Swaton Church: Wheel of Life

At St Michael’s Church in Swaton, Lincs, is a surviving section from a thirteenth-century ‘wheel of life’ painting. Few of these were made (they are rather complicated and require much space) and even fewer survived the reformers’ buckets of whitewash. This one shows a baby in a basket, and the next scene a ladder. I imagine that the original depicted the various scenes of life between birth and death, or the capricious and unpredictable nature of what ancient folk were pleased to call ‘fate’.

At this church, as in so many other others, there is a font for the welcoming of babes, and an extensive acre of graveyards for the same to take their leave. One does not need a medieval painting to perceive this, and yet so few do. We act as though we shall be on this earth forever. Every graveyard is a warning that death secretly stalks us, and catches its quarry afore long. You might now be raised: healthy, vigorous and fertile. Yet wait a few years, and your wheel shall descend, as strength fails, friends depart and minds wither.

Only Christ offers hope and meaning- for this life and the next.