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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Old Idsworth (†Portsmouth) C.14

St Peter & St Paul

“Two massy keys he bore of metals twain
The golden opes, the iron shuts amain”
[John Milton, Lycidas, ll.110-111]
St Peter with keys, Idsworth St Paul with veiled hands, Idsworth

St Peter, holding two very large keys and vested appropriately as a bishop, is in a left-hand window splay on the south wall at Idsworth. It is a great pity that his facial features have been blurred into blankness by centuries of sunlight, because this painting, its companion piece below, and indeed all the paintings at Idsworth are the work of an artist of considerable talent – the elaborate canopy under which the saint stands is also very well painted.

As is often the case, Peter is paired with St Paul, both being regarded as founders of the Church for reasons discussed briefly on the page for a painting of the two saints at Black Bourton in Oxfordshire; they are also found together at Beckley, again in Oxfordshire, and, further east, at Selling in Kent.

None of these, though, match the Idsworth paintings for sheer artistic quality.

In the opposite window splay is St Paul, holding a book (possibly his own Epistles) in his carefully veiled left hand. (For another example of veiled hands, in this case God’s own, and a little more on their significance, have a look at Easby and Wensley, both in north Yorkshire.) Paul is as usual bald (or nearly) and bearded, and in his right hand he holds a sword – not by the hilt, as might be expected, but by grasping the blade. A sword was of course the instrument of Paul’s martyrdom, but whether this rather odd way of holding it has any significance is difficult to say.

At all events, Paul looks dignified, even aloof or disdainful – all of which makes the blurring of Peter’s features the more regrettable. It would have been interesting to see how this gifted painter portrayed him.

There are two angels painted on the arch over the east window at Old Idsworth, and these will be here later this year, completing coverage of the paintings in the church. The paintings of the Hairy Anchorite and part of the story of John the Baptist have been on-site for some time.

Website for St Hubert's. Old Idsworth