Fortuna smiles

Rochester Wheel of Fortune

Sloppy workmanship, you could call it. Or maybe half-hearted iconoclasm. The alteration men of the Reformation or Puritanism, whichever it was, only removed half the image. The other half of this depiction of the Wheel of Fortune was hidden behind a pulpit. Couldn’t they be bothered to pull out the pulpit and do the job properly? Or perhaps they got called away on a more urgent job, a shrine to be smashed up, saint’s bones to chucked in the rubbish heap, Our Lady’s lilies to be chiseled out somewhere.

Those medieval folks! With their love of bright colours and stories and superstitions. What was Fortuna, smiling at the revolutions of her Wheel, doing in a Christian temple anyway? Pagan goddess, pagan symbolism. Except that by this time she had been thoroughly Christianised as an agent of Providence. Men’s fortunes were not random but made sense within the Divine Scheme. Thank Boethius, whose work The Consolation of Philosophy enabled a bridge between pagan stoicism and Christian humility.

It was fortunate indeed that part of this wall painting survives for us to admire. It could have vanished but for Lady Luck, who smiled on herself that day.