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Medieval Wall Painting
in the
English Parish Church

Willingham, Cambridgeshire (†Ely) c.1380

St Christopher

St Christopher, Willingham

A fine fourteenth century example of the subject in which the peasant saint has an almost regal air, and not merely because of the rather crown-like hat or turban that he wears. He is very tall – some ten feet high – and he cradles the Christ Child in the crook of his left arm, rather than carrying him on his shoulder, as is more usual, but not invariable. The apparent presence of six fingers on Christopher’s hand is probably a simple mistake.

The saint’s cloak, in which the Christ Child is wrapped, is elegantly draped and arranged to show his knee-breeches, knotted and securely tied rather like the later example at Paston in Norfolk. In his right hand he holds a Tau-staff. Various fish and other sea-creatures congregate at his feet. As always the medieval painter tries valiantly to produce a convincing depiction of a figure standing in water, and as usual the problem of perspective defeats him as waves and fish pile up in an improbable heap.

For all that, this is one of the finest paintings of St Christopher in England. Like all the paintings at Willingham it survived for centuries under limewash after the English Reformation and was expertly restored in the 1980s.

The paintings of St Etheldreda and her probable companion saint, Sexburga have been on the site for some time, and I will try to include some of the other medieval paintings here, such as the very fine Visitation as soon as possible. Meanwhile, this and others can be seen on the church’s own website by following the link below.

Website of Willingham church, Cambridgeshire

† in page heading = Diocese