Four saints pose in monks’ habits. These are medieval saints. The habits are those of the Benedictine order. Boniface (c. 675-754) (left), with bishop’s mitre, crosier and book of the gospels, was murdered while undertaking missionary work in Dokkum. Next to him stands Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604), who wrote the life of St Benedict, the founder of the order. Turning towards him is the preacher Adelbert (?-741), who assisted Willibrord in missionary work in North Holland. Jerome of Noordwijk, lastly, was a missionary in West Friesland a century later, and was murdered by the Normans (hence the sword).
This large work is actually two connected paintings on panels, each bearing two figures. Originally they were the outer panels of the wings of an altar screen. The inner panels depicted four female saints (now in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels). The hereabouts of the central panel are unknown. The altarpiece was probably made for the Benedictine Abbey in Egmond, where Adelbert was buried. The work may have been painted by Jan Joesten van Hillegom, who lived and worked in the abbey for some time in the sixteenth century.