St. Eustace in Canterbury Cathedral

img_7293

Among the many treasures at Canterbury Cathedral, one of my favorites on my visit this week  was this large large wall painting, done in about 1480. It’s the legend of St. Eustace, who lived a colorful if harrowing life. He might possibly have been a known historical character, a Roman general named Placidus, in the 2nd century A.D.

img_7332

The legend goes that Placidus was out hunting one day when he had a vision of Christ  in the antlers of a stag.  He immediately converted to Christianity and changed his name to Eustace.

img_7302

It’s hard to see the images that go high up the stone wall of the catheral.  But there’s a horizontal copy nearby.  Photos of it are not great because it’s covered by glass, but the reflections of the stained glass windows are sort of a bonus. I loved the images, especially the animals like the smiling stag and the hunting dogs above.

img_7322

The legend goes that Eustace’s troubles began right away.  His faith was tested by various calamities.

img_7327

I was admiring the lion image. Personality plus! Then I read that the lion was grinning because he had just eaten Eustace’s son.

img_7335

The wolf, looking all innocent? He had eaten the other son. But the legend goes that Eustace endured his hardships and kept his faith.

The painter of the Canterbury mural subscribed to a disputed end of Eustace’s story: the very upper part of the mural shows Eustace, his wife and his remaining children being roasted alive by order of the Emperor Hadrian. Eustace had refused to make a pagan sacrifice. Then they were all beatified, so there was still a happy ending of sorts. However, the martyrdom and even the historical existence of the saint are in doubt. I love the painting, regardless of the source. Bravo to the anonymous painter, back through the centuries!

To me, the charm of the mural is in the medieval images of people in nature, learning lessons from animals. The painter told the story with gusto and some humor.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!

 

 

Gen

4 thoughts on “St. Eustace in Canterbury Cathedral

  1. Douglas Reveley

    The legend of St Eustace plays a foundational role in the novel “Riddley Walker” by Russell Hoban. The action takes place in a future England, perhaps 2 or 3 thousand years and the story of Eusa is the core myth, derived from a remnant informational pamphlet about the painting you have displayed. In the “Expanded Edition” of the book there is a small black and white photo of the painting so seeing your presentation is very helpful. I have reread the book several times as there is always something new to discover. It is written in a future dialect of English so it is like discovering the picture in a puzzle as you assemble it. Thank you for this piece of the puzzle!

    Reply
    1. Claudia Suzan Carley Post author

      Douglas, thank you for this! I must look up that book! I’ve seen several other images of St. Eustace and his vision since the one at Canterbury. It seems this story meant a lot to people over the years.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s