Revealing the Cathedral’s ceiling bosses

Published: 09 May 2016

Hidden history: Revealing the Cathedral’s ceiling bosses by Grace Timperley

If you have visited the Cathedral recently, you have seen the scaffolding around the Quire for the structural works to the Pulpitum. While the scaffolding has temporarily obscured the medieval woodwork of the Quire and screen, it has also provided us with access to some of the wonderful pieces in the highest points of the building that are usually hidden from view. You may also have noticed the beautifully cleaned archway! In addition, some of the ceiling carvings have been re-gilded.

Photographer Robert Watson, who had an exhibition at the Cathedral in March, kindly agreed to capture some images of the ceiling carvings from the top of the scaffold. Staff at the Cathedral and at Chetham’s Library were very excited to be able to see many of these carvings for the first time! As they are so high, and in a dark wood against an equally dark background, the ceiling bosses are very difficult to see from the Nave. They have probably not been viewed at close quarters since the restoration work to the roof following the Second World War. The carvings appear to be medieval originals, probably with some nineteenth-century conservation work (the ceiling itself was completely replaced, copying the original). We are quite lucky to have so much medieval woodwork in the building, surviving not only the destruction of war but also periods of history less sympathetic to the preservation of medieval architecture and fabric.

The new photographs include close-ups of the ‘Huntington Rebus’ that allow us to compare the wooden carving and the stone version (either side of the Lady Chapel) side by side. The Rebus is a pictorial pun on the name of the warden John Huntington (1422-58) – one image depicts ‘hunting’ and the other, shown here, a ‘tun’ (a barrel of ale). The wooden counterpart, which is less visible from the nave level, seems to depict an ale-keeper a little worse for wear…

The ceiling bosses also add to the Cathedral’s collection of mythical beasts and ‘green men’ – the mysterious leafy faces of supposedly pre-Christian origins that frequently adorn church architecture. We are hoping to host a joint event with Chetham’s Library in the near future, to display some of the new images and learn more about these weird and beautiful specimens of medieval craftsmanship.

Photographs courtesy of Robert Watson.




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