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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Weare Giffard, Devon (†Exeter) early C.15

Martyrdom of St Edmund

Martyrdom of St Edmund, Weare Giffard

The painting is identified in the church booklet as St Sebastian, but this is unlikely in England, and St Edmund was hugely popular even in areas remote from his East Anglian kingdom. It is true that he has no crown, but neither do his counterparts at Bishopsbourne in Kent and Troston in Suffolk.

The saint stands centrally, against a background heavily diapered with ‘peacock’s eye’ decoration. He is tied to a tree, the roots and branches of which show above and below his figure. Virtually all detail of this has gone, but many arrows piercing his body show faintly, much as they do at Stoke Dry in Leicestershire. Two archers flank him, both wearing fashionable very short doublets and taking aim with their longbows. What look like large and prominent purses slung from their belts might possibly be quivers for arrows, but it is very hard to be sure about this.

Still more puzzling are the colours used here. The strong blue-green of the doublets, the purses and, rather incongruously, Edmund’s halo, is very unusual, and the painting might have been retouched in post-medieval times. But the blue pigment could equally well suggest that although this is not a particularly accomplished painting, its size and the elaborate diapering, along with the use of costly pigments, made it an expensive commision, more impressive perhaps in its original state than it appears now.