Saint John the Baptist Chapel
A young archbishop
St John the Baptist
The altarpiece on the left hand side of the Rood screen is dedicated to St John the Baptist who is found on the second panel from the right. He is in a rather strange condition, in that he is not all there, in fact his panel remains unfinished. The reason for this is not known, but it is possible that a tall object was placed on the altar during painting and this panel was largely abandoned. What one can learn from this panel is how medieval artists worked. The artists would make the under drawing on plaster base with a fine brush prior to painting with the help of apprentices. if you look above the figure of St.John the Baptist you will see the waist and forearms of an angel that have been drawn then overpainted. Just from this one panel we can see that it was a team of craftsmen behind each individual painting.
Concealing the St.John the Baptist panel meant that its neighbour needed to become the saint. When the screen was cleaned in the 19th century John's beard was removed to reveal what originally believed to be the virgin martyr St.Agnes. However photographs by Dr. Lucy Wrapson revealed that the figure had been a young male archbishop. His metropolitan cross had been shortened to become the flagstaff of John the Baptist and a lamb painted on to the book on his lap. His right hand raised in blessing had originally pointed upwards but was now pointing to the lamb of God symbolising Jesus.
On the left of the young archbishop is St Etheldreda, a popular local pilgrimage saint , and foundress of Ely Cathedral. She was also patron saint of sufferers from ear nose and throat conditions. On the far right is St Barbara who was locked up in a tower and badly abused by her father for not marrying a man of his choice. She was eventually handed over to the Roman prefects to be executed for her Christian faith. She is the patron saint for protection against dying unprepared and also of artillery soldiers.