The final installment of ‘Object of the Month’ – March 2022
Cathedral Wooden Souvenirs
The focus for our final installment of Object of the Month is the small collection of wooden souvenirs located in the furthermost display case on the west side of the Triforium. Carved from the beech logs upon which the extended Retroquire was built during the medieval period, the objects in the exhibition represent only a sample of the many wooden souvenirs produced and sold as a means to raise money for the considerable restorative work which took place within the Cathedral between 1906 and 1912.
Concerns about the Cathedral’s structural stability were first raised in 1905. Large cracks had begun to appear in the walls and masonry was falling from the roof, which in turn led to fears that the Cathedral may collapse unless urgent work was undertaken to reinforce it. A major project to underpin the foundations of the Cathedral followed. The diver, William Walker (1869-1918), was brought in to clear the layers of peat and clay which lay beneath the Cathedral and place bags of dry-mix cement concrete on the bed of the drift or trench. It is sometimes said that Walker was the man who ‘saved the cathedral with his own hands’.
The work was originally estimated to cost £3,250, but it was soon apparent that this would not be enough. In the end, the cost was closer to £113,000, broadly equivalent to £20 million today. Faced with the problem of how to pay for this, Dean William Mordaunt Furneaux (1848-1928) made a number of appeals in the national press, which kept the problems in the public mind.
A further initiative for raising money involved turning blocks of beech wood removed from the Cathedral’s medieval foundations into objects including crosses, bread trenchers, picture frames, book covers and boxes such as are highlighted in the exhibition. The wooden souvenirs were made by James Laverty, chief carver at the local woodworking company, Thomas & Co., and sold at a stall outside the West Front of the Cathedral. More than £2000 was raised in this way.
Anglo-Saxon Grave Marker
Among the objects displayed on the Triforium level of the Kings & Scribes exhibition, you will find a small fragment of carefully-carved stone, upon which Christ’s empty tomb can be discerned. This fragment was originally part of a much larger Anglo-Saxon grave marker, used to indicate the burial place of an eminent individual. It is believed to date from c. 1000 A.D.
Grave markers became increasingly popular during the later Anglo-Saxon period. Funerary rites changed significantly during the 7th to 10th centuries, much in response to the social and religious changes augured by the conversion to Christianity. In the early Anglo-Saxon period, the deceased were either cremated or interred, and were frequently buried with accessories, including weapons, jewellery and drinking vessels. The external structure of the grave itself would vary, but often included ditches or mounds.
By contrast, graves in the later Anglo-Saxon period were often adorned with a long, highly-decorated stone slab, which covered the length of the grave.
In this example, the curtains are drawn back to reveal Christ’s empty tomb and, at the centre, a lamp, the symbol of Christ’s eternal light and resurrection.
The Sigmund Stone
Located on the top floor of the Kings and Scribes exhibition, the Sigmund Stone is thought to depict a scene from the Norse Völsunga Saga. Discovered in the excavation of the Old Minster during the 1960s, it comprises a small segment of what would have once been a much larger narrative frieze.
A frieze is an important form of story-telling, in which tales from epic poems and sagas are represented in a long decorative band of sculpture that runs along the length of a wall or building. When viewing the Sigmund Stone today, it should be imagined as one piece of the story. As with other Norse sagas, the Völsunga saga is a rich compendium of stories, which together chronicle the heroic deeds and rivalries of Scandinavia’s ancient royal families.
If the figure depicted on the right side of the Stone is Sigmund, then the Stone captures a pivotal moment in this particular section of the Völsunga saga. Having been imprisoned by Siggeir, King of Gautland, and placed in stocks in the woods, Sigmund and his nine brothers are attacked each night by a hungry wolf until, eventually, Sigmund is the only one left alive. Distressed by the death of her brothers, Sigmund’s sister, Signý, sends a man to smear Sigmund’s face with honey. This time, when the wolf comes, she licks the honey off Sigmund’s cheeks and mouth. Seizing the opportunity to escape, Sigmund bites off the wolf’s tongue and, in the ensuing struggle, kills the wolf and frees himself from the stocks. Here, you can clearly make out the wolf’s long snout as it looms close to the figure’s head, poised to attack.
Madonna and Child
Located on the top floor of the Kings and Scribes exhibition, the sculpture of the Madonna and Child once formed part of the original set of images that adorned the Cathedral’s fifteenth-century Great Screen.
Mutilated during the Reformation and reconstructed from extant pieces during the nineteenth century, both figures bear the marks of deliberate damage. The Christ Child lacks both his left hand and head, while the Madonna is missing her right hand and the entire lower half of her body. There is also significant damage to her nose and crown.
Despite their defects, however, both Madonna and Child highlight to us the extraordinary skill and artistry of late medieval sculpture. Look closely and you will spot the realistic folds and creases in the garments worn by the figures, or else the incredible attention to detail that the sculptor has given to the Christ Child’s right hand.
Original traces of red pigment on the Madonna’s bodice provide evidence that the sculpture was painted. Her cloak would have been white with a blue lining, while pigments detected on the Child’s shift suggest its initial colour was green or gold.
Iconoclasm in England was prevalent during the mid-sixteenth century. Part of the wider effort to reform religious practices, it entailed the defacing of icons and images viewed as distractions and obstructive to closer communion with God. The hands, heads and noses of statues were often targeted in particular, as seen in the example here.
Dragon Roof Boss
On the top floor of the Kings and Scribes exhibition is this deeply carved piece of limestone. It is thought to be a roof boss, which would have been set high up, joining the ribs of a vault together.
The Normans first introduced roof bosses to Britain; we have more than a thousand in our vaults from this period. This roof boss may have been dislodged from the east end of the cathedral when it was remodelled at the start of the 1200s.
The lively carving is of two dragons biting each other’s tails, with the tips becoming acanthus leaves. The dragons have long pointed ears, three-clawed feet and prominent rib cages.
This image, called a double ouroboros, may symbolise opposing forces coming together to create a united whole.
Picked by one of our wonderful Kings and Scribes Stewards from the Sunday Team.
The Portrait of Bishop George Morley
On the mezzanine floor of the Kings and Scribes Exhibition is our stunning 17th century Morley Library.
Above the door hangs a portrait of Bishop Morley, painted by the studio of Sir Peter Lely.
Morley is wearing his Garter robes as Prelate of the Order of the Garter, which is an Office held by all Bishops of Winchester since Bishop William of Edington was created the first Prelate in 1348.
Morley was a Royalist during the Civil War, and on his return from exile at the Court of Charles Il the King made him Bishop of Winchester.
Morley took the time in exile to indulge in his passion for books and understand the leading ideas and emerging knowledge of the period- that is when he collected his books. Morley left his collection of nearly two thousand books to the cathedral to establish the library which bears his name.
He encouraged reading and study, his portrait looks down here to remind us to follow his example.Picked by one of our wonderful stewards from the Saturday Team.