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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

North Cove, Suffolk (†St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) C.14/15


Doom, North Cove

The central portion of the Doom at North Cove, showing Christ in Judgement, with the (bare-breasted) Virgin at the left and John the Baptist to the right, pleading with arms raised in intercession. The spotted mantle, held open to show the wound in Christ’s side, may be intended for ermine, and the swirling decorative whorls around his legs are probably an attempt to suggest clouds. He sits on a rainbow, and below his feet are four angels with blue wings sounding trumpets – that of the angel at the extreme right is clearest.

Below the trumpeting angels, the dead, the coffins (they look like stone sarcophagi) of three of them fairly clear, are about to rise. The probable Donor of all the paintings in the church – in other words the patron who paid the artist to make them – is shown quite alone on the opposite wall, resurrected, sitting up in her tomb, and looking at the Judgement taking place across the chancel (see below).

Doom, North Cove, detail, Virgin with bared breasts

At the left is an enlarged detail of the bare-breasted Virgin, crowned and with a very large halo, reminding her son of her nurturing by her gesture, much like her slightly later counterpart at Ickleton. The stylistic differences between the two are instructive as evidence of the individual personal approaches, treatments, and indeed skills, of different painters.

Doom, North Cove, detail, John the Baptist

Opposite the Virgin and below at the left are enlarged details of John the Baptist (possibly John the Evangelist, but this is less likely), and an angel with Instruments of the Passion – the spear at least is here, and possibly the sponge as well. On the right of the photograph, the decorative detail – a grape and vine stem pattern surrounding all the paintings at North Cove – shows well, but it is seen to best effect in the Passion Cycle, particularly the Harrowing of Hell.

Further below and to the right of John, St Peter, or perhaps an angel, standing at the left, welcomes souls. Two of them at the extreme right seem to be embracing each other.

Doom, North Cove, detail, St Peter & Saved Doom, North Cove, detail, St Michael & Damned [34KB]

Below this, further to the right still, and shown below at the right, St Michael, sword drawn and threateningly raised, drives the damned away. The detail is very faint now, but it is relatively unusual in English wallpainting to see Michael in this role, the job being done usually by devils.

But there is no discernible Mouth of Hell in this Doom, probably because across the aisle on the North Wall is the graphically-painted Harrowing of Hell, part of the Passion Cycle. In a quite narrow space, one Hell was no doubt thought to be enough.

woman donor, resurrected, North Cove

A woman, rising from her coffin and still partly wrapped in her shroud, raises her hands in wonder. Opposite her, on the south wall of the chancel, is the Doom, with Christ in Judgement, Mary and John and the coffined dead below. We do not know for certain who the woman is, but she has been singled out and painted, quite alone, on the wall opposite the Doom proper, and there must be a reason for this. Moreover she holds, or indicates with her right hand, a scroll. It is unreadable now, but it might at one time have held an inscription identifying her. It seems probable, as has been suggested, that she is a lady of the Gerningham (or Jerningham) family, who were the local lords of the manor and probably built the church at North Cove very early in the 13th century. She may be in this special position as the donor – the person who paid for the extensive painting in the chancel.

This kind of active piety was common among medieval women of the lower aristocracy and gentry classes, and East Anglia had its fair share of them – Margery Kempe in King’s Lynn, the Lady Richeldis who founded Walsingham – even the redoubtable Paston women. Perhaps this anonymous lady is another.