real – it is a perennial problem with badly damaged or faded paintings.

Houghton Conquest also has a very faded St Christopher and some post-Reformation texts.

¹ Caiger-Smith, English Medieval Mural Paintings, p.130