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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

West Kingsdown, Kent (†Canterbury) Later C.12

Cain and Abel

Cain & Abel offer their sacrifices, West Kingsdown, Kent

The story of Cain and Abel seems never to have been common anywhere, but here is a rare and very early example from West Kingsdown in Kent. It is in a window splay on the south wall of the church. The rejection of Cain's sacrifice is dealt with firSt In the photograph at the right the piled-up heap in the centre is a fire, with pointed flames issuing from it. Abel stands at the left, holding a lamb – his sacrificial offering – while Cain is at the right holding a bound bundle of sheaves of corn to represent the sacrifice rejected by God.

Cain murders Abel with the ass's jawbone, West Kingsdown, Kent

In the opposite window splay, and shown above at the left here, is the murder itself. Cain raises up the accurately painted ass’s jawbone – which clearly made a formidable weapon. Abel has fallen to the ground, and a few confused details under Cain’s feet may represent his figure, but it is very hard to be sure. Likewise, some very vague details at the top of the arched space may have shown God questioning Cain about his brother’s whereabouts, but nothing coherent is visible now.

It may seem strange that so few examples of this subject, with all its drama and potential for painterly imagination, remain: one possibility is that English history so often amounts to a catalogue of fratricide and family conflict that painters and churchmen preferred to avoid reproducing such things on their church walls, and/or that those arbiters of taste, the Victorian restorers, were downright repulsed by the story. Manuscript illustrators evidently had fewer qualms, and there is a link to an example of a manuscript illustration analogue of the murder of Abel at the bottom of this page. Broken link fixed.

† in page heading = Diocese