An important obligation of medieval monasteries such as Norton Priory was to provide hospitality for travellers and, with the River Mersey not far away, a statue of the patron saint of travellers was very relevant - especially given the belief that seeing an image of St Christopher ensured safety for that day.
The statue has seen a lot of the changes that have taken place at Norton Priory over the 600 years since it was placed there, and has endured such violent events as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which began in 1536. But the Brooke family, who bought Norton Priory and converted it into their home, seem simply to have liked it and protected it from harm. It even survived the 17th century when Puritans were smashing this sort of work even more than in the Reformation. This was particularly surprising as by then the Brookes were Puritans, and Parliamentarians in the Civil War.
Although the Church today treats the story of St Christopher as legend, the sculpture still powerfully portrays the importance of religious belief in the lives of ordinary medieval people.
Jon Marrow is the Keeper of Collections for the Norton Priory Museum Trust, Tudor Rd, Manor Park, Runcorn, Cheshire (0928 569895). Mon-Fri 12noon-5pm, Sat-Sun 12noon-6pm. The statue is on loan from the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside
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