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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

South Leigh, Oxfordshire (†Oxford) C.15


Doom, South Leigh, detail, centre

This Doom in the traditional position above the chancel arch is unusual in the absence from it of the judging Christ In some cases this is because the roof has been lowered and the upper part of the Doom lost, but that does not seem to have happened here. Instead the human drama of the Resurrection General on earth is concentrated on, with two scrolls at the top centre, the one on the left still quite readable and bearing the words ‘Venite, benedicti patris mei’ [Come, ye blessed of my Father] and the other to the right reading ‘Discedite, maledicti’ [Depart, ye cursed].

Two angels with trumpets swoop down to announce the End and the dead, many of them women, rise from their graves. Those on the left look surprised but generally tranquil, while those on the right – a man with his hands raised in horror and a woman with her head in her hands – are already despairing, perhaps at the sight of a yellow devil, accompanied by a coiled serpent (just above the edge of the chancel arch) pushing chained souls towards Hell.

Doom, detail, the Damned

Left is a detail of the right-hand side showing the chained damned. There are not enough legs to match the number of heads or torsos shown here, but the upper classes are well represented, with a king and queen (second and third left), several tonsured priests, and a bishop with a mitre at the right. More yellow devils pull them into Hell, dragging them along a black surface with dull yellowish flames rising from it. The red Mouth of Hell (detail below) looms on the return of the chancel arch wall at the right.

Doom, South Leigh, detail, Heaven

The aftermath in Heaven, shown at the eastern end of the north wall (the extreme left-hand edge of the Doom proper can be glimpsed at the right). Carefully painted architecture of Heaven, with angels on the towers, forms the background, in front of which St Peter, his key held prominently, welcomes souls. Two of them are crowned and all stand on a golden pavement surrounded by undulating flowery hills. (The figure holding a shield at the right is a carved corbel projecting from the wall, not a painted detail).

Doom, South Leigh, detail, Hell

A grimmer welcome awaits the damned, at the eastern end of the south wall. Gleeful devils, a large red one grinning maniacally at the bottom of the scene, and a yellow one within the Mouth of Hell itself, haul on the ends of the chains securing the damned to pull them into Hell. A dragon, grinning like the devils, but otherwise showing a remarkable resemblance to some of Dürer’s Apocalyptic beasts (not after all far removed in date from this painting) is shown protruding from Hell. As in the main picture, murky flames rise from the black background – Miltonic ‘darkness visible’ in 15th century rural Oxfordshire.

The addition of another painting, of the seldom-found saint Clement, means that all the paintings at South Leigh, including the Seven Deadly Sins and the Weighing of Souls are now on the site.

Click on the images to see them larger.