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An online talk on the legend of the saint featured in the Canterbury Cathedral mural that first inspired Russell Hoban to write Riddley Walker. Dr Emily Guerry is a Senior Lecturer in Medieval European History at the University of Kent.

Saturday 24 October, 11.00am

Painted into the peak of a blind arch on the north wall opposite the choir of Canterbury Cathedral, a discerning visitor today can see a group of nude figures – with their hands clasped in prayer – being boiled alive in the body of a bull.

This seemingly surreal scene was designed in the c1480s and it depicts events from the legendary life of Saint Eustace. Russell Hoban’s encounter with this medieval mural directly inspired the story of Riddley Walker during his first visit to Canterbury in 1974. Standing before this weird and wonderful picture, with its chaotic monkeys, pirates, lions, and wolves, the author said that he could “feel the action of the place.” 

This talk will explore the hagiography of Saint Eustace, a second-century martyr and the patron saint of hunters, and the development of his cult at Canterbury. It will examine the iconographic design of this unusual mural and it will attempt to explain its site-specific significance too.

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This event is part of Sum Tyms Bytin Sum Tyms Bit – a programme of talks, creative responses and interventions inspired by Russell Hoban’s cult novel Riddley Walker, on the 40th anniversary of publication. 

Riddley Walker, first published in 1980, is the Festival Read for 2020. Set in post-apocalyptic East Kent, written in a futuristic Kentish dialect, and with Canterbury at its heart, where better to host a celebration of Riddley Walker’s legacy?

Sum Tyms Bytin Sum Tyms Bit is a collaboration between Dr Andrew M. Butler, Dr Sonia Overall, Dr Paul March-Russell, and Feral Practice, with the support of Canterbury Christ Church University and The University of Kent. With thanks to The Russell Hoban Estate, The Arthur C. Clarke Award, The Science Fiction Foundation, The Canterbury Festival and Festival CHAT 2020. Russell Hoban’s illustrations are used with the kind permission of the Beinecke Library, Yale University.