Gilded and painted head of a bishop with damage from a blade visible on the forehead

In 1848 St Cuthbert’s church in Wells in Somerset rang with the sound of chisels and hammers as builders busied themselves on a programme of renovation. As layers of crumbling old plaster were removed on the east walls of the transepts, an astonishing treasure emerged. A jumble of brightly coloured sculptural fragments – faces, pinnacles, biblical scrolls, crowns, gleaming curls of hair – lay blocked into the walls.

In total, around 450 pieces of broken sculpture were found. These had once populated the two large stone altarpieces (or reredoses) which were an important focus for worship in the medieval church.

Although this remarkable collection has been recognised as one of the most important groups of medieval sculpture in an English church today, it had never been properly investigated and the original composition and appearance of the reredoses remained obscure. Summer 2016 saw this extraordinary collection catalogued and digitised at last. This website is a record of the project and some of its findings.



3 thoughts on “Introduction

  1. Hi Wezley – thanks for your interest. The focus of this initial project is investigation: producing a complete catalogue of the sculptures and getting an idea of their condition – so no remedial conservation work at this stage. Following on from this we intend to complete vital conservation work and display some of the sculptures in the church again. It is such a rare opportunity to display these relics of medieval worship in the space they were intended for – but it will require very careful design so that the display is sensitive to their fragile paintwork and also works in the context of an active, vibrant community church. This will be a second, separate project – so watch this space!

    Liked by 2 people

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