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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Slapton, Northamptonshire (†Peterborough) Mid C.14

Weighing of Souls

Slapton, Weighing of Souls

This painting is on the south arcade wall of the church; there is no extant Doom associated with it, and it was probably a detached and separate subject from the first.

Little is left of St Michael at the left – the lower part of his robe is visible, as are the lower edges of his wings and part of his left arm holding the bar of the balance, but the rest is gone. In the hanging scale-pan at the centre of the photograph is a tiny soul, hands raised in supplication towards the Virgin, who stands to the right, her right hand extended towards the soul and in the act of weighting the balance, possibly by dangling her rosary into it, although the detail is unclear now. Her left arm is bent, hand clasped at her breast, and she holds something which is probably a book.

This is the Virgin in her role as Mother of Mercy, always ready to assist the truly penitent who turned to her, even at this final, crucial moment. Her intervening presence or otherwise in this scene is however very variable – some Weighings of Souls have her present and some do not. Not much can be inferred from dates, either; this is a fairly early example, and Marian devotion (or ‘Mariolatry’ as detractors called it) had, arguably, yet to reach its greatest height when it was painted.

There are patches of red and a little yellow pigment to the right of the Virgin, and more – slightly more coherent and showing what seems to be an open archway with flanking lattice windows – higher up on the wall and further to the right. These are of the same date as the Weighing, and were probably contextual scenes belonging to it, perhaps the apartments of Heaven into which the saved soul is about to pass.

There are many other paintings at Slapton, including a Warning Against Idle Gossip, St Christopher, St Eloi shoeing the possessed horse , the Suicide of Judas, St Francis Receiving the Stigmata, the Annunciation and a rare Mass of St Gregory.

Website for Slapton church