Art Francis Images

Oldest English Wall Paintings of St Francis

St Francis Preaching to the Birds – Wissington, Suffolk

Because, during the reformation, many church wall paintings were obliterated very few early images of St Francis of Assisi exist in this country. One of the earliest at St Mary’s in Wissington, Suffolk, shows Francis preaching to the birds and is thought to have been painted within fifty years of his canonisation [1228]

St Mary’s Church, Wissington – Church of England Diocese of St. Edmundsbury & Ipswich

Francis can be seen on the right, standing and holding a staff and Brother Leo is seated reading a book.   Perched in the scroll-like branches of the tree are several birds, some of which are only just visible, and at the foot of the tree is a said to be wolf (although it reminds me more of  a rabbit), standing on its hind legs.

St Francis Receiving the Stigmata : Slapton, Northamptonshire

The painting below can be found in St Botolph’s Church, Slapton in the Church of England Diocese of Peterborough, and is thought to date from the 15th Century.   It depicts St Francis at Mount La Verna receiving the stigmata.

St Francis receiving the stigmata

When Francis received the stigmata [1224] his vision was of a Six-Winged Seraph, however, this wall painting at St Mary’s Church doesn’t show a Seraph, instead it has a more simplified image of  Christ Crucified.  The lines radiating from Christ’s five crucifixion wounds are still visible, they can be seen meeting the body of St Francis and forming the painful stigmata.

“… while he was staying in a hermitage called La Verna, in the air he saw in a vision a six-winged seraph, as it were, fastened to a cross with its arms stretched out and feet bound together. It kept two of its wings raised above its head, two extended for flight, and with the remaining two covered its whole body.  The holy man was stupefied at the vision, and fear and joy were alternating within him. The marvellous beauty of that appearance was delightful to him, while the horrible crucifixion much frightened him, but this also gave him joy for he noticed that he was being regarded graciously by the seraph1.

1. Francis of Assisi : Early Documents Vol 1, The Saint, Page 410
The Life of Saint Francis by Julian of Speyer.

More Info: St Mary’s Church, Slapton, Northamptonshire

St Francis Receiving the Stigmata : doddington, kent

The artwork below is said to have been painted sometime around 1250 which would mean it’s the earliest painting of St Francis in an English Parish Church, and painted just 24 years after his death.  This painting presents us with a more personal, reachable, Francis, compared with the two above, he faces the onlooker.  How would it have felt 750 years ago to see this freshly painted representation of St Francis?  I think it’s very apt that the stained glass is today missing from the window.   It gives us focus on the uncomplicated simplicity of Francis’ faith and allows God’s Creation and Grace to shine into the church, into “The Church”, upon us, even as we view this now on the internet.

St Francis – Middle Window Splay – Click photo for full size image – The stained glass window to the left depicts the Baptism of Jesus, with the words “This is My Beloved Son”. The glass window at the right of the picture shows John the Baptist wearing his hair vest. Also at the right is a wall painting possibly of King Henry III.

The photos taken in the C of E parish church of The Beheading of St John the Baptist, Doddington, Kent are thought to show Francis receiving the stigmata. Above the Saint’s head is one of the Seraph’s six wings.  Francis’ feet are bleeding.  His cord with the three barrel knots is visible. Although perhaps not too obvious is that both his hands are together in prayer at his chest, to the left of the painting.

Wall painting of St Francis of Assisi at Doddington in Kent
Click photo to view full size image.

More general info : The Beheading of St John the Baptist Church, Doddington
Details : Times of Church Services and Contact into

Elizabeth is a member of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. She has had an interest in Franciscan Spirituality for over 20 years.