Holy Unction

 

Medieval life could be short and brutally terminated. Anointing the sick perhaps inevitably became associated with Extreme Unction, vividly illustrated on the Seven Sacrament Fonts of Norfolk and Suffolk (ND January 2011 and June 2011).

Depicting the anointing presented problems to the artist, resulting in the bedridden improbably arranged in space, most vividly at Great Glemham (1). Here the anointing priest bears a chrismatory and as usual anoints the parts of the body associated with the senses, here the manís ear, using his thumb. At Sloley (2), a crowd of six accompanies the priest anointing the manís chest, one holding a manual open at the appropriate page, while at Dereham (3) there are two kneeling figures, women praying at the bedís end.

The font at Gresham (4) depicts a surplice-wearing priest anointing the moriensí chest, accompanied by two servers with manual and chrismatory. Again, a woman kneels at the foot of the bed and on the coverlet is what appears to be a basket of pieces of wool for the anointing oils. Most touching of all is Badingham (5). A priest in a stole anoints the ear of the dying man; a weeping widow stands at the end of the bed, and under the bed are the manís boots and Ė can it be? Ė a chamber pot.

For further reading: Ann Eljenholm Nichols, Seeable Signs: the Iconography of the Seven Sacraments, 1350Ė1544 (Boydell, Woodbridg

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