St Walstan Mural, St. Andrew’s Church.
St Walstan was a rarely depicted saint whose shrine was at Bawburgh, Norwich. The Cavenham image is the only extant wall painting of the saint and provides one of the few pieces of evidence for the spread of his cult beyond the immediate vicinity of Bawburgh.
The Legend of St Walstan
The legend of St Walstan began in the last days of Anglo Saxon England. There are just two primary sources known; Sanctilogium, a Latin manuscript by the fourteenth - century monk John of Tynemouth and a copy of an ancient triptych made in 1658, today held in Lambeth Palace and known as English Life.
Some of the common elements taken from these two primary sources relate the tale of a man of infinite love and charity. The son of Benedict and Blida, rulers of a small East Anglian Kingdom, Walstan left home shortly after his thirteenth birthday taking a job as a farm hand at Taverham. Here he developed an affinity with the poor and was charitable to the extreme, giving his clothing and food away.
One day the farmer’s wife seeing his meagre clothing gave him shoes and extra provisions which he promptly gave to a poor man. The farmer’s wife was irritated and ordered him to take a cart into the forest and fetch a load of briars, then to tread the them well down with his unshod feet. By a miracle, Walstan appeared to be treading on rose leaves, the thorns, soft as petals, emitted a sweet perfume. According to the legend the thorns then turned on the farmers wife until she had to beg the saint for forgiveness.Throughout his life animals were brought to him to be healed and people claimed to be cured through his prayers and ministrations.
On 30th May 1016 Walstan was warned of his impeding death and requested that a priest prepare the ablution as he worked in the field mowing the hay. There was no water and in answer to Walstan’s prayers a spring appeared at his knees. After his death his body was laid on a wagon pulled by two white oxon which appeared to cross the River Wensum as if it were solid ground. Where ever the oxon stopped a spring would appear. The gathering of followers increased in numbers as the journey continued, the oxon mounted the short steep hill to the church and on through the north wall where, according to legend, an opening had been made by the angels.
Fact or Fiction
There is some doubt as to the truth of this legend as his death in 1016 is to late for Walstan to be a heir to an East Anglian Kingdom and too early to have been buried by a bishop of Norwich. Since Walstan was never officially canonised it is difficult to tell whether the legend is based on fact or fiction.
The mural in St. Andrew’s is not a narrative image, St Walstan is depicted as a king and although he holds a scythe to indicate a labourers life the portrayal has shifted the emphasis to one of power. The kneeling figures are, though adult, a third the size of Walston, this apparently, is a conventional method of showing figures of lesser importance.
The Cavenham mural has been dated as between 1465 - 85. Coincidentally in 1457 the church received a rich gift of vestments from Lady Ela Shardelowe of Bury St. Edmunds.
A Forest Heath District Council (Suffolk) Project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Millennium Festival ©2000 Designed by ArtAtac