Report of the September 2017 meeting of Wookey Hole WI

 

We welcomed Patsy Barrow, with Antonia to handle the computer display, at our September meeting. The subject of the talk was the St Cuthbert’s reredos in the North and South transepts of the church.

Until the mid nineteenth century the walls in those areas were smoothly plastered, but restorers found that it was originally quite different. When the plaster was chipped away they found niches where statues had once stood, and the packing in the gaps were the broken fragments of the statues themselves. At the time it was felt that they were important relics, but no-one knew what to do with them. So they were looked at, put away, moved around and generally neglected until quite recently. And the niches were often used to hold candles, which does the surface of the stone no good at all.

But a big and expensive effort has now been made to properly conserve and catalogue the pieces. Although they are in a rather poor state, it is still possible for knowledgeable eyes to detect the symbols, such as the wings of the Angel Gabriel and the long hair of the Virgin Mary that allow identification of the statues. Enough traces of paint remain to make it plain how vividly colourful they originally were. In digital form they will be available on the Internet for others to study.

They were in place for only a hundred years, the evidence for the construction of the reredos, which were the background to the altars of chapels financed by wealthy patrons to buy their way into Heaven, dates from the mid 1400s. The destruction was done on the orders of the strongly Protestant young King Edward VI in the 1500s. Sadly, vandalism of artworks still goes on.

Patsy was thanked by Myrtle for her fascinating and detailed talk. Patsy admitted that it was actually her birthday, so President Jill Deane conducted us in singing ‘Happy Birthday’, and, as if by magic, Sue H appeared from the kitchen with a cake bearing a single candle. As an added treat, Lavinia had been inspired by Jamie Oliver’s ‘5 ingredients’ recipe, as featured in this month’s edition of WI Life, and had baked chocolate and orange shortbread. Delicious.

 

Rose Docherty

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