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The Virgin intervening at the Weighing of Souls Lathbury, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire (‡Oxford) Late C.14/Early C.15

[Photo:T.Marshall] Lathbury, Virgin Mary intervening in the Weighing of Souls (157KB)

Lathbury once had a very fully painted scheme in the nave, including a Doom over the chancel arch and extending on to the north and south walls. Little is left of the paintings now, apart from a scene of Burying the Dead, part of a Seven Works of Mercy sequence.

I have however managed to isolate another fragment, the very fine Virgin intervening at the Weighing of Souls, shown at the right. In the early 1930s the Rev. H. Bull, then Rector of Lathbury, said this:

‘...By him stands the Virgin Mary, with her crown of glory; in her left hand extended over her shoulder she holds a lily, her right apparently is placed on the beam, as if she were inclining the scale to mercy’s side The drawing is excellent, and nothing can be more graceful than the Virgin's attitude, the expression of the countenance, and the action, both imply reverent, but prevailing, intercession’¹

The ‘him’ in the first line of the quotation is St. Michael, who is no longer identifiable, although the balance-bar of his scales appears in the photograph as a white unpigmented slanting line on the left halfway down. Nothing is left of the lily; much more important is the rosary dangling from the Virgin’s right hand and appearing as a green circlet here. It is this rosary, and not her hand, that the Virgin places on the balance-bar to tip the scales in favour of the soul being weighed, but the painting is very high on the wall and Mr Bull probably simply could not see this detail. The Virgin also uses her rosary in this way at South Leigh and (possibly) Slapton, and there were once a few more examples of the detail, most of them now long gone, in English parish churches. There is a great deal of apparently green pigment at Lathbury - it may be the green terre verte much used for the underpainting of flesh - hands, faces and so on - or it may simply be malachite, used particularly for symbolic purposes.

I think the Virgin at Lathbury may once have been sheltering souls under her cloak - there are hints of faces on the held-out lining, particularly on the right. I have seen a few such details in medieval manuscript painting, so investigation continues on this point.

¹ Rev. H. Bull, Church of All Saints, Lathbury, in Records of Buckinghamshire, Vol. iv, pp.36-42

St. Anne teaching the Virgin to read, Corby Glen, Lincs St. Anne & Virgin/Miracles of Virgin, Chalfont St. Giles, Bucks Annunciation/Visitation, Ashampstead, Berkshire Annunciation, Barnby, Suffolk
Annunciation, Chalgrove, Oxon. Annunciation, Little Melton, Norfolk Annunciation, Gisleham, Suffolk Annunciation, Slapton, Northants
Annunciation, Sth. Newington, Oxfordshire Annunciation, Tarrant Crawford, Dorset Annunciation, Martley, Worcestershire Annunciation/Visitation, Faversham, Kent
Annunciation/Visitation/Nativity, Newton Green, Suffolk Annunciation/Visitation, Pinvin, Worcs Annunciation-Fring, Norfolk Visitation, Dale Abbey, Derbys
Visitation, Salisbury (S.Thomas), Wilts. The Burial of the Virgin, Pickering, N.Yorks NEW Death, Burial & Coronation of the Virgin, Sutton Bingham, Somerset Coronation of the Virgin, Black Bourton, Oxon
Background to Statue, with painted angels, Brent Eleigh, Suffolk Virgin Enthroned, with angels, Arundel, Sussex Virgin Enthroned, with donors, Cawston, Norfolk Life of the Virgin, Broughton, Oxon.
Virgin & Child, with wand and apple, South Newington, Oxford Virgin & Child, with sceptre & orb(?), Wickhamford, Worcs. Virgin suckling the Christ Child, Beckley, Oxon. Virgin suckling the Christ Child, Belchamp Walter, Essex
Death, Burial, Assumption & Coronation of the Virgin, Chalgrove, Oxfordshire Virgin intervening at the Weighing of Souls, Lathbury, Buckinghamshire The Annunciation/St Anne teaching the Virgin to read, Chapel of Our Lady of Bradwell, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire NEW Virgin & child enthroned/With SS Margaret, Catherine & Mary Magdalene, Little Wenham, Suffolk NEW

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© Anne Marshall, 2009