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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Salisbury (St Thomas), Wiltshire (†Salisbury [Sarum]) Late C.15

The Adoration of the Magi

Adoration of the Magi, Salisbury (St Thomas)

A companion piece to the painting of the Visitation and the Annunciation in the Lady Chapel of the church. Like those, it is very high on the wall, and hard to photograph.

There is an un-English look about the painting, which might mean that it has been copied – from a German or Flemish manuscript illustration, I suspect. Scholars in the past have suggested a Dutch or Flemish source for the Doom in the church, so this is likely.

All three Magi are grouped at the left, the youngest, in a short tunic and red hose, standing. One of the others kneels, and a third stands behind, still wearing his red and (once) gold crown. Mary, with Joseph behind her, kneels similarly at the right.

Christ Child inrayed aureole, Adoration of the Magi, Salisbury St Thomas

The Christ Child is in the centre (photo, right), with, in the main picture, the ox and the ass just visible looking on in the background. He is painted in an aureole of rayed light, in accordance with a convention established by the popularising of the visions of St Bridget of Sweden, in one of which she describes how she saw the Virgin Mary worshipping her infant Son, who radiated an ‘ineffable light and splendour’¹. The crown below him has probably been placed there in reverence by the kneeling king, and may represent the gold element of the Magi’s gifts.

The Annunciation at Salisbury St Thomas will be on here soon, and the Doom will join it eventually.

Website for St Thomas Becket, Salisbury

¹St Bridget of Sweden (1307-73). In 1370 she went to Bethlehem, and her vision of the Incarnation dates from then. One of the earliest painted examples is a late 14th century fresco in Sta. Maria Novella, Florence.