The Old Testament figure of Samson is recognizable here because of his long, tousled hair and characteristic gesture, hands at the lion’s mouth, preparing to tear it apart with his bare hands (Judg. 14:6). This Samson is clean-shaven, youthful, with floating locks and a narrow, ornamented band encircling his head. He belongs to an iconographic group in which Samson rides the lion as if it were a horse, having leapt astride the lion’s back.
Medieval readers’ and writers’—and artists’ and viewers’—understanding of biblical figures, including Samson, was rich and flexible. Samson appears frequently in medieval art alongside other images of men fighting. He also appears as a decorative motif on candlesticks, as a leather stamp on bookbindings, and on game pieces. Significant nodes of meaning for Samson in medieval England include his impressive physical strength, the assimilation of his battle with the lion to the battle between Christ and Satan, and the narrative of his life spent in the Holy Land. He shares his identity as a strong man who fought in the eastern Mediterranean with the other Chertsey combatants, and his presence connects the other Chertsey fighters to biblical history and the Holy Land; he is their typological forerunner. His well-known combat with a lion links his struggle with that of Richard, the famous “lionheart” whose coat of arms bore lions, as well as with the other lion combatants.
To learn more about the lion fighter tiles, see the video on the Classicizing Rider page.