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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Thornham Parva, Suffolk (†St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) Late C.14

The Adoration of the Magi/Shepherds

Adoration of the Magi/Shepherds, Thornham Parva

There are many paintings at Thornham Parva, including a faint, fragmentary but very interesting Life of St Edmund on the north wall. On the south wall is a part of a Life of the Virgin/Infancy cycle, from which some scenes remain. Thornham Parva is justly famous for its great painted retable, the equal of many produced for royal patrons, but the paintings on the walls of the church have been overshadowed as a result.

The photograph shows the clearest part of the south wall, with at the left a shepherd in rustic cloak and hat and probably holding a crook. The fact that he is facing away from the other figures visible here confirms that this was part of a separate (and rare) painting of the Adoration of the Shepherds. Apart from a few fragments, the Magi themselves have disappeared, but Mary is shown crowned and seated on a throne, with the similarly crowned Christ Child seated on her lap. He seems to be holding a squarish object which is probably one of the Magi’s gifts. The best comparison is with Black Bourton, although that is earlier. Other scenes from the cycle include the Visitation, now hidden by a later musicians’ gallery, and the Nativity itself, also barely visible but with a rare glimpse of the Virgin in bed (there is a much better example of this at Wissington, also in Suffolk), along with the Life of St Edmund already mentioned.