The Wall Paintings
The Martyrdom of St Thomas Beckett
Beckett was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, and this mural was painted in about 1260.
On the right is Edward Grimfer, Beckett’s chaplain, who has blood pouring from his wounded hand. Beckett is kneeling at the altar, his arms spread open in submission to his fate. The divine hand is descending from the sky to receive his spirit.
The four knights on the left are William de Tracy at the front with his sword cutting the hand of Grimfer and striking Beckett. Reginald Fitzurse is stabbing Beckett from behind.
Beckett was Archbishop of Canterbury, and had angered Henry II by refusing to carry out some of his commands in relation to the church. Henry accused his knights of being cowards who “would not rid him of this low-born priest”.
So, thinking they were doing the king’s will, the knights attacked and killed Beckett. The whole country was appalled at this murder, and Beckett was made a saint in 1173. The following year, Henry undertook a very severe penance at his tomb in the cathedral.
Our wall paintings were badly damaged by a serious fire in 1906, so there is very little left of the nativity painting.
In this scene of the nativity, you can still just about see the dark shape of the bowl-like crib and to the right the head of the ox. A star can be found between the ox and the figure of a donkey.
The Christ Child is wrapped in swaddling-clothes in the cradle, laid on a fine chequered cloth.
In the front, the figures of St Elizabeth, distinguished by the stick she is holding and the Virgin Mary. In the back, the figures are probably Joseph and Zacharias.
The three kings are shown in the bottom border.
We have a picture from ca.1900 which shows the nativity before the fire.
Weighing of Souls
This fresco shows the act of angels weighing the souls of the departed.
In each scale there sits a figure, the left with their hands joined the prayer and in the right an unidentified grotesque or devil. The praying figure is being assisted by a figure in a draped dress, possibly the Virgin or maybe the guardian saint of the painter.
The winged figure on the left is likely to be St Michael, and the figure on the right is often portrayed as the receiver of the damned. In this fresco, the right-hand figure is supporting the beam of the scale and dragging the devil up by the hair to ensure that it must not weigh against the soul of the praying figure.