This painting appears to be based on a variant of one of the
miracles ascribed to Augustine's relics in the Golden Legend and
the Acta Sanctorum.1
In the more common version, forty pilgrims journey toward Rome to
be healed of an unspecified disease. They stop for the night in a
village near Pavia, where a vision of St. Augustine tells them to
go to his tomb in the city, where they will be cured.
In the painting we see an event that does involve pilgrims (note
the various staffs and the shell on Jesus' shoulder), and it does
take place outside a city. But the story behind it is clearly
different from the common one. Unlike the Augustine shown here in
an Augustinian habit (if he really is Augustine), the saint of the
Pavia miracle wears his "pontificals"
– the elaborate vestments that bishops wear for the most important
ceremonies. Neither the Legend nor the Acta has
any story involving the washing of the feet of Christ or anyone
else, but such a story must have been current at the time when
this image was painted.
Another mystery is the baptism taking place behind the main
group. The shape of the baptismal font echoes that of the laver to
Augustine's left, and of course liturgically significant water is
key to both scenes. But again, neither the Acta nor the
Legend tells of Augustine or his companions baptizing a child.2
More of St. Augustine