Home > Uncategorized > The mystery carvings of St Mary Redcliffe

The mystery carvings of St Mary Redcliffe

A wild man sleeps in a forest; then he is awake; a monkey peeps out from among the trees. A cripple stares in puzzlement at a cat (?) in a tree, while a peasant holds a branch. A naked man rides a rearing lion near a beast-inhabited jungle.

These three scenes have been the source of unending puzzlement to me over the years. They are the sole surviving narrative elements in a richly-sculpted (indeed extraordinary) porch that was designed to hold a miracle-working image of the Virgin Mary. They are plainly illustrative of *something*, but what? Certainly nothing well known; certainly nothing explicitly religious (though probably moralistic). There are many parallels with the world of medieval Romance, especially those (like Alexander) which deal with the exotica of the east; also comparisons can be made with Arthurian traditions, and the Matter of Britain. But they lack the kingly and knightly figures such scenes would need to make them readily identifiable. The three images, of course, may not be from one single narrative. And below them, perhaps caught up in whatever theme they are addressing, three men in varying stages of undress battle with beasts, while a single naked man looks out at us.

St Mary Redcliffe: 'wild man' sculpture

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St Mary Redcliffe lion-rider sculptureSt Mary Redcliffe lion-rider sculpture

 

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