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ON A FIGURE OF ST. MARGARET, SUPPOSED
TO HAVE COME FROM MARTON PRIORY.
BY CANON J. T. FOWLER, D.C.L., F.S.A.
The occasion of this paper has been that my attention directed some months ago by Mr. W. Brown to a sculptured figure preserved at Sutton Hall, near Thirsk, said to have come from Marton Priory, a small house of Austin Canons, situated in the parish of Marton-in-the-Forest (of Galtres), near Easingwold. The figure is about 2 ft. 6 in. in height, and but rudely executed; its probable date is about A.D. 1500. It is not possible for us to know in what particular part of the building it was placed, further than that it was walled in somewhere. The size of the stone is 2 ft. 8 in. by 10% in., and it is 71 in. in depth. Our illustration shows the saint as if rising out of the side of the dragon, though the sculptor has had neither the skill nor the space to make this distinctly apparent. Shc is holding her cross in both hands, and the lower end is in the dragon's mouth ; a small portion of the shaft is in her left hand, while with her right she holds the top, with the cross broken ; the rest of the shaft is broken away. She is sometimes represented as piercing the dragon, or trampling on him, or with an angel protecting her, and sometimes with a dove, said to have been seen to issue from her body during her passion, and also immediately after her decapitation. When the dragon has not the end of the cross in his mouth, the skirt of the saint's robe is usually represented as trailing in at it, as described below.
St. Margaret, the supposed virgin martyr of Antioch, in Pisidia, date uncertain, was the subject of much veneration in comparatively early times. According to the ancient martyrologies, she suffered at Antioch in Pisidia, in the general persecution under Diocletian in 303–313. Her name occurs in the most ancient litanies of the west, and, under the name of Marina, in the earliest calendars of the Greeks. From the east her veneration spread into Europe, and her name is found in English litanies of the seventh century, and in a Latin martyrology of the ninth. In 966 a church was dedicated in her honour 1 Somewhat distorted in reproduction. The stone is quite straight.
The sculpture is, however, sufficiently well shown.
in the diocese of Liege, and in the thirteenth her cultus prevailed very greatly in England, where no less than two hundred and thirty-eight churches have been dedicated in her sole honour, besides six where she is named conjointly with other saints. Some of these dedications, however, may belong to St. Margaret of Scotland. In the Sarum Breviary, her day (July 20) is a feast with nine proper lessons from the fabulous “ Acts." York also has nine lessons, the seventh from the Common of Virgins, the other eight from the "Acts," which Baronius, in his notes on the Roman martyrology, gives up as wholly fabulous, and accordingly they disappear in all Roman Breviaries after the reform by Pius V in 1566-1572, though up to that time the lessons were taken from them. In the later Roman Breviaries, e.g. in 1582 and 1838, St. Margaret has no proper lessons, but only a commemoration from the Common of Virgins. Since 1769 the office of the day has been that of St. Jerome Æmiliani, who had been canonised by Clement XIII (1758–1769). In that great store-house of mediæval saint-lore, the Golden Legend, which was compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, who died about 1294, we find it stated, among many other things, that " when St. Margaret was in prison a huge dragon appeared, and would have devoured her, but at the sign of the cross he vanished, or," says the author, "as we read elsewhere, placing his mouth over her head and putting out his tongue over her heel, he straightway swallowed her up. But while he would have done so, she fortified herself by the sign of the cross, whereupon the dragon burst asunder, and she emerged unhurt. But this story about the dragon swallowing her and bursting asunder is reputed to be apocryphal and frivolous."1
The apocryphal account, quoted with disapproval by the Bollandists, is to the same effect, but with more detail. The dragon is resplendent in colours and gold, his hairs and beard are golden ; his teeth as iron, and his eyes as pearls; from his nostrils went out fire and smoke; his tongue shot out; over his neck was a serpent; a glittering sword appeared in his " hand," and he made a stench in the prison. He hissed loudly, and the prison was lighted up by the fire from his mouth. He swallowed up St. Margaret in the way stated in the Golden Legend, but the cross which she had made grew in his mouth and split him up; then the saint arose out of his belly unhurt. In another account, quoted by the Bollandists * Appendix i.
with approval, the story assumes a very different complexion. There it is only the devil appearing in the form of a dragon breathing fire from mouth and nostrils, and when the saint betook herself to prayer and made the sign of the cross against the enemy, he departed for that time. In a MS. copy of the Old English Festiall, the dragon incident is related as follows:
And anone ther com out of a corner by an horrible dragon, and yaned (yawned) upon hir, and wolde haue swalowed hir, and so he did in deed. And whan he had hir all in mouth, he also brast by cause of the crosse whiche she made in the entering in of him. And then Mergett lokid about, and see the fiend bownde with yron cheynes. And she com and thristid him downe to the erthe, insomoche that the fiend cried and saide, Allas, I am bounde for euer, and all my might is lost throwgh a wenche which is callid Merget, for she hath ouercome me. And therefor where euer ye se Saint Merget paynted she hath a dragon vndir her feet, and a crosse in hir hande. In tokenyng that she, by vertue of the crosse which she made, had the victorie of the fiend.” In the York Breviary, known as “The Church of Radby's
, ok,''3 and in that of 1493, reprinted by the Surtees Society, are legendary proper lessons, but no mention of the dragon. In a pre-Pian Roman Breviary4 all that is said is that the old enemy appeared as a dragon about to devour the saint, but vanished when she made the sign of the cross. In the Aberdeen Breviary of 1510, reprinted 1854, it is said that the dragon burst in the midst at the sign of the cross. But in the Sarum Breviary of 1531 (Cambridge reprint 1886), we have much more detail. We there read that while the saint was imprisoned for her faith, rising from prayer she beheld a terrible dragon, which, with uplifted head and open jaws, and with fearful hissings and rattling of its scales, sent the greatest terror into the mind of the maiden. And when now she was almost swallowed up by the yawning jaws of the beast, as soon as it came in contact with her cross, it burst asunder in the midst. 6
In the Sarum Breviary of 1555, the dragon incident is related exactly as in Aberdeen. We have seen above that in the six
1 Appendix iii.
? Durham Cosin MS., V. iii, 5; date about 1440.
3 Durham Cosin MS., V. i, 2; date about 1440.
* In the possession of J. Meade Falkner, Esq.; date about 1500. Appen. dix iv.
teenth century the proper lessons for St. Margaret in the Roman Breviary were abolished, and that since the eighteenth she has only had a
a “ Commemoration.” In the monastic Breviaries that I have consulted, and in those which were provided for French dioceses in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, legendary matter appears to be excluded, and in Cardinal Quignon's Breviary of 1549 there is no provision whatever for St. Margaret, although her name occurs in the Calendar, as it does in that of the English Prayer-Book.
In ecclesiastical art, the incident of the dragon, so graphically related in the older Sarum Breviary, in the Golden Legend, and in the Festiall, is frequently represented, with more or less of detail. I am not at present aware of any examples earlier than the fourteenth century, but probably there are such. Dom Bede Camm gives a list of ten paintings of St. Margaret on Devonshire screens alone, and in one of these the dragon is represented as a hairy beast, like a cat, with a huge tail. I have seen in a Hora a figure of the saint calmly and cleanly arising out of a gruesome red wound in the side of the dragon, the skirts of her robe trailing in at its mouth. In an example " from mediæval embroidery," she is standing on a
a winged snake-like dragon, with the end of her long cross in its mouth, and in painted glass at Landwade, Cambs., the end of the cross is also in the dragon's mouth.2 In a circular panel of enamel glass from the Butchers' Hall at Antwerp, demolished about forty or fifty years ago, the saint is represented as emerging unhurt from the body of a great yellow dragon; she is holding up her cross, while the skirts of her robe are trailing in at the dragon's mouth. There is a landscape back-ground, including a cruciform church with a spire, and a stream of water. This lass is of quite late Renaissance character, and that the dragon subject should be represented not only so often in mediæval times, but so late as this, shows what a hold it had on popular imagination.
1 Bond and Camm, Roodscreens, ii, 2 Calendar of the Anglican Church, 267, and fig., p. 223.
illustrated, 1851, 89, 90.