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The Lichfield Angel: a spectacular Anglo-Saxon painted sculpture

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JournalThe Antiquaries Journal
DatePublished - Sep 2008
Volume88
Number of pages60
Pages (from-to)48-108
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Excavation within the Gothic nave of Lichfield Cathedral in 2003 revealed three phases of masonry building ante-dating the Norman period. These are likely to relate to the church of St Peter, which Bede described in 731 as housing the timber shrine to St Chad, fifth bishop of Mercia (d 672). A rectangular, timber-lined pit found on the central axis of the building might represent a crypt or burial chamber beneath the shrine. Buried in a small pit alongside this were three fragments of a bas-relief panel of Ancaster limestone, carved with the figure of an angel. They comprise half of the left-hand end of a hollow, box-like structure that had a low-coped lid. This is interpreted as a shrine chest associated with the cult of St Chad. The sculpture, which was broken and buried in, or before, the tenth century, is in remarkably fresh condition, allowing for an in-depth analysis of its original painted embellishment and for an assessment of the monument in terms of its iconography and stylistic affinities, and thus the possible conditions of its production. It is argued that the surviving portion of the panel represents the archangel Gabriel, and that it is one half of an Annunciation scene.

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