In the field of architecture, the term 'capital' describes the decorative block-like element which separates the end of a column from the masonry above it. Cubic capitals, such as the one featured above and below, were very popular in the Romanesque architecture of 12th-century England - a period which saw an extensive programme of building construction and the flowering of a new style of stonework.

Romanesque capitals are distinctive in their elaborate detail, use of visual story-telling and broad subject matter. Natural imagery, in the form of plants and animals, feature alongside images from the Bible, as well as stories and allusions drawn from secular sources. The art and mythology of ancient Greece and Rome provided inspiration for sculptors across Europe, who reflected some of the same themes in their work.

The Cathedral’s collection includes several fine examples of Romanesque capitals. The capital shown here is made from oolithic limestone and dates from the mid-12th century. It is carved on all four sides. On its opposing faces appear two centaurs: the first has already discharged an arrow from a bow, the other poised ready to release. Their opponents appear on the adjacent faces: a griffin, an arrow protruding from its breast, and a basilisk or similar mythical beast, with its bird’s head and snake’s body. Though badly damaged in parts, it is still possible to appreciate the extraordinary detail and animation in these creatures. All four are depicted mid-action – the faces of the capital convey a sense of movement and intense effort in the heat of battle.

The capital is on permanent display on the ground floor of the Kings & Scribes exhibition.