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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

The Saints

Introduction & Links to individual examples

[Some of the relics owned by Edward III, 1332]
“A chest from York in which are four crystal vessels enclosed in silver containing divers relics, namely, in one [part] of the chasuble and alb of St Edmund[sic] the Confessor, and in another a bone of the arm of St Amphibalis, in the third [some] of the blood of St George. Another chest of wood covered with cloth in which are two crystal vessels enclosed in silver gilt containing the relics of Stephen in the one, and in the other a tooth of St Adrian…A great bone of St Geronimus.” ¹

Well-known and more obscure saints jostle together in King Edward’s box of relics. (St Amphibalis was the name given to the priest sheltered by St Alban, then himself a pagan. St Geronimus, who may be intended for one of several other saints with a similar name, eludes me completely). The point is that although the cult of many saints did not spread beyond a local area associated with them, a saint did not need to be English, or well-known, to be honoured by English people either by veneration of their relics or painting them in the church. St Vedast is shown in stained glass at Long Melford and Blythburgh in Suffolk – he was a sixth century bishop of Arras in northern France and almost certainly never came to England. Likewise St Elizabeth of Hungary, who had so far as I know no personal connection with England, is painted on a screen in Tor Brian (Torbryan), Devon. But such was the nature of the international cult of saints in the Middle Ages – St Apollonia helped to cure toothache and is still found on East Anglian screens as a result, St Margaret of Antioch helped pregnant women. In this sense, all saints were everywhere. As if to underline this point, the infant saint Cyriacus (Quiriacus, Cyr) has now emerged at Hardwick in Cambridgeshire, albeit in the form of a dream-image.

¹ BM Additional MS 35181 fol. 8v. In: Edith Rickert, Chaucer’s World, Oxford, 1948, pp. 389-90