The girl in the window

The girl in the window

NOBODY KNOWS what Devon’s Saint Sidwell looked like but that hasn’t stopped artists, inspired by her tragic story,  depicting her image in both a statue and a stained glass window in the church in Exeter that bore her name, where, for more than a thousand years she has been the city’s mythical patron saint.

Alas, came the night of Monday 4th May, 1942 and St. Sidwell’s in Sidwell Street was destroyed in an air raid but miraculously her statue and that fragile window were rescued and put into storage – only to become forgotten for the next 60 years.

Now, thanks to a crowd funding initiative organised by the Sidwell Community Centre* sufficient funds have been raised for their restoration and they will be put on view to the general public at the end of the summer.

The young woman portrayed in Botticelli’s famous painting Venus RisingBut hold on a minute. Does that beautiful face remind you of another beautiful face? The young woman portrayed in Botticelli’s famous painting Venus Rising? (See right.)

Sidwell’s story is a grisly one and revolves around a young virgin who was murdered in a cornfield on the site of the old church by a man wielding a scythe. Her severed head rolled to a spot where a miraculous spring later appeared (at the corner of today’sYork Road and Well Street) .

Like Botticelli’s portrayal of a pre-Christian Venus, or Aphrodite (or even Ceres the Corn Goddess) if you will, here too are all the makings of a pagan fertility rite. Both girls even share that wondrous “one hundred mile stare” along with hair plaited to remind us of harvested corn.

Intriguing though all this may be, it matters not that a little paganism has apparently become entwined with a modicum of Victorian plagiarism. After all, “What is Myth if not Truth in the robes of Poetry?”

The site of Sidwell’s miracle became a place of pilgrimage in Anglo-Saxon and Norman England and she remains the city’s patron saint.

*Of equal importance in this day and age is that people might be drawn to ponder the puzzle for themselves as they read more about the work of the Sidwell Community Centre – and the girl in the window – at
www.stsidwells.org.uk/about/ethos

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This article was written by
John Fisher

Writer, author, script and sketch-writer, cartoonist, public speaker, Visitor Engagement Volunteer (National Trust) and would-be ukelele virtuoso.