Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Lichfield Angel

Whilst it is still St Chad's feast day, and indeed the 1340th anniversary of his death, it seems a good opportunity to draw attention to the eighth century carving now known as the Lichfield Angel.

It was discovered, in three pieces, in 2003 beneath the floor of the nave of the present cathedral and recognised as an outstanding survival. Not only is it work of high quality, but unlike much surviving Anglo-Saxon sculpture from standing crosses it has not suffered from weathering, and has retained substantial portions of its original paintwork.

The Lichfield Angel

Image: Lichfield Cathedral website

It is thought to be the left hand side of a representation of the Annunciation - the other portion with Our Lady may still lie under the present cathedral - and may well have formed part of the early tomb or shrine of St Chad. The pigment on it has been compared with that in the St Chad Gospels, also preserved at the cathedral, which date from 730, but the Angel is usually dated to circa 800 - that is from the end of the reign of King Offa, the Mercian overlord of England south of the Humber, who died in 796, and who had secured the temporary elevation of the see of Lichfield to the status of an Archbishopric.

Not only is the carving an indicator of the quality of craftsmanship in a cathedral such as Lichfield but the indications of colour show how splendid the interior must have been. For too long peiopel have had a view of the Anglo-Saxon church as 'home-spun' and impoverished - other than the surviving altar books. Here is proof of a rich decorative tradition that stands fully in the tradition of Catholic worship and devotion.

There is more about the Angel on the Lichfield Cathedral website which can be viewed here.

The Angel and St Chad's Gospels can be seen on display in the chapter house of the cathedral.

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.