« PreviousContinue »
resting in contemplation. The body of the Saint is pierced by at least twelve arrows, and whilst three of the archers wear ordinary caps, one has a helmet on his head. The foliage of a tree hangs very thickly above the Saint's head, whilst two hands appear from the sky holding a scroll, the words on which have been damaged and blurred.
I hope, however, that the sense at least is still discernible, and nothing has been destroyed which could in any way be preserved.
The scroll on the east side has upon it the legend which declares the virtue of St. Edmund, and invokes upon him the blessings of Heaven
"Yeuen blys to hes mede
Hem sall have for his gud dede."
whilst the scroll on the other side of the picture has apparently written on it the name of the Saint
"Edmund Prync and Martyr."
We may at first be surprised to find a representation of St. Edmund appear so far north as Pickering, but when we consider the active life of the Anglican Church, we cannot be astonished that one so distinguished as St. Edmund, who has been described as "the best of our English martyrs," should not only have 55 churches dedicated in his name, but should have peculiar honour in many places in the land. A short account of this Saint seems almost necessary.
After he had reigned most nobly as King of the East Angles, he gained the Martyr's Crown in A.D. 870, under the following circumstances. When unable to withstand an
attack of the Danes, he, in the most devoted manner, offered himself as a hostage for his own people, on condition that their lives were respected. No sooner, however, was he under the power of the Danes, than they ruthlessly endeavoured, in every possible manner, to force him to renounce his religion. When scourging, all kinds of cruelty, and every indignity had failed to draw from him even a sign of recantation, they bound him to a tree, shot their arrows at his naked body, and finally struck off his head, and thus he changed his royal into a martyr's crown. His final resting place was Bury St. Edmunds.
Surely inasmuch as no other English monarch had so
richly deserved saintly honour, we cannot wonder at finding this representation of him at Pickering, where there is a royal castle.
Rising to the panel above the painting of St. Edmund, we find an unusual representation of the approaching martyrdom of St. Thomas à Becket (A.D. 1170, Dec. 29th), unusual because we do not (as is generally the case) find the murder to be an accomplished fact; but this painting, as Mr. Keyser remarked, is well worthy of note, inasmuch as the scene is antecedent to the murder.
We cannot but be thankful that this painting escaped the ruthless edict of King Henry VIII. Either the formerly isolated position of Pickering or a friendly covering of mortar may account for this. At any rate the painting remains, and whilst the death of the Saint is generally represented in a painfully realistic manner, here there is nothing which could shock the tenderest eyes. We see, indeed, the approach of the murderers with the object of consummating their deed of horror, but St. Thomas à Becket has not here received any blow from one or other of the knights, but is kneeling down praying in front of the altar, whilst his hands are clasped in earnest supplication.
As forming part of the scene in the Cathedral, we notice the vaulted roof of the 15th century style, and the black and white pavement set in triangles, whilst at the north side of the altar there is a crucifix. We notice also particularly that the Archbishop's mitre is placed upon the altar itself, and whilst the Archbishop has, of course, his back to the knights, Grim, his chaplain and cross-bearer, who seldom or never fails to appear in representations of his martyrdom, seems to confront and appeal to the knights to have respect to the Saint and the church.
We observe a difference in the movements and conduct of the four knights, but any crests on their shields have now altogether disappeared, even if they ever existed. We have, therefore, no distinguishing guide in this so general a quarter, but that the knights were severally Fitz-Urse, Tracy, De Morville and Brito, we cannot have any reasonable doubt, or that they were eagerly hurrying forward to commit this
We turn now to the opposite and south side of the church, and find there a series descriptive of the life of St.
Katharine of Alexandria. She was born, it is said, in A.D. 307, and as an indication of her martyrdom as well as of her royal birth, she is generally crowned. On the one hand, she is often depicted as bearing the sword with which she was beheaded; and on the other, as generally carrying a book as a token of her learning.
What a leading place she has had in popular estimation is shown by the fact that 51 churches are dedicated to her honour. She was the daughter of Costus, King of Alexandria, but early lost her parents.
I do not know how I can here do better than quote words spoken by the Dean of York (the Very Rev. Dr. Purey Cust), in the able sermon which he preached at the service when the restoration of the paintings was completed. He speaks thus of St. Katharine :-"A young lady, royally born, the child of Sabinella, daughter and heiress of the King of Egypt, who married Cortis, son of Constantine Chlorius, Roman Governor of York, by his first wife, at whose death he married Helena, and became the father of Constantine the Great.
"Perhaps this is the reason why here, as at York Minster, the life and death of Katharine are represented, for they would naturally be specially interesting to people."
The time came when the Emperor Maximin returned to Alexandria from Italy burning with zeal against the Christians. It was then that the event took place which is represented in the uppermost panel of the fourfold series concerning St. Katharine.
On the east side we see the idol in the Temple of Serapis, a horned image on a pedestal, and next to it holy embers of fire burn on the top of a pillar-shaped brazier, whilst a worshipper kneels at its base. Musicians with trumpets and other instruments are summoning the people to worship, whilst the Emperor himself is kneeling in front of the image, but somewhat in the background.
Full of zeal for Christ, St. Katharine apparently visits the Emperor when he has returned to his palace, and stands in front of him as he sits upon his throne, scimitar in hand, and with a black-faced attendant standing on his right. Katharine's hands are apparently clasped in prayer as she stands and rebukes the Emperor for his idolatry. Fascinated