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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Old Weston, Northamptonshire (†Ely) Early C.14

The Beheading of John the Baptist
Wheel of Fortune? (fragment)

Old Weston, Beheading of John the Baptist

The Beheading, or ‘Decollation’ of John the Baptist is not commonly found, but there are one or two examples, some of them, like Pickering in north Yorkshire, very elaborate. This example is however quite simple, with a castellated building, presumably the prison into which John was cast, placed centrally. John kneels in the doorway, his hands clasped in prayer and eyes closed as he prepares to receive the death-blow. His executioner stands to the left, wearing a longish parti-coloured tunic with a belt, and raising the sword above his head. To the left is a structure apparently made of brick (as opposed to what seems to be stone for the main prison building). At the far right, something else, perhaps more buildings, of which the Old Weston painter was evidently fond (SS Catherine & Margaret, Old Weston) has now faded into invisibility.

There is an unusual painted border above the painting – it is scrollwork of a kind, but with exceptionally large, pear-shaped scrolls blocked in with colour to give solid shapes rather than the more usual curvilinear stem-and-foliage effect. This in turn is enclosed within two unusually broad horizontal bands at top and bottom. Above this again is the lower edge of another subject featuring a large broad-rimmed wheel with red ochre spokes. It might be a Wheel of Fortune, as at Ilketshall in Suffolk, showing people, often kings and other worthies, ascending and descending, according to the turns of Fortune. Or it could be a Wheel of the Virtues or the Seven Deadly Sins, as at Padbury in Buckinghamshire. Certainly someone is apparently suspended from it, legs dangling, at the left, but given the incomplete state of the subject it is impossible to do more than hazard guesses. An object to the left, looking rather like a priest’s stole with a fringed hem, simply complicates matters further.

Website for St Swithun’s, Old Weston