Skip to Content

Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Pickworth, Lincolnshire (†Lincoln) c.1380

The Three Living & The Three Dead/Weighing of Souls

Three Living & Three Dead/Weighing of Souls, Pickworth

This juxtaposition of two separate subjects gives an interesting insight into medieval thinking. At the top are the three dead figures from a painting of the Three Living and the Three Dead (the Three Living are further to the left and very obscure now, but there is a photograph below). The skeletal dead stand frontally and rather formally, arms dangling. Most of the upper part of the central figure has disappeared below the replaced roof-beam, and all are very faded. Four stylised trees separate the figures and the background is ‘diapered’ with a small rosette print.

The diapering continues into the spandrel below, where there is a faded painting of the Weighing of Souls. There is also a Doom at Pickworth, but a conscious decision seems to have been made to paint the Weighing here on the north wall. I suspect that this has been deliberately engineered to reinforce the message of the Morality above – after death, which may be unexpected, Judgement will follow inescapably. Depictions of the Three Living and the Three Dead were never intended as comments on a carpe diem theme – a message about enjoying life while you have it – but rather injunctions to be spiritually prepared at all times for death and its aftermath.

Pickworth, Three Living & Three Dead, detail, Three Living

The Virgin Mary, however, is always ready to succour the truly penitent soul, and she is doing so here as she stands on the right, her hand extended towards the pan of the balance in the centre. St Michael, now badly faded like the Virgin, holds the dramatically tilted bar of the balance. For the sake of completeness, I have included a photograph of the Three Living (left), although it is in a desperately faded state. All three figures were originally shown as crowned kings, and all three are young – their very short tunics, of the kind worn by fashionable young men, are still just visible. Something else was painted below in the spandrel as in the case of the Three Living, but it has now disappeared almost completely and is beyond identification. There is a photograph of it taken by Clive Rouse some years ago displayed in the church, but he too was unable to identify the subject.

As well as the Doom mentioned above, Pickworth has an Ascension featuring the Virgin Mary, other battered paintings, some post-Reformation painted texts and a headless but very rare painted medieval statue thought to be Mary Magdalene. I will include the best of these as soon as I can.

For other Weighings of Souls paintings follow this link.

Website for St Andrew’s, Pickworth

† in page heading = Diocese