The Restoration of Fallen Angels

February 26, 2020
February 26, 2020 Michelle

Photograph courtesy of Bethany Clarke.

Carvings and canopies in our medieval quire have been restored to their former splendour  with the completion of the first phase of a £120,000 restoration project.

As the scaffolding came down on the north side BBC TV cameras captured the first clear view of the newly cleaned and waxed wood.

Vacuuming, dusting and a laborious cleaning process involving thousands of cotton swabs removed centuries of dust and dirt before a beeswax compound was applied to give the wood a wonderfully rich glow.

Conservators now turn their attention to the lower levels on the north side and the higher levels on the south side. The remarkable medieval carvings draw tens of thousands of visitors each year and are of international significance.

The project was prompted by the fall of one angel, who plummeted to earth from the canopy directly above the choir stalls where the lay clerks (adults singers) sit.

Restoring Fallen Angels will see the preservation of some 70 angels residing in the medieval quire as well as work to conserve the misericords (the tiny seats with ornate carvings underneath upon which the choir and clergy perch) One such carving – in the Mayor’s Stall – is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Carroll’s father was a canon at the cathedral and the carving depicts a rabbit going down the rabbit hole. The word misericord derives from the Latin word for pity; these ledges were used by monks who would otherwise have had to stand during lengthy services.

Scaffolding will remain in place as the team of conservators from Bainbridge Conservation continue their work. Tristram Bainbridge explained: “The woodwork of the quire has been used, altered and admired for over 500 years and over this time dirt has built up and the structure degraded.

“As the carving is incredibly intricate, we will also be using solvents and thousands of cotton swabs to remove the embedded dirt. High up on the scaffold we can get rare access to the work, giving us a unique window into the mind of the medieval craftsman. We can see construction techniques as well as the styles of the different carvers.”

Ripon Cathedral’s Director of Operations Julia Barker said: “Ripon’s misericords are one of the cathedral’s crowning glories and it’s wonderful that they are still in use today. The work we are carrying our will make sure that they can be enjoyed by future generations and can continue to be used by our choir and clergy much as they would have been 500 years ago.”

The Dean of Ripon, the Very Rev John Dobson added: “I am very grateful to those providing the funds to make this crucial conservation project possible. Angels often attract interest; they are actually God’s messengers, as Mary and Joseph both knew well from the time of Jesus’ birth. This project might just prompt us to consider what God is asking his angels to communicate to our society today.”

Restoring Fallen Angels is being carried out thanks to funding from the Headley Trust; the Harrogate based Charles and Elsie Sykes Trust and the Pilgrim Trust along with continued fundraising. See Riponcathedral.org.uk/projects for regular updates.

With scaffolding in place until late March there will be no access to the stalls, however, visitors will be able to see conservators at work with cameras streaming their work to ground floor and an exhibition will keep visitors up to date on progress on this once in a generation project.

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