South Cove Church: Michael & the Dragon


I am down in that most sumptuous of English counties, Suffolk. With Vaughn Williams blaring through the speakers and the open windows cooling the car from the 28-degree heat, I passed thatched cottages, wooden barns and pretty, flint churches. Indeed, one can just set off in any direction and see all of these in ample quantities. I randomly stopped at St Lawrence’s Church at South Cove. Suffolk and its churches seldom disappoint, and neither did this one. Although much Victorianised within, I was struck by a large fifteenth-century painting on a pair of planks, covering what would once have been a staircase up to the now demolished rood loft. Although presumably touched up a bit, we have here the typically calm and impassive face of St Michael about to deliver a death blow to the Dragon, the depiction of which fared less well than his opponent’s. The scene is based upon the text of Revelation 12:7, for which Wycliffe’s rendering I offer:

And a great battle was made in heaven, and Michael and his angels fought with the dragon. And the dragon fought, and his angels.

Theologians and commentators will disagree on whether the text is describing a past event or one still to come; indeed, some clever clogs argue that it is being fulfilled concurrently and presently. Be that as it may, it is an intriguing verse which captures our imaginations, as well as the anonymous painter of 1470. Whatever skirmishes and battles take place between demons and angels, we know that the real victory over Satan and his minions was secured by Christ Jesus Himself. When He hung upon that cross, evil powers were disarmed and their prey released. The glorious angelic host must appear magnificent and iridescent in their eternal accoutrements, but Satan’s ultimate Victor appeared as a weak, dying victim as He hung, receiving cruel scorn and bitter mockery. Would that the modern population of Suffolk see this, as they live among these empty churches and frolick on their sandy beaches; there is war in the heavens, despite the lovely coastline and quiet lanes.