St MATTHEW from Cawston, Norfolk

St Matthew from Cawston rood screen

St Matthew from Cawston rood screen,Norfolk

ST Matthew is long sighted; we may deduce this fact from his use of glasses for reading. Were he myopic (short sighted) he would not have had any trouble reading the Bible, but distant prospects would have been hazy for him. I am short sighted and so was Dr Johnson. His visits to the theatre were marred by his being unable to see the stage with any clarity. This must also have made the distant prospects of  little value to him on his Scottish tour which he undertook with his friend Boswell.

Myopia is treated with concave lenses and these are harder to make than convex lenses. Whether these lenses were available in 18th century London I do not know, but Johnson does not appear to have had any. None of the pictures that I have seen of him show him wearing glasses.

Being a great literary figure hypermetropia (long sight) would have been a greater disability for Johnson as he would have had to hold his books as far away as his arms would reach to read them, and do so with difficulty; although the more readily available reading glasses would have helped him.

Presbyopia occurs in old age; it makes the eyes unable to focus properly-technically a lack of accommodation. This is why I now wear Varifocal lenses. Before the complex finishing process was developed to make these lenses possible, the use of bifocal or trifocal lenses provided a similar effect. It is the middle-aged who begin to need this correction. It is possible that St Matthew was suffering from middle-aged lack of accommodation; his balding head certainly suggests a man who is no longer in the prime of youth.

Leaving aside these better known eye problems, since my stroke I also now suffer from hemianopia. This condition means I am now officially partially sighted. While my field of vision to the left is still present, I have no vision at all to the right. I had no idea such a condition existed until it affected me personally. Of all the effects of my stroke (which has fortunately left my speech and ability to think unaffected) the hemianopia is the most debilitating. It is moreover completely invisible, so nobody is aware of my disability unless I tell them. It makes reading very difficult, which in turn gives me problems when giving talks; however this may have improved my delivery of lectures because I now avoid long and involved sentences. I am trying to give talks without recourse to notes, but I find I forget to mention crucial bits of evidence. I am not however alone in this; Ed Milliband forgot to say anything about the fiscal deficit (about the most important subject in most people’s minds) when speaking without notes at the Labour Party Conference.

My son suffers from keraoconus which is a distortion of the cornea. This causes the centre of the cornea to thin and consequently to bulge. To counteract this tendency he wears contact lenses, but the condition will progress and he may eventually require corneal grafts. Unlike most corneal problems it is not inherited. My daughter’s myopia has been successfully treated by laser eye surgery. I have recently had laser eye surgery as well,to correct a thinning of the space filled with internal liquid in my eyes. This condition has no affect on my current vision, but might (had been untreated) have led to glaucoma at a later date. My wife suffers from Thygerson’s superficial punctate keratopathy. This means her eyes have opaque areas. This does not unduly affect her vision, but it is a chronic condition of unknown origin.

Although this picture of St Matthew from Cawston church appears on the splendidly preserved rood screen, it is not a medieval painting. As the glasses suggest, this is a painting from the modern era. This picture was painted around 1500 AD and by common agreement the middle ages ended in 1485, at least in England. This was when Henry Tudor won the Battle of Bosworth to become Henry VII. This is obviously an approximation, but other more practical developments like the introduction of printing (1476) were changing the way of life. The increasing use of firearms and replacement of Middle English all heralded the modern age. England remained a Catholic country for another 50 year, and it was the reformation under Henry VIII which changed the country so completely. Above all it makes the medieval period, when friars, monks and nuns were central to our daily existence completely different from everything that has represented England since. That is why St Matthew in the picture seems to be medieval figure, even although strictly speaking he is not.




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