St Wite’s Feast Day

st_wite_sketch.jpgToday my sketch commemorates St Wite’s feast day which falls on the 1st of June. In the Dorset village of Whitchurch Canonicorum during the 16th-century there was a local custom of offering her cakes and ale on this day.

She is also known as St White, Whyte or Witta. Not much is known about her and she could have been an Anglo-Saxon, Welsh or Breton saint (she is known as Candida or Blanche in Brittany).

She is one of two saints (the other being Edward the Confessor) whose shrines survive the English Reformation intact. Her 13th-century shrine is located in the north transept of St Candida Church, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset (England). It was opened in 1900 and fragments of bones and teeth were found as well as a leaden casket with the inscription Hie Reqeset Reliqe See Witey containing even more bones. The shrine has three oval openings which handkerchiefs and other small articles were traditionally placed to gain healing properties and then given to the sick.

More details are found on the Dorset County Museum website.

A contemporary statue of St Wite has been set high upon the exterior of St Candida Church, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset. And this is 3D photogrammetric model of it is for those who can’t make the pilgramage to west England today.


Midsummer Eve Maydens


When midsomer comes, with bavens and bromes
they do bonefires make,
and swiftly, then, the nimble young men
runne leapinge over the same.
The women and maydens together do couple their handes,
With bagpipes sounde, they daunce a rounde …
—— extract from ‘The Mery Life of the Countriman’ (c. 1585–1603)

My illustration is in part inspired by this quote taken from a Late Elizabethan ballad that refers to some of the folk rites carried out on Midsomer, Midsummer Eve. Celebrations have been historically documented in Britain since at least the 13th century and take place on the 23rd of June, St John’s Eve.

During this liminal time, individuals could receive potents and access powers of divination. If one sat in a church porch on Midsummer Eve, it is possible to have visions of those buried during the year. A maiden who picked St John’s wort on Midsummer Eve and found it still fresh in the morning would be wed soon. Meanwhile, an unmarried girl could also make a special cake on this day and behold a vision of her future husband.

Sources and recommended further readings:

Ronald Hutton 1987 The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (Oxford University Press, Oxford)

Nick Groom 2013 The Seasons: A Celebration of the English Year (Atlantic Books, London)

Dun Unicorn

Dun Unicorn

This is my working draft illustration of a medieval dun unicorn for my latest blog on Words & Pictures (link is found below). Traditionally, the medieval unicorn is goat, ass or small horse with a horn on its forehead.

Moreover, it is important to note that not all unicorns were white. In a famous scene of a hunt for a unicorn from the Rochester Bestiary (circa 1230), the beast is pale brown.

unicorn and virgin Rochester Bestiary

In The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn Representing Annunciation (1489) by Martin Schongauer depicts a small, brown unicorn.

unicorn brown Martin Schongauer 1489 copy

My illustration for the Words & Pictures blog, however, is based upon a beautiful dun coloured unicorn with white spots from the tapestry fragment Wildweibchen mit Einhorn (The Wild Woman and the Unicorn), Strassburg, Germany dating circa 1500.

Wild woman unicorn Alsace Germany c1500 02 copy


Visit my Words & Pictures Unicorn blog

Explore the Rochester Bestiary

And learn more about the Wildweibchen mit Einhorn

Poor Old Horse


We’ve got a poor old horse,
And he’s standing at your door,
And if you’ll only let him in
He’ll please you all, I’m sure.
Poor old horse, poor old horse. 

He once was a young horse,
And, in his youthful prime,
My master used to ride on him,
And thought him very fine.
Poor old horse, poor old horse. 

But now that he’s grown old,
And nature doth decay,
My master frowns upon him,
And these words I’ve heard him say —
Poor old horse, poor old horse.

These are the first three verses of an Old Horse song that was sung at Yule in Sheffield during the winter of 1888. This and the phenomenon of Kentish Hooden Horses were the inspirations for my above illustration. Furthermore, this element makes up part of a scene featured in my guest blog about the Folklore of Yule posted on the Words and Pictures website (see link below).

The Old Horse was a traditional English folk play performed around Yule or the New Year. In East Kent it was known as the Hooden Horse, while it was referred to as the Owd Oss in northern Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. It entails singing a ballad to an Old Horse by a small troupe. The horse was represented by someone bent over and covered in a blanket while holding a horse’s head (or the representation of one) that was placed upon the end of a stick. At the end of the performance a hat would be passed round for donations of money. The troupe would visit farms, public houses and the houses of the well off.

There is also a humorous historical account of a Hooden Horse recorded in 1859 which cites the dramatic effect of such plays. A German woman, who resided at Lower Hardres, Kent, had been chair-bound for seven years. She witnessed a local Hooden Horse performance and was so frightened by the wooden prop steed that she leapt up from her chair and dashed for safety. This ‘miraculous’ cure impressed her husband so much that he bought the horse costume and took it back to Germany.

My Words and Pictures blog on Yule Folklore is found at

The complete text for the Sheffield Old Horse song is found at

And Hooden Horses galore are found here