The Story of the Lily Cross

At once a Sonne is promis’d her, and gone,
Gabriell gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, She is in Orbitie,
At once receiver and the legacie.
All this, and all betweene, this day hath showne,
Th’ Abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plaine Maps, the furthest West is East)
Of the Angels’s Ave, and Consummatum est…

[John Donne, Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon one day. 1608]

The Lily-Cross is unique in English wallpainting. It shows Christ crucified on a lily, flanked by painted curtains with inscriptions on scrolls. The curtains once had painted or carved figures, perhaps of Mary and John, on or in front of them, and the outline of these is still faintly visible. Above, two hovering angels hold more scrolls, that on the right showing reasonably well. As is tantalisingly common, the various inscriptions are just below the threshold of decipherability.

The lily-cross in all probability refers to the calendrical coincidence that occurs several times in any given century, when Good Friday falls on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. Ancient tradition holds that The Creation, The Annunciation and Good Friday all took place on this date, and in days of old it was held as New Year’s Day and was calculated to fall on the Spring Equinox. In the Middle Ages, various beliefs seem to have clustered around “this doubtful day of Feast or Fast” [Donne, ibid. ll.5-6] and one of them is encapsulated in a rhyme :

“When the Lord’s Day falls in Our Lady’s lap
England shall meet with a great mishap”.

This coincidence took place in 2005 and in 2016