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Bryony Wilde

Thesis: Truth be Carved: A comparative study of medieval roof bosses in the parish church 1330-1520

Supervisor: Dr Jenny Alexander

A photo of a person in front of a building


History of Art BA - University of Warwick

History of Art: Medieval Art and Medievalisms MA - University of York


Roof bosses are decorative sculptures which cover joints and intersections of ribs in vaulted ceilings. These are found particularly in ecclesiastical Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages. Yet, they remain significantly under studied as art historical objects. Their location in key social areas of the church and their assemblage of imagery may offer a unique insight into parish communities.Interior of a church

Often categorised as marginal carvings these works represent religious, secular and grotesque subjects with the same emphasis.

This intersection between art and architecture appears to have been utilised for the expression of local identity, power dynamics and lewd jokes.

Carving of monkeys

Moreover, they maintain an intrinsic connection to the devotional emphasis of the building. They present a dichotomy in many respects – being both apart and removed, remaining both sacred and profane in highly public areas of institutional significance. However, our understanding of these works and their importance to these communities remains largely unexplored.

This thesis proposes an informed comparison of St. Mary's, Beverley and St. Mary's Redcliffe, Bristol's surviving roof bosses.

Carving of a man and demon

In particular, this focus will be on similarities and differences in iconographic choices in these two sites, the impact of patronage from social groups and the masons architectural choices. Through this research, this project aims to offer unique insight into the conscious expression and idiosyncrasies of the medieval parish church.