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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

West Somerton, Norfolk, (†Norwich) 1327-77?

Doom (detail, central area)

“…sceptre and crown shall tumble down
And in the dust be equal made with the poor crooked scythe and spade…” ¹
Doom, West Somerton [121KB]

The remains of a Doom on the South Wall. It was found in the nineteenth century, presumably below the dull pink distemper which appears as a background here and is found on other walls in the church. Apart from a few traces of green there is no other colour; the heads arranged in a row at the bottom have lost all their original pigment and stand out as whitish silhouettes against the pink, with features such as eyes and noses still just visible in some cases. From the left, a king, a bishop wearing a mitre, a queen, a woman with long hair, another figure with praying hands pointing straight upwards but unidentifiable headgear (he is probably the knight in armour of the reign of Edward III referred to in the church leaflet), a pope wearing the Papal tiara and a second woman with long loose hair all entreat the judging Christ to save them.

The two ‘ends’ of the rainbow on which Christ sits are visible, as is his left foot and a white disc, probably representing the orb of the world. The central part of the painting is shown above, but there is another long-haired woman further left beyond the crowned king, the lower part of a kneeling figure, and fragmentary details of what is probably another figure, possibly another angel, standing beside her. Similar details – of a kneeling figure accompanied by a standing figure – appear at the other side. The two kneeling people are probably the Virgin and St John. The whole scene is flanked by two trumpeting angels, one of which is pictured on the Doom Contents page. The quality of the painting is very high, and it must have been very impressive indeed when first painted.

¹James Shirley (1596-1666), The Contention of Ajax and Achilles I,iii