Medieval Murals

The Medieval Murals of St Andrew’s Church, Headington Reborn

A 150 Year Rediscovery Celebration

C.A. Buckler - The Whole Scheme Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r

C.A. Buckler – The Whole Scheme
Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r



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The medieval wall paintings formerly in St Andrew’s Church, Headington, Oxfordshire prior to their destruction in 1865 have already been documented and researched, most recently by Edwards[ii] (Edwards 1988), however this article challenges some of the key conclusions with evidence that was not then fully available.[iii]

The unique representation of the apocryphal “Miracle of the Cornfield” in an English wall painting (Edwards 1988, p. 264), coupled with possible portrayals of St Frideswide and Margaret of France, raises their significance well beyond the merely local.

This paper draws in particular on the extensive work for at least 44 years of the highly prolific Victorian antiquarian Herbert Hurst, to whose patience, determination and research we owe in large part the continued survival of their very essence, if regrettably no longer their substance.

These paintings, although now destroyed, are one of the most important cultural assets of our community and are no more “lost” than is the first bible.

This paper seeks, as a celebration of the 150 year anniversary of the rediscovery in 1863, to introduce them, via a new medium, to a new audience in full colour for the first time, raise conscientiousness of their existence, and simulate further debate and research to address the many remaining uncertainties.

In any and every church of a certain age, beneath layers of whitewash, may yet exist medieval wall paintings, and it is to their discovery and preservation this article is also intended. It is deeply saddening to look at reproductions of murals from the past and see how much has been lost by the tyranny of time and neglect, and to quote Keyser’s rather archaic tourne de phrase we should be ‘anxious to preserve these memorials of the piety of our ancestors’ (Keyser 1883, p. 95)

Heritage, at least is Oxford, is deeply unfashionable at present, and those that do care must keep the candle burning through this long heritage winter until communities, in an age of blanded down uniformity value once again find beauty and inspiration from those that came before.

This is a living document, however if the tentative conclusions in this article bring unintended levity to dusty subject matter, yet achieves the above, its purpose will have been attained.


A list of all known images is given in Appendix A, including a woodcut imaginary reconstruction originally for the “The Builder”, accurate colour tracings by Herbert Hurst[iv] and sets of photographs of the individual inner window panels.

C. A Buckler’s fine drawings of June 1863 of the whole scheme have a number of minor, but important, inaccuracies, both of colour and form, and are used only in conjunction with the photographs, Hurst’s work or when, as in the outer paintings, there is no alternative.

Documentary evidence includes notes and printed material by Hurst, records pertaining to the 1862 building appeal, and pre and post renovation plans of the church.


English medieval churches were a riot of colour, the walls festooned with religious scenes, usually painted, on dry  plaster “ditempura” or “secco” using ochre, in contrast to “fresco” favoured in Europe, with paint applied to wet plaster (Rouse 1991, p. 9)

In an age of illiteracy, when the languages used by the church, Norman French and Latin, were in any case largely incomprehensible, the murals formed a “Biblica pauperum” [v] or cartoon series of scenes for ready absorption (Rouse 1991, p. 23) in a style summarised as a ‘flavour which might be characterized as tenderness, warmth of heart, simplicity, most clear and delightful ..’ (Caiger-Smith 1963, p.66)

Symbols of rank and position such as halos, crowns, swords, (the bigger the more powerful) and facial features were exaggerated for clarity.  Hand gestures and other symbols had understood meanings. (Rouse 1991, p. 16-17)  Baddies were given bulbous noses, contorted features and generally dark. (See Concluding Remarks)

Murals, now priceless, were not perceived so as the medieval artist never intended his painting to last forever (Rouse 1991, p. 9) or as Edward quotes (Edwards 1989, p. 466) ‘[we] can hardly appreciate the lack of respect that each generation of the Middle Ages treated the art of its predecessor.’  St Andrew’s church had no less than 14 layers of paint from successive generations. (Hurst 1889b, f. 16)

The overwhelming majority, if not lost to succeeding layers,  were destroyed in three main waves of destruction, The Reformation under Henry VIII, The Civil War and Victorian church expansion. Whereas the first, in many cases, consisted of a layer of whitewash which ‘considered purely as a preservative … was one of the best that could have been chosen’ (Edwards 2001, p. 11) the second was rather haphazard, the third destroyed hundreds of wall paintings with underlying factors such as residual anti catholic religious prejudice, a feeling of innate superiority , xenophilia, the profit motive, (Edwards 1989, passim) or quite simply the perpetrators were ‘brought up in the school of whitewash’ (Anon 1864b, p. 684)

This renders interpretation problematic as the surviving examples may be atypical or simply not in context, which applies also to comparative material such as the Holkham Picture Book “bible” discussed below.

The understanding of the Christian story in medieval times was a heady brew the bible story as now accepted by the Church, apocryphal gospels, “The Golden Legend” and others, imbued with a spurious imprimatur of veracity by works such “Historia Scholastica”, with an admixture of medieval plays such as the Wakefield Cycle with ‘lavish development of anonymous and non-biblical characters’ (Bevington 2012, p. 437) and occasional allusions to political developments (Hassall 1954, p. 99) or, as Pickering sums up in relation to The Nativity:

 ‘One could argue the indebtedness of this account, feature by feature, to the Gospel of St Luke, to Pseudo-Matthew, to Peter Comestor’s Historia Scholastica, or decide immediately that it is popular and look for parallels in medieval drama’ (Pickering 1971, p. 85)

The apocryphal “Gospel of Pseudo Matthew”, or “Liber de Infantia” recounting the story of Mary and Jesus, was of particular importance, ‘Much medieval art is indecipherable without reference to books such as Pseudo‐Matthew.’ (Elliott 1999a, preface)

The contemporary [c1327-40] (Hassall 1954, p. 23) Anglo Norman Holkham “bible”, a picture book with text of the bible story as above (Brown 2007, Hassall 1954) has much the same provenance as the Headington wall paintings and is referred to extensively due to its similarity and the extensive body of scholarly research pertaining to it, in particularly the work of Hassall and Pickering. (Pickering 1971)

To the beholder, wall paintings would have appeared to be largely contemporary, the equivalent of graphic art today of Christ and the apostles  wearing jeans and tee-shirts as clothes, furniture and other artefacts were generally shown in the manner of the time.

Yet the themes are strikingly contemporary – urban poverty, the plight of refugees, an evil ruler, a massacre, a family prepared to abandon all to protect a child, the duty love our neighbour particularly in need, the dilemma of the virtuous lie and the eternal hope that good will triumph, the moral exemplar of a girl seeking knowledge, the duty to provide it, when education of girls is still not universal, still touch our hearts and lives today. 


St Andrews Church, Headington

St Andrews Church, Headington – The Two Lancet Windows are visible to right of porch

In 1862, the vicar J.C. Pring appealed for £3000 to enlarge the church from 300 to 620 persons, citing the continually increasing population of the community on the south side of London Road (Anon 1862, c.103).  Mindful of his audience, he remarked Headington may well be considered a suburb of Oxford.

The bishop noted ‘there is not parish in the whole Diocese where the work is so urgently needed.. as strong  a case as can be conceived.’ a view shared by Mr Buckler[vi], the architect.(Anon 1862, c.103)

The Oxford Diocesan Association,[vii] who gave £200, saw higher dimensions, ‘the poor were first excluded from the fabric of the church, then alienated from its spiritual body, they ought to not merely to find a place for the poor, but the proper place.’ (Diocesan Association 1849, p. 4)

The Oxford Architectural and Historical Society (Anon 1860-1864, p.302) noted “The wall was so much cracked and decayed that it was necessary to rebuild it, and the paintings could therefore not be preserved” although plans show the south aisle unaltered, although the north side of the church was demolished. (Anon 1898, plan)

Herbert Hurst spent “many happy days” uncovering the murals but commented ‘tulit alter honorus’ (“another had the honour of it”) [viii], and ‘no credit was given, at least to me’(Hurst 1889a,  f. 121)


The Lady Chapel or south aisle itself is presumed to be the second half of the 13th century (Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England) 1939, p. 150) placing an earliest date on the murals.

Suggested dates vary from approximately 1220-1280 (Hurst 1889c, c.197), c1310 (Long 1972, p.90), 13th century, (Hassall 1954, p. 95), Professor Tristram, author of several monumental works on English murals, estimated 1310-1325 (Tristram 1955, p. 180), however none give their reasons. (Edwards 1988, p. 264)

Edwards suggests 14th century based on style and comparison to the Tring tiles, (Edwards 1988, p. 264) and the representation of St Anne, which is however questioned below.

The overall pattern of imitation stone joint separating the panels with single red joint lines with ornamentation of floral patterns “stones and roses” is typical of work from the 12th to 14th centuries. (Rouse 1991, p. 35)  The finesse of the ‘elegant early English scrolls’ (Anon 1860-1864), the complexity of the panel borders indicate later in this range while Keyser considers double lines, such as those in the window edges, to be a special design of the early part the 14th century. (Keyser 1883, p. xlvi)

Tiered painting, and the histories they portrayed, was seldom employed beyond 1350 and as subjects became ‘of a more morbid cast’ (Tristram 1955, p. 3-4)

The discrepancy between the suggested building date of the south aisle (1250-1280), and the most probable date based on the main painting style (1300-1340) requires resolution. 

Items such as the prayer book, lectern, seed leap, headdresses, clothing and crowns can be used for more accurate dating which in turn will aid interpretation in particular of “The Queen”


The Scheme Medieval Murals St Andrews C.A. Buckler - The Whole Scheme - Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r

C.A. Buckler – The Whole Scheme
Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r

Red and yellow ochre, very probably from nearby Shotover, (Edwards 2001, p. 14) predominates alternating between sky and land, as do clothing, colour and complexions between panels, framed by a red border with yellow or white dots or “masonry pattern”, completed by a double lined highlighting of the window edges and well-formed cinquefoil roses and lilies scrolling below with an arras painted below, stone and roses patterning evident.  Colouring also included coloured pink, lavender, purple and white ochre which Hurst described as a ‘treat of colouring greater than Keble chapel ever promises to be and second only to Worcester College’ (Hurst 1889a, f. 124) Medieval Murals St Andrews - Woodcut drawing for "The Builder"

Woodcut drawing for “The Builder” (Low Resolution)
Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon M.S. Top. Oxon d.127

Other murals not treated here are documented by Hurst and a clipping in his workbook. (Hurst 1889c, clipping)

The Outer Paintings

The Lady Teaching A Child

C.A. Buckler - The Whole Scheme - Lady Teaching Girl To Read - St Frideswide or St Anne? Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r

C.A. Buckler – The Whole Scheme – Lady Teaching Girl To Read – St Frideswide or St Anne?
Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r

This picture has been interpreted by all observers as that of St Anne (Mary’s Mother) teaching the Virgin to read.  The lady has a ‘peculiar headdress, an erect brim not unlike those prevalent in Henry VII’s time, her hair bagged around the ears’ (Hurst 1889c, clipping) the hand gesture shows she is speaking.

St Frideswide, according to the accounts, was the daughter of King Didan, born approximately 732 ‘when the word of God was bearing fruit amongst the savage race of the English,’ (Blair 1987, p. 75)

In both Life A (early c12) and Life B (1140-70), a more elaborate version of Life A, almost certainly written by Master Robert of Cricklade, prior of St Frideswide’s, the five year old St Frideswide learns the psalter, as much as 150 psalms in 5 months. [Life B]  She becomes a nun, is pursued by King Alger (or his men) to Oxford who are struck blind by the wrath of God.   She performs miracles and founds a nunnery which becomes St Frideswide’s. [See Appendix B]

Which Saint is it? 

The location in the Lady Chapel where episodes from the Virgin’s life are frequently present (Rouse 1991, p, 30) indicates St Anne, ‘a very popular subject frequently found in lady chapels’(Rouse 1943, p.152 S1), in addition to its chronological positioning vis à vis the inner paintings,[ix] but the education of the virgin legend seems ‘to have been invented around 1300’ (Rosewell 2008, p. 31) who references two murals of 1320 – 1330, (Rouse 1943, p. 152) at Chalfont, St Giles, Bucks, and Croughton, Northants as the earliest known example (Rosewell 2008, p. 322)

However, the subject is rare – only sixteen instances are mentioned in Keyser’s inventory (Keyser 1883, p. 336) many from the 15th century (Rouse 1943, p. 152), portrayal of English saints however was common. (Keyser 1883, p. lxviii)

The book, education and learning is the leitmotif of St Frideswide, as the sword is for St Paul, and so she appears in a statute at Bomy, France,(Blair 1987,p. 124 Fig 6A), and also on the privy seal of the priory with an open book adopted also by The University of Oxford. (Blair 2004)

St Frideswide’s priory held the living of Headington among many others , the secular canons performing parochial duties since at least refoundation charter of 1004 (St. Frideswide’s Monastery. 1896a,p. 2) , was the beneficiary of local land grants (St. Frideswide’s Monastery. 1896b,vii,p. 22,p. 36) until its dissolution in 1524, when the local rectories of Headington, Elsfield and Marston were sold to fund Wolsey’s Cardinal College now Christchurch on the site of the former priory.(Public Record Office 1893-1901)

It seems unlikely a patron, or painter[x] associated with St Frideswide’s, a large monastery with many parishes, (Rosewell 2008,p. 111) would chose a recent invention over a local, and almost identical, legend that predated it by centuries, particularly when the credence thereof maintained a steady  flow of pilgrims with their donations.

The story of St Frideswide and Mary learning to read have such strong parallels there may be some as yet unfathomable link between the two.

The Angel

C.A. Buckler - The Whole Scheme -  The Angel  Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r

C.A. Buckler – The Whole Scheme – The Angel
Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r

Hurst describes this as ‘not enough to warrant an annunciation’ (Hurst 1889b, f.16), possibly it identified above and linked it to the occupant of the niche below right.

St Christopher

C.A. Buckler - The Whole Scheme - St Christopher Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r

C.A. Buckler – The Whole Scheme – St Christopher
Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r

St Christopher is the patron saint of travellers, his story teaching salvation through service.(Rouse 1991,p. 48)

 ‘Over time, certain pictures came in course of time to be assigned as a rule to definite positions in the Church [ with…] St. Christopher in a prominent position opposite the main entrance..

 The position and popularity of St. Christopher are explained by the pious belief that all who looked upon his representation and invoked his aid were safe that day from a sudden and unprepared death. The Saint is usually depicted as a huge figure grasping a massive staff and bearing on his shoulder the Christ Child as he wades across the stream.’ (Long 1930, p. 87)

This implies the main entrance to the church was on the north side opposite, as the figure was central in the southern wall prior to the construction of the tower. (Hurst 1889c, c.197 clipping) Further, it was located in the current division between the current nave and north aisle, due to the then proportions of the church, the marking of the north aisle on the 1845 plan (Anon 1898) as built at different date to the nave, and the nearness of the aisle to the northern boundary.  This may also have implications for the medieval layout of the village. This receives some support from another blocked Norman north door in the chancel. (Parker 1846, p. 277)

The earliest known St Christopher was in 1241 (Wall 1913, p. 132) but not generally recognised before 15th century when he was most popular. (Keyser 1883, p. li, xlvi) , therefore the St Christopher may be of a later date.

Above Windows

Hurst describes the top four windows as ‘coarse productions, hurried over perhaps’ (Hurst 1889a, f. 124)

East Window – St Paul

This is a conventional painting of St Paul with his sword variously attributed to the legendary manner of his death by execution or bringing a “sword in the world” and bible in the other hand.

East Window – St Peter

The keys to the gates of heaven identify St Peter.

West Window – “The Queen”

A beautiful crowned young woman with fine features, ‘most admirably outlined, in purple undervest, …having a light veil’  indicating youth, beauty and possibly royalty.(Hurst 1889c, clipping)

This panel has been interpreted as a holy subject such as the Virgin Mary or St Catherine of Alexandria (Edwards 1988, p. 264), or it may be a “donor portrait.”

In Holkham, the holy are represented with a halo, and royalty with a crown, except in the first Jesse Tree (Brown 2007,f. 10r), which shows Mary’s purported royal lineage.  Hassall comments ‘human and divine majesty are equated’ (Hassall 1954, p. 101) in other works Mary appears variously crowned, being crowned, (Bodleian Library 1954, f12) haloed, or even both (Rouse 1943, p.186 p.150), therefore a crowned figure tends towards royalty, but is inconclusive, as is her purple clothing, also worn by both Mary and Herod.  (Hurst 1889c, clipping)  However, she appears not to be the Mary in the other panels.

Donor portraits appeared first in the 14th century, normally showing their subjects hands clasped in prayer, and smaller than the holy subjects (Rosewell 2008, p. 103) – arguably, the figure is kneeling, in an inconspicuously deep part of the lancet window.

Philippa of Warwick as reported by Mumby has been suggested. (Mumby 1987, p. 27)  A widow who married after 1229 without the king’s permission to a prominent member of the opposition, who took arms up against the king, subsequently divorced and was a ward in the king’s hands and after further troubles, died in 1265 (Evans 1928, p. 168-169) but seems unlikely, due to her circumstances, dates, and low rank.

The twenty year old Margaret of France second wife of Edward I received “at the church door” Headington Manor, the nearby North Gate Hundred and King’s Mill and several dozen other properties upon her marriage in 1299 (Public Record Office 1893-1901), as part of an unpopular treaty with France, becoming the first queen to take control of her dower lands prior to the death of the king (Benz St. 2012, p. 82) 

On 1st of August, 1301 she gave birth to her second son Edmund,[xi] at nearby Woodstock.  She was lavish with her spending and was according to contemporary chroniclers ‘her physical beauty surpassed only by the purity of her morals’; was called ‘good without lack

If this is indeed a likeness, it is extremely rare, and neither of the other two known are considered authentic. (Parsons 2004)

Given she was lord of the manor, her strong local connections, her dates, physical appearance, her tenure at precisely at the most likely date range of the paintings, and the absence of any other plausible alternative, she appears to be the most likely subject.   Upon her death, on 14 February 1318, Headington was once again alienated from the crown. (Evans 1928, p. 171)

Margaret was the only queen in the period in question to be lord of the manor of Headington.

Isabella of France ‘the she-wolf of France’, (Hassall 1954, p. 101) wife of Edward II, deposed him and ruled as regent for her son, and was implicated in his murder, with no connections to Headington, appears improbable.

West Window – The Bishop


Either St Nicholas or as Keyser states ‘it may be safety asserted, that where an archbishop appears without name or emblem, St Thomas of Canterbury is generally intended to by portrayed’ (Keyser 1883,p. lxxviii) however this picture is very incomplete.

The Panels In The Window Jambs

Story Overview Medieval Murals St Andrews C.A. Buckler - The Whole Scheme

C.A. Buckler – The Whole Scheme – Panel Numbering The Windows in the Jambs Offcut
Copyright: The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford. Shelfmark: M.S. Top. Oxon a.21 f15r

There are, broadly, two simultaneous and interacting storylines on the top register and bottom registers, moving left to right, east to west following a chronology and ambit equating to the much lengthier treatment in Holkham. (Brown 2007, f12v-f14v)

Jesus is born in “The Nativity” (Panel 1), in the top register. Forewarned of Herod’s intent, the holy family flee over the deserts and mountains to Egypt to save the baby Jesus “The Flight” (Panel 2) in the bottom register. 

Herod “Bids The Soldiers” (Panel 3) to kill the first born leading to the “Slaughter of the Innocents” (Panel 5), meanwhile in the bottom register his men hunt Jesus but are deceived by the miracle of the cornfield “The Sower” (Panel 4) “The Reaper”, (Panel 6).

In “The Escape” (Panel 7) the holy family flee, represented as lambs and finally Christ’s “Entry into Jerusalem” (Panel 8).

The Storyline – (Panels in chronological order)

Upper Register – Panel 1 – The Nativity

Upper Register – Panel 1 – The Nativity

The recumbent Mary is on a structure or bed, ‘in a style still met with in Northern Italy .. raised nearly 4 feet at one end’ (Hurst 1889a, d.127 f.14), with Joseph sitting nearby.

Mary does not have halo as, ‘childbirth has made her unclean, in recollection of the Jewish and Christian of not allowing women back into the religious community until they were purified’ (Brown 2007, p. 46)[xii]

The baby Jesus lies behind on a ‘singular cradle resting on an early English capital (Parker 1865,p. 323) which appears to be a font or market bowl, very similar to that depicted in the nativity in Queen Mary’s Psalter. (Warner 1912, p. 148)

Baby Jesus is positioned in between the ox and the ass[xiii] in fulfilment of the prophecies referred to in Pseudo-Matthew,14:  (Elliott 1999a, v. 14)

Isiah I, 3 ‘The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib’

Habakkuk iii,2 ‘between two animals thou art made manifest’

Historia Scholastica describes the birthplace as a ‘diversorium which according to learned tradition, is a roofed shelter between houses, offering protection for the citizens who foregathered to converse’ (Pickering 1971,p. 85-86) or a house between two walls with two doors. (Le Ver, Firmin, ca. 1370-1444 1994, “diversorium”)[xiv]

Structurally, the scene is almost identical to that of Holkham’s Nativity (Brown 2007, f. 12v) where a light shelter is represented with Jesus ‘entre un boef et un ane’. [sic] (Pickering 1971, p. 21) and many others. [xv]

The portrayal is, although peaceful, of back street poverty in a contemporary Mediterranean town far removed from the bucolic stable of modern belief.

Upper Range – Panels 3,5 – Herod Bids The Soldiers and The Slaughter of the Innocents

Herod was the bête noire of medieval times, killing the first born, members of his own family including his sons, slaughtering the nobles so they will not laugh at him after his death, committing suicide (a mortal sin) (Brown 2007, f. 16v-f. 17), and as in popular plays such as the Wakefield Cycle (Bevington 2012, p. 437) also a liar, cheat and hypocrite.

In Panel 3, Herod, holding a large sword and dressed in purple as befits his status, bids the soldiers to kill the first born, sitting cross legged either demonstrating his wickedness (Rouse 1991, p. 16-18) or to express royal wrath. (Hassall 1954, p. 101)

If Panel 5 represents the “Slaughter of the Innocents”, or the killing of the nobles,  is a particularly crass, clumsy, and almost comically executed piece of work doing little justice to its subject matter, ‘showing rather too vividly and inartistically the slaughter of the holy innocents’  (Hurst 1891, f. 1) with ‘allusions and language that to say the least, are rather too coarse for modern taste’  (Hurst 1889b, f. 11)

His single fingered hand gesture indicates condemnation while the outstretched and praying hands of the figures to the right indicate supplication.[xvi]

If Herod’s son was killed by accident due to the carelessness of his nurse as hinted at by Hurst (Hurst 1889a, f. 121), his crossed legs indicate wrath, and therefore the identity of posture between “Bidding the Soldiers” – Panel 3 and 5, “The Slaughter of the Innocents”, and its treatment, is explicable as showing a form of poetic justice, as Herod’s actions result in the accidental death of his own son – ‘it is known that wooden dolls are known to have been used to represent Herod’s son killed in the massacre of the innocents’(Hildburgh 1949, p. 61)

Satisfying as this would be, there is no known source for this version whereas in contrast, in Holkham, indebted to Historia Scholastica, he deliberately kills his two sons Alexander and Aristobulus, although this version is ‘unusual’ (Brown 2007, p. 53)

Lower Range – Panels 2,4,6,8 – The Flight Into Egypt And The Miracle Of The Cornfield

Joseph, Mary and Jesus and a fourth figure and flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s slaughter of the first born (Panel 2 – The Flight).

The baby Jesus blesses his mother. (Hurst 1889c, clipping) The arrangement is a duplicate of a XIII century one at Salisbury Cathedral and a miniature in the Bodleian, and is a standard arrangement. (Hurst 1889c, p. 4)

The fourth figure leading the donkey is reported by Edwards as an angel with a cask or cloak, (Edwards 1988, p. 265) or the familiar, if ambiguous, ‘water carrier’ prepared for the desert crossing, (Hassall 1954, p. 95 f14r)  in this case carrying a water gourd on a stick  most clearly shown on Hurst’s drawing .(Hurst 1889c, flight)[xvii]  

A similar figure, identifiably Joseph, leads the donkey over rough ground at Croughton (Tristram 1927, s.14) with a cloak over a stick and also the and very similarly in the Luttrell (Brown 2006, f. 88v) and St Mary’s Psalters.(Warner 1912, p. 184 f. 148v)

Hassall states further the water carrier ‘is shown scourging the ass in a destroyed thirteenth century wall painting in Headington..’ however the ‘water carrier’ is leading the donkey, while it appears Joseph is scourging it from behind [xviii]

The man ‘scourging the ass’, is probably Joseph as his dress is dark as is Mary’s and Christ’s and he is grouped closely with Mary and Jesus, in contrast to the lighter garb of the ‘water carrier’(Anon 1864c, flight)[xix], and has a fulsome beard as can be expected of an older man, and indicates with a hand gesture as per another “flight” representation.(Bodleian Library 1951, f. 8)   

A boy, possibly Jesus,[xx] leads a donkey, (Panel 4 – The Sower) with the unseen holy family behind, meeting a sower with a ‘seed leap’ (Hurst 1885, p. 100)

The boy’s head appears disproportionally large even given the long hair of the other personages, Hurst’s colour drawing (Hurst 1889c, f. 6) and the photograph (Anon 1864c, sower) shows what may be the base and outline of a cruciform halo, reserved for members of the Trinity.[xxi]

Jesus is shown as a young child with a small cruciform halo in Holkham (Brown 2007, p. 14r) and with one even smaller, letting the children out of the oven on the contemporary Tring Tiles [c1300] in the British Library[xxii] (James, Hobson 1923, p. 35) , based on the apocryphal “Infancy Gospel of St Thomas” or simply no halo as in Holkham.  (Brown 2007, f. 12v,f. 13,f.14v). Medieval Murals St Andrews - Tring Tiles compared

The Tring Tiles – The Apocryphal Infancy Miracles Of Jesus – Note Jesus as boy with small halo on right bottom tile
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The flight to Egypt took place when Jesus was young, the miracle of the cornfield (without any other elements) occurred, according to the “The Infancy Gospel of St Thomas” (Elliott 1999b, v. 12 Greek A) when he was eight years old as he may be portrayed in “The Sower”

The apocryphal gospels attempt to fill the void in the bible story between the flight to Egypt and Jesus in the temple when he was twelve years old, therefore the portrayal of the baby Jesus in “The Flight”, subsequently older in “The Sower”, is consistent, particularly as Hassell quotes ‘ In many representations of the flight into Egypt, we find in the background men sowing or cutting corn..’ (Hassall 1954, p. 94)

In some versions of the story it is Jesus who takes the initiative in his village (Elliott 1999a, v. 34) or with the farmer.  (Edwards 1988, p. 266) 

Mary as a mother in childbirth and St Frideswide as a young girl have a suggestion of a halo in their headdresses, as does Jesus’s head, almost as if a medieval artist was uncertain how to portray a holy personage at that that stage of their story.

Unseen, Jesus scatters seed which ripens instantly.  A crowned figure, not Herod [xxiii] and his men arrive (Panel 6 – The Reaper) and ask if he, now wearing a light head-covering indicating summer, has seen the holy family.  With a gesture to the harvested corn, represented by a stook of corn in the background, he replies truthfully not since the crop was sown, and the party leaves, assuming it was some months ago – a tale appealing to an agricultural congregation even if his change of garb and headgear seems inconsistent with the instant nature of the miracle.

In Panel 7 – “The Escape”, the same shepherd with blue eyes as in “The Reaper”, now wearing a winter hat with a longer beard, (Anon 1864a, f. 46) indicating either the passage of time or the height of the mountain, furtively watches as he seems to open his cloak, possibly  indicating Jesus hiding, while Herod’s soldier from ”The Slaughter”, who was not in the original search party, (Hurst 1889c, clipping 14)  is spoken to by an unknown personage whose sword and facial features indicate he is both powerful and good.  To the right, the lower part of an almost effaced large figure stands.  Below, three large sheep, one with a crossed nimbus indicating Jesus and one small one move to the west[xxiv].

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas only relates Jesus miraculously growing corn (Elliott 1999a, v. 12) in his village when he was eight years old as appears the boy above, logically, as Edwards points out, this would be after the flight to Egypt.  

Pseudo- Matthew relates passing ‘iter per montana et per desertum’ to reach Egypt, a journey ‘entre montaynes,  onze jours’ according to Holkham. (Pickering 1971, p. 25,88)  The Holkham story is very similar, except, importantly, the corn is fully grown. (Brown 2007, f. 14v), rather than harvested as in the murals.

The “Encyclopédie Théologique”  based on  “Evangile de Thomas” and “Livre de la naisssance de la bien heureuse Marie et l’enfance de sauveur[xxv]relates the miracle with the flight into Egypt, but not Herod’s chase:

‘The child Jesus showed them the mountains and the country of Egypt…

At the border of the country [Egypt], the child Jesus found a field newly sown.  He commanded the grain to grown to ears, and it was done.  Then the saviour took [print] some of the ears, spread them, and gave his blessing on the field, and gave it such grace, that when its owner harvested it, it gave him as many bushels [muids] as if he had sown them (Migne 1856, p. 374)

All the elements of this story, the flight, the miracle[xxvi], and Herod’s pursuit appear in different sources but are only conflated in carols as Hurst, who originally identified this as “The Miraculous Cornfield” recognised and linked it strongly to a fifteenth century French Carol “vieux noels composes en l’honneur de la naissance de N. S. Jesus Christ” copied in a carol book in Nantes in 1876:

A literal translation[xxvii] of which is:

The virgin goes away, carrying her new  born,  [The Flight]
She mets a fellow, he who is going to seed his corn [The Sower]
Sower : Where are you running fair lady
Who carries such a beautiful child?
Mary: “Ah tell me my fine fellow
Do you want to hid him?”
Sower: “Put him under my cloak, no one will find him” [The Escape]
Mary: “Go back to your field, fine fellow [The Reaper..]
Go and harvest your corn”
Sower:” Is it possible Madam!
Not all is yet sown”
Mary: “Go and find your scythe
It is time to harvest”
The wheat in less than quarter of an hour
As grain has quickly grown
In another quarter of an hour, it is ready for harvest
At the first gathering, gave 100 bushels, at the second it could not be closed

Hurst sent the French carol with an English rhyming equivalent and a set of coloured drawings matching exactly to the scenes depicted in the murals to Professor Stainer, a well-known musicologist (Dibble 2004) although oddly he does not mention the possibility of Jesus hiding in the cloak in “The Escape.”

A similar story is recounted in “The Miraculous Harvest” in the Oxford Book of Carols. (Edwards 1988, p. 266)  (Brown 2007, p. 49)

Several elements unite the lower register panels (2,4,6,8):

    • As the holy family approach Egypt to the west (both in the story and the church) terrain becomes increasingly mountainous, a feature of the journey firmly lodged in the medieval mind
    • The figure at the end of one scene and the beginning of the next have their backs to each other, with the main participants facing each other’ indicating they are from the same story (Rouse 1991, p. 51) binding all but “The Sower”
    • The four panels occupy the bottom tier of the window going left to right, east to west as is conventional on a south wall (Rouse 1991)
    • Two characters, that of the Herod’s soldier and the sower, appear in more than one panel

Therefore the alternative explanation by Edwards (Edwards 1988, p. 267-270) that “The Escape” is a representation of St Clements can be discounted.

The “Escape” is the most indecipherable of the murals, it does not relate clearly to any known episode, if Jesus is the boy in “The Sower,” then he is a little large to hide in a cloak.  The identity of the “good knight” is unclear, and both Hurst and Edwards were very dissatisfied with the four sheep with one wearing a cruciform nimbus (rather than two, Mary and Jesus ) as the lamb of God, Hurst commenting it defied explanation. (Hurst 1889b,d. 127 f. 11)

An untutored view is this represents the escape of Joseph, Mary, Jesus (with the cruciform nimbus reserved for members of the Trinity) and the fourth figure.  Even if this is not iconographically correct it is explicable as the artist could be, as Pickering describes the author of Holkham, ‘a literate but not a literary man’ (Pickering 1971, p. xviii)

Portrayals of the “Miracle of the Cornfield “, are rare possibly as it lacks even spurious authenticity, but are not unknown.  (Hassall 1954, p. 93), cites several examples, but no English instances prior to the late 13th century whereas Edwards cites additional manuscript and other instances, commenting it was popular mostly in the 15th and 16th century French books of hours.(Edwards 1988, p. 266)

Christ’s Entry Into Jerusalem – Panel 7

Hurst and Edwards (Edwards 1988, p. 266) consider the possibility that this may be the apocryphal “Miracle of the Palm Tree,” cumulating Pseudo-Matthew’s account of the flight to Egypt, where the tree bows to Mary and water flows,  as portrayed in Holkham (Brown 2007, f. 15), and the “Très Bien Riches Heures du Duc De Berry” quoted by Edwards and conclude it does not, based on both scriptural authority, the vestiges of a figure stooping and laying a garment (Hurst 1889b, f. 15), and the marked similarity with the Holkham  (Brown 2007,f. 26), to which can be added that shown both in St Mary’s Psalter (Warner 1912, p. 239) and a mural in the Holy Sepulchre Chapel in Winchester Cathedral.(Wall 1913, p. 71) and the Luttrell Psalter. (Brown 2006, f. 9) Medieval Murals St Andrews - Comparison

The Entry Into Jerusalem, The Holy Sepulchre Chapel, Winchester Cathedral
Copyright :The Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral

Hurst’s explanation for this apparent non sequitur is:

 ‘It may be the Palm Sunday incident at the end is arbitrarily inserted: the playful hosannas of children on that day, late in Christ’s ministry on Earth may be intended to contrast vividly with the lamentations heard in Ramah shortly after his birth’ (Hurst 1889a, f. 121)

The subject appears rare, ‘yet the number of paintings discovered … is not so great as might have been expected’ (Wall 1913, p. 146)


Every chronicler has to wrest with both the times he studies and those he lives in – we are always in history.

To comment on these murals in Henry VIIIs or Oliver Cromwell’s time would have been to be labelled a papist, recursant or traitor.

You can almost hear poor Hurst spluttering with embarrassment in front of the high Victorian Oxford Architectural Society (OAHS) audience in February 1889 as he attempts, at the earliest possible moment, to explain the portrayal of such as the “Slaughter of the Innocents” as ‘allusions and language which are rather too coarse for modern taste and show an outspokenness as characteristic of those times as the as the oath and swagger of the cavalier or the religious cant of the puritan, one is grieved to find gross, irreverent allusions in many places’   (Hurst 1889a, f. 11)  – he clearly felt he was on shaky ground.   It was a perceptive and prescient remark from a truly remarkable man.

Similarly, in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth some authors seem incapable of saying the word “Jesus” without an accompanying string of honorifics such as “our dear Lord and Saviour,” “the one to whom we turn” as if anything less would be lèse-majesté.

The murals show baddies as dark and goodies as light, and although this is not race based per se as both are Jews, the associations are offensive today – however this adds to their cultural value for all that they teach us, good and bad about ourselves, who we are and who we were, and makes them a worthy if not necessary, subject of study.   History regrettably has more how not to’s, than how to’s, it is what it is.

We owe much to the Christian message for our current attitudes, however addled in this instance, aside from this, it is remarkable how well these seven hundred year old paintings have stood the test of time.

We are all products of a geographical isolation that simply no longer exists, and future generations, born of an melting pot on a scale unprecedented in human history, I suspect, will view this aspect with a detachment we cannot yet achieve in 2013, yet will find other aspects troubling which worry us not today.

 Dedicated to Herbert Hurst, Victorian Antiquarian


In addition to Hurst, many of the main sources such as Pickering, Hassall, Long and Edwards were points of departure for further references.

The very substantial logistical help of the University of Oxford and its staff is very gratefully acknowledged.  

The author has no academic status or qualifications in history and no other help has been received, therefore all misinterpretations and erroneous conclusions remain his alone. 

Permission to use images without charge and help by the Oxfordshire History Centre, British Museum, Winchester Cathedral and a generous concession of the free use of the first 10 folios by Oxford University is very gratefully received, however licence costs of £10 per additional folio prohibits complete presentation of all evidence. This is a statement of fact, not judgement.

Clearly, this help does not imply endorsement of either the article or content of the Headington Heritage web site. 

Last but not least to the author’s wife endured the project with remarkable aplomb.


Many references are only identifiable by shelf mark and have no formal title.  In these cases, a descriptive title with [MyDesc] is given for convenience, and cited as (Anon Year,<partofmark|desc>) which is not strictly British Harvard, but helps easy identification of otherwise barely distinguishable references.

The “clipping” (Hurst 1889c, f. 11) below may possibly be from the “Islip Deanery and Rural Magazine Vol 4. 1929” but this is unknown, a copy of which was on display in the church at least until 1988. (Edwards 1988).   It has advertisements of a commercial nature and is annotated “H. Hurst.”  The Jackson’s Oxford Journal surprisingly seems to have no reference at all.

For the three main sources for Holkham, Brown,Hassall and Pickering, Brown is generally referenced for visual material as it is in colour, whereas as Hassall and Pickering are used for interpretive material.

Every effort has been made to avoid altering the images in any way, including poor photography on my part, as they constitute primary evidence, other than “offcuts,” cropping and rotations, and sparing annotations and very considerable reduction in the original resolution.

Internet resources are often listed by hard copy equivalents as either they are not freely accessible or inconsistently referenced.

ANON, 1898. Plans of St Andrew’s Church, Headington 1845,1898[MyDesc] – Bodl: Dep. a.27 f48-49.

ANON, 1864c. Two Sets of six Photos of Headington Church Murals (St Andrews) [MyDesc] – OHC: MS.Oxon. Dioc.Papers b.70. Photographs edn.

ANON, 1864b. The Coloured Decoration of Churches. The Builder, 22, pp. 684-688,724-725,733-734, 741.

ANON, 1864a. Topological prints  – Headington and others – Two Buckler Drawing Copies, one loose large one fixed smaller, One Set * six Photos [MyDesc] – Bodl: Gough Adds Oxon a.71 f44,46r.

ANON, 1862. Appeal by Rev. Pring, letters concerning Headington Church (St Andrews) Restoration of 1863 by J.C. Buckler, architect  [MyDesc] – Bodl. MS.Top. Oxon. c103.

ANON, 1860-1864. Proceedings of the Oxford Architectural and Historical Society 1860-1864. Oxford Architectural and Historical Society, n.s.1(1), pp. 302.

BENZ ST., J.L., 2012. Three medieval queens : queenship and the crown in fourteenth-century England. New York, NY ; Basingstoke: New York, NY ; Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.

BEVINGTON, D.,M., 2012. Medieval drama. Hackett ed.. edn. Indianapolis, Ind. : Lancaster: Indianapolis, Ind. : Hackett ; Lancaster : Gazelle, distributor].

BLAIR, J., 1987. St Frideswide’s Reconsidered. Oxoniensia, 52, pp. 71.

BLAIR, J., 20 March 2013, 2004-last update, Frithuswith (d. 727) [Homepage of Oxford University Press], [Online]. Available:

BODLEIAN LIBRARY, 1954. English illumination of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Oxford: Oxford : Oxford University Press.

BODLEIAN LIBRARY, 1951. Scenes from the life of Christ in English manuscripts. Oxford: Oxford : Bodleian Library.

BROWN, M.P., 2007. The Holkham Bible picture book : a facsimile. London: London : British Library.

BROWN, M.P., 2006. The Luttrell psalter : a facsimile. London: London : The British Library.

BUCKLER, C.A., 1886. Bucleriana: notices of the family of Buckler, collected by C.A. Buckler. Lond: Lond.

CAIGER-SMITH, A., 1963. English medieval mural paintings. Oxford: Oxford : Clarendon Press.

DE VILLIERS, L., 1957. The Victoria history of the county of Oxford, Bullingdon Hundred. London: London : Archibald Constable : Published for University of London Institute of Historical Research by Oxford University Press.

DIBBLE, J., 2004-last update, Stainer, Sir John (1840–1901) [Homepage of Oxford University Press], [Online]. Available: [18 Jan 2013, .

DIOCESAN ASSOCIATION, 1849. The rules, proceedings and list of subscribers to the Diocesan association (society) for the increase of church accommodation within the diocese of Oxford. Oxf: Oxf.

EDWARDS, J., 1994. The Interpretation of English Medieval Wall Paintings – A Retrospective. Archeological Journal, 151.

EDWARDS, J., 1989. English Medieval Wall-Paintings : Some Nineteenth Century Hazards. Archeological Journal, 146, pp. 465-474.

EDWARDS, J., 2001. Pre-Reformation wall-paintings in England : an introduction. Oxford: Oxford : Juliette Edwards.

EDWARDS, J., 1988. The medieval wall-paintings formerly at St Andrew’s Church, Headington, Oxford. Archaeological Journal, 145, pp. 263-271.

ELLIOTT, J.K., 1999b-last update, The Infancy Gospel of St Thomas [Mar 2013, .

ELLIOTT, J.K., 1999a-last update, The Gospel of Pseudo‐Matthew. Available: [Mar 2013, .

EVANS, E., 1928. The manor of Headington. Shipston-on-Stour: Shipston-on-Stour : the Kings Stone Press.

HASSALL, W.O., 1954. The Holkham Bible picture book. [2nd ed.]. edn. London: London : Dropmore Press.

HILDBURGH, W.L., 1876-, 1949. English alabaster carvings as records of the medieval religious drama. Oxford: Oxford : Society of Antiquaries of London.

HURST, H., 1891. Letter to Professor Sir J. Stainer K.G.B. with coloured drawings of Headington Church Murals matched to French Carol, Photo of Reaper  [MyDesc]  – Bodl: MS. Top. Oxon. e.272. Personal Letter edn.

HURST, H., 1889c. Coloured Drawings of Headington Church Murals based on Tracings and mural clipping, inc  Flight Comparative Drawing  [MyDesc] – Bodl: MS. Top. Oxon. c.197. , pp. p1-10.

HURST, H., 1889a. Old Oxford, Set of clippings (not murals), notes etc from OAHS Activity, Notes of Lecture given 25th Feb 1889 by Hurst  (similar to Bodl: MS. Top. Oxon d.127) [MyDesc] – Bodl: MS. Top. Oxon. c.189. Oxford: .

HURST, H., 1889b. Mural Paintings in the Churches Of Cowley, Headington and Milcombe – Account of Lecture Notes by Hurst given to Oxon. Arch. Soc Feb 1889 (similar:  Bodl: MS.Top.Oxon.c189 ), with Drawing In Builder [MyDesc] – Bodl: MS. Top. Oxon. d.127.

HURST, H., 1885. Rambles and rides around Oxford signed H.H.]. 2nd Edition edn. Oxford: Shrimpton and Sons.

JAMES, M., R. and HOBSON, R.L., 1923. Rare Mediaeval Tiles and Their Story. The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 42(238), pp. 32-35+37.

KEYSER, C.E., 1883. A list of buildings in Great Britain and Ireland having mural and other painted decorations, of dates prior to the latter part of the sixteenth century, with historical introduction and alphabetical index of subjects. 3d ed., enlarged.. edn. London: London : Printed by Eyre and Spottiswoode for H. M. Stationery off.

LE VER, FIRMIN, CA. 1370-1444, 1994. Firmini Verris Dictionarius : dictionnaire latin-français de Firmin Le Ver 1440. Turnholti: Turnholti : Brepols.

LONG, E.T., 1972. Mediaeval Wall Paintings in Oxfordshire Churches. Oxoniensia, 37, pp. 86-86-108.

LONG, E.T., 1930. Some Recently Discovered English Wall Paintings. The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 56(326), pp. 225-227+230-233.

MIGNE, J.P., 1856. Dictionnaire des Apocryphes, ou, Collection de tous les livres Apocryphes relatifs a l’Ancien et au Nouveau Testament. 3 edn. Paris: Paris : J.-P. Migne.

MUMBY, J., 1987. The Parish Church. A village within a city : the story of Old Headington, Oxford, , pp. 27.

PARKER, J.H., 1846. A guide to the architectural antiquities in the neighbourhood of Oxford. Oxford: Oxford : John Henry Parker.

PARKER, M., 1865. The gentleman’s magazine and historical review. Historical review, xviii, pp. 323-168.

PARSONS, J., Carmi, Jan 2008, 2004-last update, Margaret of France (1279?–1318) [Homepage of ;Oxford University Press], [Online]. Available: ttp:// [Nov 2013, .

PICKERING, F.P., 1971. The Anglo-Norman text of the Holkham Bible picture book. Oxford: Oxford : Blackwell for the Anglo-Norman Text Society.

PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE, 1893-1901. Calendar of the Patent Rolls of Edward I v. 3. 1292-1301 Membrane 4 Grant of Dower to Margaret of France Sep 10 1299. London : H.M.S.O.

ROSEWELL, R., 2008. Medieval wall paintings in English & Welsh churches. Woodbridge, UK ; Rochester, NY: Woodbridge, UK ; Rochester, NY : Boydell Press.

ROUSE, C., E., 1943. Wall Paintings In The Church Of St John the Evangelist, Corby, Lincolnshire. Archeological Journal, 143, pp. 151.

ROUSE, E.C., 1991. Medieval Wall Paintings. 4th ed.. edn. Aylesbury: Aylesbury : Shire Publications.

ROYAL COMMISSION ON HISTORICAL MONUMENTS (ENGLAND), 1939. An inventory of the historical monuments in the City of Oxford. London: London : H.M.S.O.

ST. FRIDESWIDE’S MONASTERY., 1896b. The cartulary of the Monastery of St. Frideswide at Oxford – Chantry and County Parish Charters. Oxford: Oxford : Printed for the Oxford Historical Society at the Clarendon Press.

ST. FRIDESWIDE’S MONASTERY., 1896a. The cartulary of the Monastery of St. Frideswide at Oxford  – General and City Charters. Oxford: Oxford : Printed for the Oxford Historical Society at the Clarendon Press.

TRISTRAM, E.W., 1955. English wall painting of the fourteenth century. London: London : Routledge & Kegan Paul.

TRISTRAM, E.W.(., 1927. Wall-paintings in Croughton Church, Northamptonshire. Oxford: Oxford : Society of Antiquaries of London.

TYACK, G., May 2011, 2004-last update, Buckler, John (1770–1851) [Homepage of Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004], [Online]. Available: [21 Jan 2013, .

WALL, J.C., 1913. Mediaeval wall paintings. London: London : Talbot & Co.

WARNER, G.F., 1912. Queen Mary’s Psalter : miniatures and drawings by an English artist of the 14th century, reproduced from Royal ms. 2 B. VII in the British Museum. London: London : Printed for the Trustees : sold at the British Museum etc.].

WOOD, A.À, 1899. “Survey of the antiquities of the city of Oxford,” composed in 1661-6, by Anthony Wood. Oxford: Oxford : Printed for the Oxford Historical Society at the Clarendon Press.


Bodl: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

OHC: Oxford History Centre, Oxford County Council

Appendix A – Image Reference List




The Builder






Dioc. Papers


Hurst Notebook

MS Top Oxon e.272


Lecture Notes

MS Top Oxon d.127



MS Top Oxon a21 f13/14/15


A 71 f46/f47

MS Top Oxon



Gents Mag


Whole Scheme inc Outer








Print (as Builder)

Buckler Originals



Buckler copies (2)


Buckler copy


St Peter









Hurst Colour Drawing



St Paul









Hurst Colour Drawing



The Queen








As b.70

Hurst Colour Drawing











As b.70

Hurst Colour Drawing



1 Nativity










Hurst Colour Drawing



Egypt – The Flight











Hurst Colour Drawing



Herod – Bids Soldiers











Hurst Colour Drawing



Golden Cornfld












Hurst Colour Drawing












as b.70

Hurst Colour Drawing



Golden Cornfld










as b.70

Hurst Colour Drawing



Entry to Jerusalam









as b.70

Hurst Colour Drawing



Golden Cornfld

The Escape









as b.70

Hurst Colour Drawing




Appendix B – The Frideswide’s Stories

Life A“She was carefully brought up, and from the age of five was entrusted to a matron called AEfgifu to learn her letters.  Already chosen as vessel of the Holy Spirit, she studied earnestly, learnt the Psalter within six months ..

Life B“After five years of careful upbringing, she was entrusted to a religious matron called Algiva to learn her letters .. who could not marvel at this five year old maiden who learning 150 psalms in about five months … All marvelled to see the frail sex at so young an age surpassing masculine strength, and her father rejoiced”

(Blair 1987, p. 1, 74-75)

Wood – “They [her parents] perceiving her in her education to be religiously addicted, and even from her infancy to embrace celestiall before terrest<r>iall enjoyments, committed her, being at the age of 15,t othe tutelage of Algiva, one most noted…for her piety and learning..She I say, being placed under the government of such a holy matron to obtaine literature , did within the space of 5 months to the admiration of every one learn all David’s psalmes ‘memoriter,’ and made such fruitfull progresse in all her undertakings that shee in a short time became the patterne of piety and vertue.”

(Wood 1899, p. 122)

Appendix C – Divesorium

DIVERSORIUM .sorii – .i. diversitas viarum vel locus remotus ab alio vel receptaculum, scilicet hospicium vel hospitale .i. destour et dicitur Diversorium a *diverto .tis quia illuc divertimus vel quia ex diversis viis ibi conveniatur, unde in Luca: non erat ei locus in diversorio ; et, ut dicit Glosa super Lucam: diversorium est domus inter duos muros, duas habens ianuas ut ex diversis viis reciperet Advenientes


Version 1.0 – Original release  –  20/05/0213 

Notes On Text

[i] Please contact the author for how to obtain this from the copyright holders

[ii] Many references cited originate from his articles and the debt is acknowledged.

[iii]Edwards was a highly experienced and knowledgeable author of at least 28 articles (Edwards 1994) on medieval murals, however the images he had access to were only the inaccurate Buckler drawing the miniature photographs in Victoria County History, Oxfordshire and Gough Adds. Oxon a.71 (panels 3,5,6,7) which lead him to conclusions that are not supported by the full evidence.

The reference for the remaining photographs cited by Victoria County History, Oxfordshire (De Villiers 1957), of “Bodleian MS. Oxon. Dioc. Pp.70” is firstly, malformed as it lacks a folio size (see refs), and secondly was transferred to the Oxford History Centre (former archives) in the 1980s.  These contain crucial comparative information.

Further he cites only one set of Hurst’s lecture notes and “Rambles and Rides around Oxford,” which was written in 1885 before new observations.

[iv] Hurst mentions the loss of some original drawings (Hurst 1889a, f.121)

[v] Rosewell nuances this, but his comments apply less to these murals than others. (Rosewell 2008, p. 183)

[vi]  The Buckler family were well known architects (Tyack 2004), C.A. Buckler even produced a family tree. (Buckler 1886)

[vii] The speech by the Lord Bishop Of Oxford is a fascinating, and surprising, glimpse into attitudes of the time.

[viii] Mal schauen ob sich wiederholen wird

[ix] However St Christopher would then not be in sequence, but may have been done later, or traditional positioning may have been the overriding factor, or simply the outer and inner paintings have no sequential relationship.

[x] Some were women see Rosewell, p.111.

[xi] Perhaps unsurprisingly, Edward of Woodstock

[xii] Mary does have a halo in The Nativity in St Mary s Psalter (Warner 1912,p.148 f.85)

[xiii] Hildburgh (Hildburgh 1949, p. 61) suggests it may also allude to his birth date “between moon and sun”

[xiv] See Appendix C for the meaning

[xv] Eg: (Brown 2006, f. 86v, Warner 1912, p.148,184) [Lutteral f.86v] and many other examples.

[xvi] Hurst states there are two dead children in the foreground in 1885 in Rambles and Rides, but this is not clear from the photographic evidence, and it is not mentioned in any other notes after that date dealing with the panel.

[xvii] Edwards did not have access to these, hence he suggested a cloak as is the case in other examples cited

[xviii] Hassall’s statement is correct for his reference (5) on p. 95 (Bodleian Library 1951, f8) where an old Joseph leads at the front with a hand gesture as in the murals with the fourth younger figure carrying water and whipping the mule – he seems to have muddled his sources

[xix] To confuse matters still further, Hurst’s drawing shows all the characters with the same dress, but the photo shows the holy family in dark attire, and the fourth figure leading the donkey in lighter dress.

[xx] Edwards states it is the “fourth figure” from “The Flight” (Edwards 1988, p. 266) but examination of the photographs shows the figures as completely different, even given the medieval lack of rigour between scenes.

[xxi] Hurst made no claim a cruciform halo was represented

[xxii] The Tring Tiles are currently on display in the British Museum, room 38, this one bottom rightmost

[xxiii] Edwards (p. 266) tentatively suggests ‘Herod himself… as the cavalryman may be wearing a crown’ but the face is clearly different even allowing medieval inexactitude.

[xxiv] The apparent severed head between the sword and torso of the “good knight” in the photograph seems to be an allusion as no witnesses mention it and it would not be consistent with any known episode.

[xxv] “Evangile de Thomas” is “The Infancy Gospel of St Thomas”, “Livre de la naisssance de la bien heureuse Marie et l’enfance de sauveur” is “Book of the birth by Mary and the childhood of the saviour”

 [xxvii] Author’s translation

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