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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Slapton, Northamptonshire (†Peterborough)
Late C.14/Early C.15

St Francis Receiving the Stigmata

St Francis receiving the Stigmata, Slapton

Images of St Francis of Assisi in the English Church are extremely rare. He is preaching to the birds at Wissington, and there is said to be a (later) painting of him at Little Kimble in Buckinghamshire, but apart from these I know of no others. According to Frank Kendon (Bibliography) there were 8 in 1883. This image, which probably dates from the 15th century, shows him receiving the Stigmata during his vision on Mount Averna in 1224:

“…as he was praying on a slope of the mountain, lo, he beheld a seraph with six wings resplendent with fire…When with his exceedingly swift flight he arrived in the air at a point near the man of God, the image of a crucified man appeared behind the wings…soon thereafter the signs of nails, as he had seen them an instant before on the image of the crucified man, began to appear on his hands and feet. On his right side, he had the red scar of a wound as though he had been pierced by a lance.”¹

There are no wings visible here, and the image is a straightforward one of Christ on the Cross at the left, with black (probably once another colour) lines still partly discernible radiating from the crucified figure and meeting Francis at the various points on his body where his Stigmata appeared. A deliberate decision was probably made to simplify the iconography to avoid confusion, because there is some evidence from literature to suggest that a crucified figure with wings could be and was misinterpreted in the English Middle Ages.²

I do not know of any specific Franciscan connection with Slapton, but the immediate context for this and the other 15th century paintings there is the upsurge of lay piety in the period. The Slapton Mass of St Gregory or Image of Pity is also one of the less commonly found examples of this.

The many other paintings at Slapton include the Annunciation, the Weighing of Souls, St Christopher, the Suicide of Judas, the Warning against Idle Gossip and St Eloi shoeing the possessed horse.

Website for Slapton church

¹ Quoted here from The Life and Times of St Francis, A.Ghilardi, trs St Attanasio, Hamlyn, 1967. No specific reference is given, but this account is probably taken from one of the early biographies of Francis.
² For example an anti-Franciscan satire, no.59 in RT Davies, Medieval English Lyrics, Faber, 1966.