Thursday, 4 August 2011

St George, Trotton

Outside, Trotton's church is a plain 14th century box with an earlier tower, but inside it is bursting with treasures, notably a tremendous mural on the west wall, an inspiration for the good and a warning for the bad.
It was painted in the late 14th century, possibly funded by a bequest of thirty sheep by Margaret Camoys, whose memorial brass is in church's central aisle.
At the top stands Christ in Judgement, flanked by angels. Below him is Moses, holding the tablets with the commandments, making clear the rules for a godly life.
But the most prominent parts of the composition are the giant figures on either side of the prophet, Spiritual Man on the right and Carnal Man on the left. Spiritual Man is surrounded by little scenes of the seven virtues, but Carnal Man is girt with dragons about to swallow figures indulging in the seven deadly sins.
Spiritual Man is a serious, bearded chap wearing a cowl and holding his hands in prayer. Scrolls proclain his possession of the three cardinal virtues, Spes (Hope), Caritas (Charity) and Fides (Faith).
The seven virtues are taken mainly from the Beatitudes, and start at the top with Clothing the Naked – a woman helps a man in a loincloth into a robe. Tending the Sick is a rather touching scene of group round a bed, seen through a hole in the wall of a timber medieval house.
Inevitably, Carnal Man is much more vigorous and memorable. He is naked, and the dragons' tails point to the parts of his body that cause the particular sin. Gluttony, for example, comes from the mouth and shows an enthusiastic toper upending a bottle, with a plate of food behind him. Envy comes from the head, and Sloth from the left foot.
You are now wondering where Lust (pictured as a naked couple embracing) is based, and indeed the dragon's tail points to the obvious place. According to Professor Tristram, who uncovered the painting in 1902, Carnal Man was egregiously lusting when he was originally painted, though it is no longer visible. Whether the area concerned has faded since then, or was tidied up by censorious churchwardens is not known. It is unfortunate but perhaps appropriate that Carnal Man has decayed a lot more that Spiritual Man over the centuries.
The mural at Trotton represents the last gasp for wall painting. The early work such as Hardham and West Chiltington are powerful and pictorial, where Trotton is abstract and now assumes that some parishioners at least could read. It would not be long before images would be swept away and replaced by the purer message of the bible on the lectern and the commandment boards on the walls.