Skip to Content

Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

South Leigh, Oxfordshire (Oxford) C.15

St Clement

St Clement, South Leigh, Oxfordshire

Clement was a genuine historical figure, an early pope who died in around 100CE. His Epistle to the Corinthians is accepted as an authentic document, but it was evidently the story of his martyrdom at the hands of the Romans that appealed most to the artists of the Middle Ages. He is said to have been exiled to the Crimea on account of his preaching activities in Rome. Forced labour in the Crimean mines did not deter him, and, like Moses, he miraculously opened up a spring of water, which made him many more converts.

For this he was condemned, and martyred by being thrown into the sea with an anchor around his neck, whereupon angels built him a tomb on the sea-bed. This was uncovered once a year by an exceptionally low tide.

Clement is patron of lighthouse-keepers, and he appears on several East Anglian screens, but the South Leigh painting is evidence of his popularity in inland areas as well. The saint stands under an elaborate canopy in full pontifical regalia, including three-branched pastoral staff and triple tiara. His anchor is on the right, apparently attached to his right wrist This is the only wallpainting of St Clement in England known to me (another, recorded at Lingfield in Surrey is long gone) although there may once have been many more.

The South Leigh painting, like all those in the church, has been much restored; it is careful, rather than highly accomplished work, but it shares the taste for decorative framing found in all the painted scenes in the church. The very lively Doom, the Weighing of Souls and the Seven Deadly Sins have been on the site for some time.

Website for St James the Great, South Leigh