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The Baptism of Christ/SS.Peter & Paul : Black Bourton, Oxfordshire (‡Oxford) Late C.13

Photo:T.Marshall Black Bourton, Baptism of Christ/SS.Peter & Paul (64KB)
There are two subjects here, the Baptism of Christ on the left, and Saints Peter and Paul on the right. They are the best preserved of the paintings at Black Bourton and the Baptism is an unusual subject. John the Baptist stands at the left, hands extended above Christ’s head. Christ himself stands frontally, hands together in prayer, against what seems to be a painted hillside rising up behind him to waist level. He has the tripartite halo reserved for Persons of the Trinity, and to the right of him is an angel, perhaps with a censer and what seem to be rays of light coming from Heaven.

Saints Peter & Paul. The two saints are painted in a parti-coloured roundel placed centrally in the space between two arches. Each holds up his right hand in greeting, perhaps of each other, perhaps of us. Each also has his attribute or means of identification, Peter (on the left) his key of Heaven, Paul the sword of his martyrdom. Peter and Paul, who share a feast day on June 29, are often shown together as founders of the church, representing respectively the original Jewish element in Peter, and the Gentile in Paul.
Placed as they are in the central space between two arches, they are given much greater prominence than the Baptism at the left or the Stoning of Stephen (the edge of it just visible on the right). This may mean nothing at all - although there are a number of paintings (and were probably once more) at Black Bourton, it is impossible to speak of anything like a coherent scheme. There were probably once more Infancy scenes on the opposite side of the nave - a battered Angel appearing to Joseph is still there, close to the Adoration of the Magi. Otherwise the choice of subjects seems haphazard - St. Christopher in the expected position almost opposite the South Door, a Tree of Jesse, The Martyrdom of Thomas Becket, and, by the Vestry door, remnants of a painting of him Vesting for Mass, St. Richard of Chichester and two Bishops who may also be saints, and the Coronation of the Virgin. But these two paintings raise again the difficult distinction between ‘Devotional’ painting and that of a mainly narrative character.¹ Maybe it is significant that the two (existing) paintings - these two saints and the Coronation of the Virgin - made prominent by their placing within roundels might indeed be thought of as ‘Devotional’ subjects.

We have a Victorian vicar, Canon James Lupton (Vicar, 1827-1873) to thank for the uncovering and preservation of the paintings at Black Bourton in 1866. During his absence in London, however, his curate and a churchwarden covered them with whitewash again. The furious Lupton wrote to Christ Church College, Oxford, owners of the local farm tenanted by the churchwarden, saying that this had been done by ‘my curate and your tenant...contrary to my wishes and express desire’.² Which side Christ Church took in the dispute I do not know, but ironically, we have the iconoclastic curate and churchwarden to thank as well, because the paintings were preserved under their whitewash until EW Tristram found and uncovered them again in 1932.

¹A distinction briefly discussed in these pages in connection with the ‘Detached’ Crucifixion
²A History of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Black Bourton, Oxfordshire (booklet in the church) n.d.

St. Andrew Martyred, Stoke Dry, Rutland St. Anne teaching the Virgin to read-Corby Glen, Lincolnshire St. Antony and the Pig, Barton, Cambridgeshire St. Barbara : Hessett, Suffolk St. Bartholomew : Selling, Kent St.Catherine of Alexandria, life of : Castor, Cambs St Catherine of Alexandria, Cold Overton, Leicestershire NEW
St.Catherine of Alexandria : Hardley Street, Norfolk St.Catherine of Alexandria : Old Weston, Northants St.Catherine of Alexandria : Pickering, N. Yorks St.Catherine of Alexandria, life of : Sporle, Norfolk St. Catherine of Alexandria, Martyrdom of: Burton Latimer, Northants NEW St. Clement : South Leigh, Oxon. Scenes from the life of St. Cuthbert : Pittington, Co. Durham NEW
St. Dunstan holding the Devil by the nose : Barton, Cambs St.Edmund : Boxford, Suffolk St. Edmund : Lakenheath, Suffolk St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Bishopsbourne, Kent St.Edmund, Martyrdom of : Fritton, Norfolk St. Edmund (or St. Walstan) : Gisleham, Norfolk St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Pickering, N.Yorks
St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Stoke Dry, Rutland St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Troston, Suffolk St. Edmund, Martyrdom of : Weare Giffard, Devon St.Eloi, Broughton, Bucks St. Eloi and the possessed horse, Slapton, Northants St. Eloi, as bishop & blacksmith, Wensley, N.Yorks St.Erasmus, Martyrdom of : Chippenham, Cambs
St. Etheldreda : Willingham, Cambs St. Francis Preaching to the Birds : Little Kimble, Bucks St.Francis Preaching to the Birds : Wissington, Suffolk St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, Slapton, Northants St. George & Dragon : Banningham, Norfolk St. George & Dragon : Broughton, Bucks St. George & Dragon : Earl Stonham, Suffolk
St. George & Dragon : Fritton, Norfolk St. George & Dragon : Hornton, Oxon St. George dedicating himself to the Virgin : Astbury, Cheshire St. George, with the princess : Little Kimble, Bucks St. George & the Dragon : Kirtlington, Oxon NEW St.Helena, Broughton, Bucks St.James the Great : Hales, Norfolk
Life of St. James, Stoke Orchard, Gloucestershire St. James the Great, meeting pilgrims : Wisborough Green, Sussex St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Chalfont St. Giles, Bucks St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Heydon, Norfolk St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Idsworth, Hampshire
St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Old Weston, Northants St. John the Baptist, Martyrdom of : Pickering, N. Yorks
Life of St. John the Baptist : Cerne Abbas, Dorset St. John the Evangelist, Selling, Kent St. John the Evangelist, Weston Longville, Norfolk St. Margaret of Antioch : Old Weston, Northants St. Margaret and the dragon : South Newington, Oxfordshire St. Margaret of Antioch Martyred, Stoke Dry, Rutland St. Margaret of Antioch, Life of : Charlwood, Surrey
Life of St. Margaret, Wendens Ambo, Essex Martyrdom of St. Margaret, Duxford, Cambridgeshire Martyrdom of St. Margaret, Ashby St Ledgers, Northamptonshire NEW St. Martin dividing his cloak, Chalgrave, Beds St. Martin dividing his cloak, Wareham, Dorset St.Nicholas of Myra, life of : Little Horwood, Bucks St. Nicholas of Myra, two miracles of : Wissington, Suffolk
St. Nicholas of Myra & the Boys in the Barrel, Padworth, Berkshire St.Paul : Black Bourton, Oxon St. Paul : Beckley, Oxon St. Paul : Selling, Kent St. Peter : Beckley, Oxon St.Peter : Black Bourton, Oxon St. Peter, Martyrdom of : Chacombe, Northants
St. Peter : Selling, Kent St. Roch : Pinvin, Worcs St. Sexburga? : Willingham, Cambs S. Stephen, Martyrdom of, North Stoke, Oxon St. Stephen, Stoning of: Black Bourton, Oxon St. Stephen, Stoning of: Catfield, Norfolk St.Swithun (?) enthroned : Old Weston, Northants
Scenes from the life of St. Swithun : Corhampton, Hampshire St. Thomas Becket, blessing, Hauxton, Cambs. St. Thomas Becket, Murder of, Marston Magna, Somerset St. Thomas Becket, Murder of, North Stoke, Oxfordshire St.Thomas Becket, Murder of : South Burlingham, Norfolk St. Thomas Becket, Murder of : South Newington, Oxfordshire St. Walstan of Bawburgh? or St. Edmund : Gisleham, Norfolk
St. Zita : Horley, Oxon St. Zita : Shorthampton, Oxon Unidentified female saint : Heydon

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Anne Marshall 2002 5/3/13