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The fifth scene is fortunately clear and distinct. An officer wearing parti-coloured uniform stands in the front spear in hand. A prisoner is seen through a grilled window, and is being ministered to by a merciful visitor who draws food from his wallet. What can we have here but
In the next place we have apparently the painting of a death-bed scene, or of one grievously ill; a sick man is lying on a wooden bed, and two females are in attendance. What can better agree with the painting than the words
"Visiting the sick."
Last of all in the immediate series, we find what clearly
The burial of the dead."
The body is laid in an open coffin enveloped in a shroud which is marked with a red cross. The two attendant females are once more present, and a priest in a surplice with long sleeves presides over the last ceremony of the church on earth.
After the conclusion of the seven corporal acts of mercy, we have several very distinct portrayals of scenes from the life of our blessed Lord. First we meet with our Lord held by an attendant officer, and He stoops down mercifully to heal, or even as it seems, to replace, the ear of Malchus which St. Peter has cut off, whilst the Apostle himself is now sheathing his sword. Malchus, who is represented as a black man, has fallen to the ground. Judas stands by our Lord ready to give the traitor's kiss.
Immediately after this, we see our Lord brought as a prisoner before Pilate. The Roman procurator is seated on his throne with a sceptre in his hand, and like Malchus is represented black. There follow in their course various events of the Passion. Christ is seen enduring the cruel scourging for man's sake, and here endures biting strokes from leaded whip and birch; truly He is here represented as "grievously afflicted." In the next place we see our blessed Lord bending under the weight of the Cross, which He
Himself bears, that He may, like Isaac, provide for His own sacrifice. After this, we see our Lord raised upon the Cross. His blessed mother, St. Mary, and the beloved Apostle, St. John, are standing at the foot on either side. Immediately after the crucifixion, we see the picture of the descent from the Cross. A ladder leans against it, and one who is there present draws the nails from our Lord's hands with an unusually large pair of pincers. Joseph of Arimathæa reverently receives the body of Christ as it is lowered. We then see the entombment of our Lord by the women who have followed Him from Galilee, and who now anoint His body for the burial; and thus Christ is placed on an open coffin, and embalmed with spices and ointment by those who so dearly loved and clung to Him in His death.
We have now to turn to the spandrel over the third pillar from the west, and there we find a very distinct representation of the descent of our Lord into Hades. Christ, "bearing the bannered Cross, approaches the mouth of Hades, which opens wide to receive Him, and is represented in the usual conventional way as a dragon." The imprisoned spirits crowd to meet the Lord, who carries His sceptre.
Foremost of all, Adam, holding the apple, extends his right hand to our Lord, who takes it in His own. Closely after Adam, we see Eve and others following in succession. We also observe above our Lord, two forms which I conclude represent evil spirits; in appearance they are most like two horned cocks, of which one is black and the other red.
The next spandrel, which at one time seemed to be incomprehensible, now presents to us an unusually clear picture of the Resurrection. Christ appears holding a sceptre in His left hand. The stone is seen moved back from the tomb, and a soldier, one of the watch, falls back to the ground at the sight of Christ and the Angel of the Lord.
We have now considered the various scenes of our Lord's passion as they are presented to us in the Church at Pickering. We next have to rise to contemplate the space between the clerestory windows on the same, i.e. the south side of the nave. A large proportion of the painting is here destroyed, but what remains is clearly concerned with the
history of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whilst one panel on the north side completes the whole series on this subject.
As many conflicting opinions may be excited on this subject, I think it best, as far as possible, to confine myself to facts. Something, however, must be left to the imagination, and to more or less reliable conjecture.
We begin our observations above the second pillar at the west end of the south side, and I think the serial arrangement leads to the conclusion, that we have here what remains of a representation of the death of the Blessed Virgin. What is left is however very little-indeed less than half the original painting. For it is incontestable that the upper half has altogether gone, for new plaster now occupies its place. Here there is ample room conjecture, and in that which is lost I am led to suppose was once represented the death of the Blessed Virgin. As she lies on her death-bed, she would naturally be surrounded by the eleven Apostles-we have to conjecture that the six Apostles still remaining in the picture are intended to be at her bedside, and that five have disappeared with the old plaster. St. Andrew is in the foreground with his customary cross, and St. Peter stands in the centre holding two keys, one black and the other red. It is a great misfortune that the picture should be left so imperfect, but remembering the serial character" of the paintings and the subjects which immediately follow, I am inclined to think that we can assign no other subject to the panel so well as that of the death of the Blessed Virgin.
In the next place we find a subject which was long a considerable puzzle to many antiquaries; Mr. Keyser, one of the most eminent authorities, has, I think, given the true explanation. As the last scene probably represents the death of the Blessed Virgin, so does this her burial. Eleven Apostles carry the bier on which the coffin is laid, and which contains the body of the mother of our Lord.
I do not think any one who has seen the bas-relief outside the Church of Notre Dame in Paris, on the northeast side of the chancel, can fail to be struck with its similarity to the picture here; unlike it, however, is the figure seated on the coffin, and this Mr. Keyser considers to represent the Jewish Prince Belzeray, who is said to have interfered so unceremoniously with the funeral (cp. story of
Sophia, Smith Dict. Bible, vol. ii., p. 265). Raising himself on the coffin he is said as a punishment to have become inextricably attached to the pall, and as the legend has it, to have only escaped after repentance, and been set free by the united intercession of the Apostles.
On the Notre Dame bas-relief, Belzeray himself lies on the ground, and the hands with which he has touched the pall are seen to remain hanging from the part which he desecrated; whilst at Pickering, he is painted remaining on the coffin, and enduring terrible contortion and agony.
The next panel in all probability represents the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, but little is left, and no restoration has been attempted. All that we can trace are the figures of two Angels on the left, and what is apparently the girdle which was thrown down to St. Thomas, and a few lines which may have represented part of the figure of St. Mary as she rises heavenward.
And now there is only one more subject which belongs to the series, and this is found exactly opposite to the last which we considered, but no longer on the south but the north wall of the nave. This represents the traditional coronation of the mother of our Lord, and exhibits in some parts work superior in artistic character to much that we find elsewhere. Whilst the two first persons of the Trinity appear taking part in the coronation, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove. A scroll crossing the upper portion has on it the name "S. Mary." Beneath we see a group of the Apostles, and amongst them St. Andrew and St. Peter. But curiosity soon carries our eyes higher, and in the upper portion of the picture, we find a representation of the rampart of Heaven, whilst an Angel is seen between each of the battlements, and above and behind the angelic choir, there appear what seem to be prophets of the Old Testament, wearing somewhat fantastic caps, and looking down at the scene below them.
We must not omit some notice of the various designs of the borders in flowery pattern of black and red. These considerably add to the general appearance of the paintings, which they thus separate into panels.
Round the north transept arch, there is a zigzag pattern in black and red, and the same design has now been repeated on the arch of the south transept.
370 MURAL PAINTINGS IN ST. PETER'S CHURCH, PICKERING.
I greatly regret being unable to decipher the Latin texts running across parts of the story of St. Katharine. Mr. Weale, of the Art Library, South Kensington Museum, promised to help me if possible from the photographs, but having had no answer to my enquiries, I conclude he cannot do so.