4.7 The nave south wall: the Lyf of Adam


The Golden Legend's account of The Legend of the Cross commences with the story of the Fall of Adam and his death 900 years later; a story which had its origins in early apocryphal writings such as the so-called Gospel of Nicodemus (Davidson 1988, 22). Prior to his death, Adam sent his son Seth to the gate of Paradise to seek for the oil of mercy. Following a vision of a new-born Child in a tree, an angel commanded Seth to take three seeds from the apple eaten by his father, which were to be placed in his father's mouth before burial. The wands that grew from these seeds were to be taken up by Moses and planted on Mount Tabor, before being replanted by King David in Jerusalem, where they grew to be a single tree. The tree was felled to be made into a beam for the temple, but because it could not be cut to fit properly it was rejected. The images of the Legend of the Cross in Stratford-upon-Avon's chancel commence at this point. However, on the south wall of the nave there appear to have been a series of images which may have provided the detail of the 'Life of Adam' which preceded it.

In Puddephat's archive there are index card notes describing the dismantling of the pews in November 1956 during which he noted that 'The removal of the panelling on the South Side exposed fragments of a boar hunting scene; but the medieval paint was in a precarious condition, liable to crumble at a touch. Elsewhere on this side the lower portion of other works could be seen — apparently a series of pictures within inscriptions' (SCLA DR624/31). As Puddephat's analysis progressed he identified 'one inscription and the legs and feet of an archer immediately above'. The 'frescoes' were approximately two feet deep (61cm) and were arranged in a band approximately four feet (120cm) above the concrete floor (Figure 25). Puddephat's index cards provide details of the fragments of inscriptions he was able to decipher (SCLA DR624/31), from which he concluded that the paintings were of a very unusual subject matter, namely the children and wives of Cain, the origin of crafts, the death of Cain and the prophecy of Ada. The scenes formed part of the 'Lyfe' of Adam', which was a preface to the Legend of the Cross (but rarely included in edited versions of the text). Puddephat concluded that their connection to the remainder of the scheme was as a precursor of the Legend of the Cross in the chancel, and that they were 'probably by the same artist' (SCLA DR623/13 (i)). Alongside these images, nearer the west end of the nave, he identified further fragments from a 'boar hunting scene', although the iconography of these images was unclear (SCLA DR 624/31). The absence of drawings of these images means that they have not been included within the model.

Figure 25

Figure 25: Photographs of traces of the 'Lyf of Adam' on the south wall of the nave (© Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, DR399/1/1/6,GL L57, reproduced with permission of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).

4.8 The nave: the Saints

The model includes images of a female saint depicted in the robes and bearing the pastoral crook of an abbess, with a cat and mouse at her feet. Fisher (1838) identified this figure as Saint Modwena, a Saxon saint, and erroneously located it in his plan as being in the niche at the west end of the south wall of the nave, but it is actually located on the opposite, north, wall of the nave.

Saint Modwena is best known for the foundation of Burton-upon-Trent Abbey in Staffordshire in the 7th century. Her inclusion in the Guild Chapel was thought by Puddephat (SCLA DR 624/27) and Davidson 1988, 28-9) to reflect the fact that she had lands at Polesworth in North Warwickshire, where she may have established a nunnery with Edith, the daughter of the King. However, Gill (pers. comm.) has questioned this attribution on the grounds that the imagery of the cat or mouse/rat is not associated with her iconography. An alternative, but tentative, hypothesis might be that the image was of St Gertrude, a continental saintly abbess known for her expulsion of rats and mice.

The nave also contained an image which Nichols (in Fisher 1838, 4) believed to be Saint Edmund, on the grounds that the figure was depicted holding an arrow as a symbol of martyrdom. However, this would be a very unusual iconography of the saint in the 15th century, when he was usually depicted as crowned and bound, being shot by archers. Davidson (1988, 29) has therefore suggested that a more plausible identification for this figure would be Saint Ursula, since the now-faded image suggests that the figure was female with a nimbus and accompanied by two smaller figures, which may represent the maidens with whom she was executed in Cologne.

Fisher (plate XIII) recorded that images of the Virgin and the Crucifixion were also preserved in 1804 in the second niche from the west end of the church, although these were not illustrated in his lithographs (Puddephat SCLA DR624/27).

4.9 The nave west wall: St Thomas à Becket (south side: upper compartment)


St Thomas à Becket was one of the most popular saints depicted in 15th-century wall paintings (Rosewell 2008, 72). Although individual images of the saint survive, such as that on the 15th-century tomb of John Wootton, at All Saints, Maidstone (Kent), the most common iconography of the saint, depicted in Caxton's woodcuts in The Golden Legend was the moment of his martyrdom in Canterbury Cathedral, as at Marston Magna (Somerset), Pickering (N Yorks) and South Burlingham (Norfolk). Becket was a powerful symbol for the late medieval church, particularly with regard to its independence from Royal authority. His cult was suppressed in the 16th century by Henry VIII and his images then became a particular target for iconoclasts. However, as noted above, by the 15th century Becket had also become an important symbol for London's civic officials owing to the presence of his chapel in St Paul's churchyard (Appleford 2008), and his inclusion at Stratford may, like the Dance of Death itself, represent another conscious reference to St Paul's in Hugh Clopton's Guild Chapel scheme.

The model and the paintings

The model juxtaposes Fisher's drawings of the St Thomas à Becket image with that of Puddephat. The scene appears to have been well preserved when it was uncovered in the upper compartment of the south side of the west wall of the nave in 1804. The iconography of this scene was easily recognised by Wheler (1806, 98) and by Fisher (Fisher 1838), and Fisher included in his appendices the Legend of St Thomas à Becket from Julian Notary's 1503 edition of Caxton's Golden Legend.

Figure 26

Figure 26:St. Thomas à Becket, south side of the west wall of the nave, Stratford-upon-Avon Guild Chapel, reconstructed by Wilfrid Puddephat (© Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, DR399/1/1/3/GC G58, reproduced with permission of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust).

The frame of the scene is provided by a crenellated and vaulted interior, clearly meant to represent Canterbury Cathedral. St Thomas is shown kneeling at the altar of St Benedict. On the altar are a pair of candlesticks, a chalice and a Bible, suggesting that at Stratford, Becket was depicted about to say mass, which contrasts with the historical account which placed the murder during evensong (Davidson 1988, 29). Behind it is a plain, timber-panelled reredos, or retable. At the far end of the altar is the clerk Edward Grim, who raises his right hand to remonstrate with the four knights who have come to kill Thomas. The knights are identified by black-letter inscriptions. Reginald Fiturse stands to Beckett's left and William de Tracy behind him and thrust their swords into the back of his neck; Hugh de Morville swings his sword up into the air, preparing to strike, behind Fitzurse, and a brutal-looking Richard de Brito (or le Breton) draws his sword behind his companions, next to an open door. Stratford preserves a particularly graphic representation of the attack in progress, and Fisher 's lithographs shows blood spilling from the saint's neck in particularly graphic detail. It is possible that this was an attempt by Fisher to represent the medieval use of pigments such as vermillion, red lead and red lake to differentiate these areas, as may also have been the case in The Doom (see Gill 2011, 215, for evidence of this in Holy Trinity, Coventry). Interestingly, Puddephat's drawing of the scene places it back in its mural and architectural context, as an early form of reconstruction drawing (Figure 26).


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