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Panel 15 - Anthony visits the hermit Paul and a crow brings bread for them both
15 - Anthony visits the hermit Paul and a crow brings bread for them both
After several years of austere living in the desert, Anthony had a dream about another hermit, even older and holier than he. He therefore set off to find him and eventually was guided by a wolf to the cave of Paul the Hermit. When time came for their meal, a crow flew down carrying a loaf marked into two halves. Paul explained to his guest that the crow brought him his loaf every day but that today God had sent double the quantity because he had a guest. There then followed a lengthy debate about which should defer to the other for the honour of breaking bread - Anthony saying that Paul should have the honour as the older man, Paul arguing that Anthony, as a guest, whould break it. Eventually they each took one end of the loaf and broke it together. The artist here has telescoped two elements of the story into one - the crow delivers the double loaf and the two hermits each hold one end, ready to break it together. The crossing over of their arms makes their connection appear stronger, though it also forms the sign of the cross - appropriately enough for receiving the sacrament. Crossed arms as a cryptic figura Crucis were a familiar device in stained glass, best known from the scene of Manasses blessing the sons of Jacob in typological Passion windows like the one in Bay 37.

Although not included in Athanasius' Life of Anthony, the stories about his encounter with the the even more austere St Paul the Hermit were well known in the medieval west and were included in St Paul's vita in the Golden Legend. The style of their narratives is very different. Whereas Athanasius adopts a relatively plausible tone, focussing on Anthony's psychological battle against the torments and temptations sent by the devil to test his faith, St Paul's vita is altogether more fantastical, featuring mythical beasts (a centaur and a satyr) and helpful animals like the wolf that guides him, the crow seen here, and the grave-digger lions we will meet in panel 19.