Statuesque

Walking home last Monday I took a detour past the Cathedral to have another look for the remaining five original, medieval statues.  I was pretty sure that I’d found two on the northwest tower –  one nameless woman next to Eve and another to the left of Deborah. The Victorian statues tend to have names on their pedestals. There’s an old photograph of the western front of the Cathedral pre-restoration on the English Heritage Viewfinder website, which you can see here. It shows the front looking strangely bare – above the row of kings only the niches containing the few remaining original statues are filled.

Medieval statue?, Deborah, Rachel, Rebekah, Sarah, Medieval statue?, Eve

According to a comment someone left on here, there are other statues on the other side of the north west tower. Unfortunately, my timing wasn’t great as someone was cutting the grass alongside the tower and a Midlands Today van had not long pulled up nearby and were making preparations to film (I later found out they were there to cover the Olympic Torch route story). As I didn’t fancy making a cameo appearance, dodging the mower in the background of a news report, I took a hasty few photos of the tower and carried on around the back of the Cathedral.  Stupidly, I didn’t check them before I got home and it’s not easy to make out much.  Another trip is in order….

Affix quality control sticker here

The medieval statue hunt continued as I walked around, in case one had sneaked in somewhere other than the northwest tower. I found Christopher Wren, Elias Ashmole and Dr Johnson amongst others along the way.

“The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before” said Dr Johnson.

Most of the statues are accompanied by something symbolic – Johnson of course has his dictionary.  It’s the same for the kings (e.g. William the Conqueror holds the Domesday Book) and the biblical characters (I knew nothing about Deborah, but according to wikipedia she was a prophet and a judge and delivered her verdicts near a palm tree which explains why there’s one behind her statue).  I was wondering about Eve? Surely that’s an apple near her foot but what is she holding in her hand?  Imagine if you someone was to create a statue of you and they had to sum up your life with an object or two!

Image taken from Wikipedia

Just past Dr Johnson and his big, papery thing is another statue.  She has no name and as far as I can see there is no clue to her identity. I’m speculating, but is this one of the many statues destroyed or defaced by the parliamentary troops during the Civil War?   Most of the other damaged statues were removed – where did they end up I wonder? I came across some great photos of a figure of Christ on Aidan McRae Thomson’s flickrstream at a church in Swynnerton, Staffordshire together with an interesting theory that the statue originated from Lichfield Cathedral. If anyone else has any theories or even evidence of where the statues ended up, I’d love to hear them!

I have to confess that for me, sometimes the Cathedral is just there, part of the scenery as I go about the city. However, there are other times when, either by chance (catching the light a certain way) or by design (medieval statue hunting), the Cathedral commands my full attention and once again, I am reminded of what an incredible building this is, and the skill and talent of the craftspeople who made it so.

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20 thoughts on “Statuesque

  1. Well done Kate your hard work has payed off again,
    All this wonderful information you keep turning up
    about Lichfield should be published in a guide
    to the City.

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  2. Wondering what my ‘objects to sum up my life’ would be… Camera.and guitar maybe? What are yours?

    P.s. lovely blog, I adore Lichfield cathedral.

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    • Thanks Morgan! I think a map, as I like exploring places. And maybe a cup of tea in the other hand. Tea fuelled exploring. I think you should give yours some serious thought, there probably will be a statue of you in Walsall one day. Maybe with a bee on the end of your nose too!

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  3. Have you seen the Medieval gargoyle on the floor outside the Old Stables reception? We call him ‘Zool’ because he reminds us of the evil spirit in Ghostbusters.

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    • Cheers Annette! I have seen Zool! Actually, cropped upo in a discussion a few weeks ago on Brownhills Bob’s blog as someone posted a photo of the wall in Chapters garden. I understand that Zool and the rest of the building (Bishop Hacket’s stables?) is built from recycled Cathedral stone but I wasn’t sure about the wall running along the bottom of the garden. I believe it’s original, but haven’t found a great deal of evidence to support it.

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  4. We seem to be trailing you around, Kate, as we also had a look at that wall in Chapter’s garden! It says in the Victoria County History that Charles Howard, a proctor of the consistory court, created a ‘grotto of shells and fossils’ in the garden during the late 18th century. There’s something that looks like it might have been a grotto at the back, where the wall is, but on the other hand, it could be a well – difficult to tell.

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    • That’s so interesting Annette. I want to go & have another look now! Really appreciate the info thanks 🙂
      PS in earlier comment meant Zool was recycled along with other material from Cathedral to make that building. I really shouldn’t try to write things before 9am. A lark I am not.
      I love the idea that the stone & other things from long demolished buildings can be found. There’s a garden wall on Gaia Lane with some interesting looking stones, wonder what their story is? Anyway, that’s enough of me off rambling again!

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  5. During Easter I bought a pamphlet by Ian S. Clark from the Darwin House shop for £2. It’s a self-guided tour of the Close; not sure how reliable some of the information is, but I’ve literally just leafed through it to find mention of the ‘small aperture’ in the garden of the Visitors’ Study Centre which was only discovered when earth from the garden was removed to relieve pressure on that ancient part of the Close wall. He speculates that it was a firing point supporting the South Gate defences, but the photocopied photograph is too bad to really work out if it’s the same thing that I thought might be a well. Never mind, will also have to have a closer look.

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  6. You may already know this, but i went on a tour up the spire of the cathedral a couple of years ago and in the loft space above the nave there are a bunch of medieval statues in storage they don’t know what to do with. I don’t know if they still do tours but you should go on it if you can its very good.

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    • Thanks very much – I certainly didn’t know that! It’s been puzzling me where they ended up. What a shame they don’t know what to do with them. I’d love to see them displayed somewhere, even if only temporarily. I will keep an eye open for the spire tours too thanks.

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  7. Hi, just wanted to say this is great info, I’m glad someone else has been having similar thoughts to me, and thanks for the link to my photos from Swynnerton (sorry I missed your original comment on there and it’s taken me this long to follow it up!). I know the cathedral well and often wonder what happened to the original sculputres. As you know I’m fairly convinced the original Christ is at Swynnerton, but other medieval figures must have survived in some form. Of the five left on the north tower at least one seems to have been replaced by a Victorian figure, judging by old photos.

    What’s intriguing though is that the entire row of seated kings seemed to survive (as seen in old engravings) but were heavily restored (using mortar apparently!) in the early 1800s and old photos show them looking virtually new; however careful comparison with these old photos and the ‘repopulated’ facade of today suggest these were also replaced by a new set of figures in the 1880s and I have no idea what happened to the originals, so somewhere there must be parts at least of the previous set of kings, but I’ve found no mention of this anywhere.

    I’ve also encountered the statues stored in the central tower but these are not medieval; though they look very archaic they actually date from c1840 (by a sculptor named Armstrong) and can be seen in some old photos above the south transept door, only to be replaced in Scott’s restoration in the 1880s with the present row of bishops. Of the original seven seen in photos 6 are up there (Mary is in bits but the others more or less complete) except the figure of a bishop (presumably St Chad) who must also be lurking somewhere else, in some cellar or garden, awaiting discovery! Can’t find any pics of this online, but there are some and good information on Lichfield in a book by Gerald Cobb called ‘English Cathedrals: the Forgotten Centuries’ which is worth tracking down (even has a Lichfield old-photo-montage cover!).

    Sorry to ramble on there, but good to know someone’s on the case, happy hunting! 🙂

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    • Thank you very much Aidan. You’ve looked at this a lot more thoroughly than I have I agree it is absolutely intriguing and as you say the originals must be somewhere, in part at least! Every time I go into a church now I’ll be looking closely at their statues just in case….. Great to hear that you’ve been into the tower and cleared up what is and isn’t in there. First of all I’m going to try and track down the book as I think I need to do some more reading on this. Once again, thanks for all of your help 🙂

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  8. According to Fred Hackwood, the great Staffordshire Historian who died around 1926, the statue of Christ, originally at the West front of Lichfield Cathedral, disappeared during the troubled times of the Commonwealth. It was replaced by a statue of Charles II. Probably taken by Catholics, and eventually traced to Lady Chapel in the parish church at Swinnerton.

    He says the statue is of sandstone, but shows traces of being coloured and guilded. It was replaced in 1880 in the principal niche at the apex of the West front of the Cathedral, Chas II being carefully preserved in the north west tower.

    The Fitzherberts were staunch Catholics, and the place fairly remote, being surrounded by woodlands. The statue was first concealed in the family vault and did not come to light until it had lain for a couple of centuries.

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