Sunday, May 20, 2018

Angel Roofs: England's Forgotten Treasure

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Angel Roofs: England's Forgotten Treasure

Roof angel from Holy Trinity church, Blythburgh, Suffolk
By No machine-readable author provided. Mel Etitis~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0 ]
Most visitors to England are enthralled by the grandeur of the medieval chapels they tour. However, they often miss some of their most exquisite features. Tourists either forget to look up at the timber roofs, or else distance and poor lighting make the masterpieces of ornamentation that rest there hard to see. Built between 1395 and about 1530 and decorated with hand-carved angels, these ‘angel roofs’ numbered in the hundreds.
Hammerbeam roof of St Wendreda's Church, March, Cambridgeshire is decorated with 118 angels carved in oak.By David Iliff (User:Diliff) [CC BY 3.0]
Only 170 angel roofs survived into the present. That any remain is truly remarkable. Most were constructed in the 1400’s, a century that marked the Wars of the Roses and the formation of the Tudor dynasty. During the English Reformation that followed, religious zealots targeted all medieval religious imagery for destruction. Most church ornaments were destroyed. Some estimates put the amount of artwork destroyed at above 90 percent. Many of the roofs escaped this fate, however. The roofs lofted high overhead and out of reach. Besides this, some of the angels actually supported the roofs they graced. Removing them would have called for determination, courage, and coordination.

John Salmon / St Peter & St Paul, Cromer, Norfolk - Roof angel CC BY-SA 2.0
The large majority of angel roofs (75 percent) are found within the churches of East Anglia, most notably in Norfolk and Suffolk counties. Artisans unknown to us today carved the angels. Sculpted in great detail, the roof angels represent a variety of forms and styles. The tallest stretch 8 feet in height. Most are oak, although sycamore and chestnut also came into use. Colorful paint adorns many. A roof might boast hundreds of angels or only a few. They give a tantalizing glimpse of what medieval churches looked like.

Roof angels are the largest extant body of medieval wood carvings in England. They are a priceless connection with the past. Sadly, art historians and medieval scholars largely neglect these amazing art pieces and beautiful keepers of history.

About the Author

Janalyn Voigt's unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and whimsy creates breathtaking fictional worlds for readers. Known for her vivid writing, this multi-faceted author writes in the western historical romance, medieval epic fantasy, and romantic suspense genres. 

Janalyn is represented by Wordserve Literary Agency. Her memberships include ACFW and NCWA. When she's not writing, she loves to garden and explore the great outdoors with her family.

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  1. Very interesting post. Thanks for sharing this information.

  2. That must be quite a sight to behold. Thanks for highlighting this architectural feature!

  3. What lovely art work from the past, Janalyn! I was blessed to see some large cathedrals in England and France, including Notre Dame, but I did not get to see a church with roof angels! I feel like I missed something now!
    Very interesting post.