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St. Edmund the Martyr?

St. Edmund the Martyr, stained glass panel, about 1420-40. Museum no. C.111-1924

St. Edmund the Martyr, stained glass panel, about 1420-40. Museum no. C.111-1924. This roundel was originally set in a simple trellis or quarry pattern in a window of a private chapel or oratory. It came from Hardwick House in Suffolk.

St Edmund or St. Edward the Confessor?

The saintly king on this roundel is probably English, because the style and painting technique indicate that it was made in an English workshop. The scroll behind the head reads 'SCE EDE', which is an abbreviation in Latin for either St Edward or St Edmund. It is written in a form known as the vocative case, which means that the saint was being invoked rather than simply identified. Another glass panel probably accompanied the roundel. This would have depicted donors, calling on the saint to pray for their souls.

We can usually identify the saints depicted in medieval art by the attributes that accompany them. These attributes are objects that are associated with their life or death; for example, St Peter is depicted with keys and St George with a dragon. Because no attribute accompanies the saint on this roundel, we cannot be sure who he is.

In cases such as this, we often look to where the artwork was originally located. Churches and chapels within the churches were dedicated to particular saints and, in the Middle Ages, they would have contained images of these saints. Unfortunately, we do not know where this roundel came from. Prior to coming to the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was in a house, Hardwick, near Bury St Edmunds. We do not know how long it was there.

If the roundel was originally from the area near Bury St Edmunds, it is likely that the saint depicted was St Edmund himself. St Edmund was a king of East Anglia who was killed by pagan Danish invaders in 870. He was about 30 when he died. He is usually shown with the arrow or arrows with which he was killed.

However, the saint in this roundel is depicted as an elderly man and there is no attribute. There is a possibility that it represents St Edward the Confessor. St Edward was King of England between 1042 and 1066. He died peacefully in his sleep a week after the dedication of Westminster Abbey, which he was responsible for building. He was made a saint (canonised) in 1161 because of his virtuous life. He is known as 'the Confessor' because by his pious life and acts he 'confessed the Christian faith'. He differs from martyrs such as St Edmund because he did not die for the Christian faith. St Edward is depicted as an elderly man and he has no attribute other than the marks of royalty, such as a crown and an ermine robe or collar, as depicted on this roundel.

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