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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Weston Longville (†Norwich) C.14

St John the Evangelist

St John the Evangelist, Weston Longville

Only the upper part of this painting of St John the Evangelist is now left on the south side beside the chancel arch at Weston Longville. In the corresponding position at the north side is John the Baptist, who is very faint now.

The painting has been restored, but St John was probably always an impressive figure. He is shown here holding the most interesting of his attributes, a poisoned cup or chalice. According to his legend, John was ordered to drink from the cup as a test of his faith by the High Priest of Diana at Ephesus. Two condemned prisoners had already done so and died. John drank and survived unharmed, further demonstrating his power by restoring the two poisoned men to life. More often than not in painted versions of the story, a serpent or small dragon is shown emerging from the cup, to make the meaning intelligible. Here indeed is a small dragon, apparently uttering a cry of despair or frustration, although it has to be said that it looks more endearing than malevolent. Some of that may be due to restoration, but the creature does not look anything like so sinister as many others I have seen, particularly in paintings of St John on East Anglian screens. A change in sensibilities since the Middle Ages is probably also operating – the whole painting has an slight but inescapable cartoonish air.

Apart from this painting and that of John the Baptist, Weston Longville also has a very remarkable fourteenth century Tree of Jesse, highly praised by EW Tristram. The subject is now very rare and I will include the painting here as soon as possible.

This was the diarist Parson Woodforde’s church for nearly thirty years until his death in 1803 and he is suitably honoured in the church for which he clearly had great affection, although the temperature in this large medieval building sometimes tried him sorely:

[1795] “Dec 25, FRIDAY, Christmas Day. The Holy Sacrament was administered this Morning at Weston Church by Mr Courbould. It hurt me to think that I could not do it myself, but suffering so much the last Christmas Day by the cold, am afraid since to go to Church during the Winter Season…” ¹

Website for All Saints, Weston Longville

¹ James Woodforde, The Diary of a Country Parson, 1758-1802, ed. John Beresford, OUP, 1949, p. 515