Summer Trip Report: Medieval Stone Carving

When we think about medieval buildings – castles, cathedrals, etc – we tend to think of sprawling stone structures, and that is completely understandable! Typically that is how medieval buildings are photographed: from the outside, hopefully with dramatic lighting. Cathedrals tend to be particularly photogenic from the outside, and I returned from a trip to the UK earlier this month with many many exterior photographs of churches and cathedrals.

 

Lincoln Cathedral photographed from the wall of Lincoln Castle by Dr. Cartwright on June 13 2017

Lincoln Cathedral photographed from the wall of Lincoln Castle by Dr. Cartwright on June 13 2017

 

However, I would like to encourage you all to take a longer look around the interiors of any church that you visit. They are full of beautiful decoration. Medieval stonemasons were skilled at carving and they indulged themselves with whimsical decoration full of scenes of people, foliage, animals and monsters.

Medieval carvings of animals © Charlotte Cartwright, June 2017. From the left: Rabbit with pilgrim’s bag and staff from St Mary’s in Beverley, c. 1330; Owls in the south transept at Lincoln Cathedral, c. 1200; Lion carving from a window frame at Gainsborough Old Hall, c. 1460.

 

This year I made my first trip to Lincoln and was amazed by the beautiful pulpitum screen in the cathedral. Carved around 1300, this screen separated the nave from the choir of the church:

The screen at Lincoln Cathedral, © Charlotte Cartwright, June 2017

The screen at Lincoln Cathedral, © Charlotte Cartwright, June 2017

 

The screen is impressive from a distance, but it is only when you get up close that you can really appreciate the skill of the medieval stonemasons. Here are my three favorite details from the carvings on the screen:

Left: Carving of a centaur playing a fiddle. Right: a contortionist?

Left: Carving of a centaur playing a fiddle. Right: a contortionist?

Where two arches meet: Two human heads, a dog, and an animal eating an apple.

Where two arches meet: Two human heads, a dog, and an animal eating an apple.

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