February 23, 2006

Major Anglo-Saxon sculpture find at Lichfield

The Archangel Gabriel, his wings still fiery with colour applied over 1200 years ago, has emerged from beneath the nave of Lichfield Cathedral.

The Anglo-Saxon carved figure was found when builders, watched over by archaeologists, took up part of the floor of the nave to build a new rising platform for concerts and recitals. . .

Britain's heritage of Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical art and architecture was almost obliterated by the scale and splendour of the Norman rebuilding, and the firestorm of later iconoclasts. Much of what painted decoration survived then fell to the renovating Victorians, and the fallacy that historic churches should have pure bleached stone interiors . . .

When the Henry Moore Institute recently organised an exhibition on medieval English painted sculpture, some once-common types had to be borrowed from abroad, because not a single example survived in Britain.

The Lichfield angel only survived because it was buried beneath the later building, possibly preserved as a relic of the tomb of St Chad, the cathedral's patron, whose body was reburied in a magnificent eighth-century shrine. . .

The angel will go on display at the Cathedral this weekend, before being sent for specialist conservation work.

From the Guardian, with pictures.

ADDENDUM: The finds under the floor continue. Here is a press release; some highlights:

Chad died on 2nd March AD672 and Bede reported that he was buried: “close by” the Church of St Mary, but that his body was later transferred to the new church of St Peter.

The exact locations of these churches have never been known; and there has been much speculation that St Chad’s Church in Lichfield is located on the site of one of the original churches. But now, archaeologists can reveal that the remains of both St Peter’s Church and St Mary’s Church lie under the floor of the present cathedral – and that both have been found during recent archaeological investigations. . .

The “Lichfield Angel” is three adjoining fragments of an Anglo-Saxon sculptured panel made of cream shelly limestone. It is believed that this formed part of a shrine in which the bones of St Chad were housed.

Posted by David on February 23, 2006 8:50 AM

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