Gateway to the Classics: The World's Story: England by Eva March Tappan
The World's Story: England by  Eva March Tappan

The Baptism of Edwin

by Ford Madox Brown

(English painter,  1821-1893)

IT is easy to imagine how the subjects of King Edwin regarded his conversion to the new religion; and the picture well illustrates their feelings. The scene is laid in a little wooden church, whose site is now marked by York Minster. The walls, evidently thrown up in haste to serve for the baptism, are made of unsmoothed boards, through which small windows have been roughly hewn. The Romans have long since left the country, but through these openings the remains of some of their beautiful architecture may be seen; the pavement, too, is a piece of Roman mosaic, contrasting oddly enough with the crudeness of the wooden church.

Such is the setting. The central figure is that of King Edwin, kneeling in a baptismal font of stone. The priest stands by him and pours from a bottle the water of baptism. The Bishop Paulinus is raising his hand in benediction. The feelings of the surrounding group are reflected upon their faces. The queen, to whose influence, it is said, the king's conversion is partly due, kneels in prayer, her waiting-woman beside her. Her little daughter, clasping her mother's hand, gazes upon this strange scene with wondering eyes. It is easy to see that from those of his subjects who make up the little congregation the king will receive small sympathy. His warriors will have nothing to do with the unknown God; a mother, who is evidently amused by the proceeding, is holding up her baby that it may not miss the sight; the little incense-bearers are seizing the opportunity for a bit of merriment over the difficulty of making the incense burn. Save for the queen and her attendant they all look upon this baptism either as a bit of folly or as a mere whim on the part of their lord—and yet with a shade of superstitious fear lest after all there might be something in this strange new teaching.

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