This gruesome relief shows the beheading of a saint, possibly the 8th-century Irish missionary St Kilian, who travelled to Würzburg with two companions, Colmán and Totnan, converting Duke Gozbert to Christianity. When the Duke married his brother's widow, Geilana, St Kilian scolded him and was beheaded, along with his two associates, by Geilana's soldiers. In the relief, the presence of the two companions, who are clearly associated with the saint, since they wear the same colours, and the fashionably dressed retainer, indicate that the subject is St Kilian. The representation also compares with a panel painting with the Martyrdom of St Kilian in the Mainfränkisches Museum Würzburg, circa 1475.
St Kilian is the Apostle of Franconia and the present relief bears some similarities with Franconian wood sculpture from the circle of Veit Stoss (1448-1533). The balletic pose of the executioner and the facial features recall figures from Stoss' Volckammer Monument
in Nuremberg (1499; see Baxandall, op. cit.
, pl. 38). The attendant figures also bear resemblance with wider South German wood sculpture, see the Apostle St. James
, Upper Rhine, circa 1500 in the Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe (inv. no. C 6467).
M. Baxandall, The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany, New Haven and Yale, 1980, pl. 38; Die mittelalterlichen Bildwerke in Holz, Stein, Ton und Bronze mit ausgewählten Beispielen der Bauskulptur, cat. Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe, 1985, pp. 203-206, no. 121