4.11 The nave west wall: St George and the Dragon (north side: upper compartment)


From the 14th century onwards, St George was the patron saint of England and by the 15th century he was one of the most popular saints to be depicted in medieval wall paintings, whose story featured prominently in The Golden Legend. Davidson (1988, 31) has suggested that he was particularly popular in the Midlands, where relics were listed in late medieval ecclesiastical inventories at Coventry and Warwick. Fisher's drawing preserves greater detail than is often found in surviving images, but is consistent with other late 15th-century images, such as that at Broughton (Bucks), and Fritton (Norfolk), which also include the princess and the lamb (possibly a reference to the Agnus Dei). St George is often found towards the western end of parish churches, near doorways, where he is frequently paired with an image of St Christopher, as at Pickering (N Yorks).

At Stratford several scholars, including Puddephat (SCLA DR624/31) linked the presence of an image of St George to an Ascension Day pageant in which actors dressed up as St George and the Dragon and paraded around the town. Wheler (1814, 57) noted that, 'There was formerly upon Holy Thursday a procession of St George, whose armour or harness was placed on one man, and the dragon was borne by another'. The earliest recorded reference to the pageant of St George is in the Corporation accounts for 1541, when it appears to have been connected with an altar of St George in the parish church, mentioned in the contemporary will of John Wilkinson, alias Sadler, in June 1542 (Savage 1921, xix).

'payd fir Skowryne Sent george harness ijs, to brynklow for sharpyng the pyks iijd'

And in 1543:

'for Skowryng ye harness iijs taward ye vyez Cott ijs, Whytley for kepyng ye alter iiijs ijd'.

Further references, which combined payments for 'scouring' (cleaning) the harness and for candlesticks and tapers, were made in 1545 and in 1547 'for Scowryng Sent George harness ijs viijd, to beyond for Wax and makynge viijd, to Walter for Dydyng Sent George vjd, to hym yt bare ye dragon iiijd, to henshaw for mending ye dragon xijd'.

Although the first documented reference to the pageant therefore occurred some forty years after the completion of the chapel and its paintings, Savage (1921, xix) implied that it had an earlier genesis, appearing in the records only because it had been taken over in the late 1530s by the Wardens of Hugh Clopton's other major benefaction to the town — the bridge (Savage 1921, xix-xx). Although the pageant and the altar were suppressed under Edward, the pageant was revived under Mary. In 1556, further payments were made for 'scouringe' and 'letheringes' and for ' a dosyn of poyntes' for George's harness and for 'settinge hit on the mans backe' as well as for 'bearing the dragon'. In 1557 the harness was painted and ijs of gun powder was being used to enhance the dragon's effect.

The pageant was finally abandoned on Elizabeth's accession, but by then St George's harness seems to have made its way into the 'armoury' or 'harness chamber' in the upper floor of the south wing of the adjacent Guildhall, presumably as part of the armour for Stratford's civic militia. In the 1570s the Corporation accounts record various payments for making racks for the storage of guns in the harness chamber, and in 1579/80 William Evans was paid xijd for 'scowring iiij swordes ' mending two caleuers' and a further iiijd 'for scowring of the George armoure the vjth day of June' (Savage 1926, 45).

The model and the paintings

Figure 29

Figure 29: St. George and the 'Whore of Babylon', north side of the west wall of the nave, Stratford-upon-Avon Guild Chapel, Wilfrid Puddephat (© Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, DR399/1/1/3/GC G59, reproduced with permission of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).

Once again, the model juxtaposes Fisher's drawing made in 1804 with that of Puddephat, made in 1956. Fisher's drawing suggests that the scene may have suffered some damage, particularly towards the right-hand edge of the scene. The Stratford St George follows the conventional iconography of the scene and the story as relayed in The Golden Legend. A coastline is depicted at the top of the scene and in the top left-hand corner is the walled town and port of Silenia, Libya. Inside the town there are a series of towers, from one of which a crowned King and Queen, mother of the bound princess who cowers with bent knees towards the right-hand side of the picture. The front of the scene is occupied by St George on horseback. Although the figure is damaged, George appears dressed in full plate armour, or 'harness', with a visor covering most of his face and a heraldic shield, while his horse is richly decorated with a caparison. The dragon is shown winged and with fearsome claws and a curling tail. It twists backwards with an open mouth and half of George's lance piercing his throat and half snapped off in a claw. George raises his sword to finish off the beast, while his horse also stabs the dragon with part of its armour. Once again, Puddephat's reconstruction drawing of the painting draws heavily on Fisher's original record, but restores it to its mural context (Figure 29). He also clarifies the iconography of the small beast chained to the princess, which looks rather like a dog in Fisher's engraving but which Puddephat clearly shows as the more conventional sacrificial lamb.


© Internet Archaeology/Author(s)
University of York legal statements | Terms and Conditions | File last updated: Tue Jul 25 2012