In relation to the image of the Assumption in porch at Tiverton, BillyD asked the following question: ‘Any idea why the BVM is shown with uncovered, flowing hair in the English medieval depictions of the Assumption that I’ve seen? Admittedly, I haven’t seen that many, but it seems odd not to show her veiled’. I’m sorry Billy I can’t answer the question, I don’t know why she is shown uncovered, but what I have noticed is that Our Lady is usually shown without the veil in English medieval iconography. All this has reminded me of this fascinating panel of the Assumption of Our Lady at Sandford on Thames in Oxfordshire. Very foolishly, while I lived in Oxfordshire for three years, I didn’t ever make it down the road to see the panel, so I know it only from the excellent photography of my friend Martin Beek.
The iconography of the panel is fairly standard, Our Lady stands in an aureole or Mandorla, with angels hovering around it lifting the Virgin into heaven. Our Lady is crowned and has long flowing hair. The interesting aspect of this panel is at the base, two angels hold what appears to be a reliquary or monstrance. The reliquary is hollowed out as though it was intended to enclose a further object. Perhaps it contained a reliquary box of some sort, who knows? How did this panel survive the Reformation? Martin suggests that the carving was hidden at the Reformation and was discovered in 1723 face down near the south porch where it was being used as a step. Fr Hunwicke in his blog Liturgical Notes suggests that the panel may have come from the Carmelite house in Oxford, but I don’t see it beyond the bounds of possibility that work of this quality originated in the piety of a parish church.