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Bryony Wilde

Truth be Carved: A Comparative Study of English Medieval Roof Bosses at St Marys Redcliffe and Tewkesbury Abbey (1100-1540)

Supervisor: Dr Jenny Alexander


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 intersections of ribs in vaulted ceilings. These are found throughout ecclesiastical Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages and represent a wealth of imagery. Moreover, their unique locations ensured their survival through iconoclasms and offers great insight into medieval design. Yet, despite their distinctiveness, they remain significantly understudied as art historical objects.

This is partially due to this inaccessibility – often being high above the viewer which make them impossible to study without the aid of a digital camera. Conceptually however, they are also often categorised as marginal carvings or folk art due to the often lewd nature of some of the iconography.

Indeed, the schemes represent religious, secular and grotesque subjects with the same emphasis. This creates an assemblage of design which is able to represent institutional identity, wealth, piety and humour through a medium which stands as an intersection between art and architecture. They present a dichotomy in many ways: being so apart and removed, being of such high importance and yet similarly showing profane subject matter. As such they offer unique insight into this often misunderstood and co-opted period of history.

This thesis proposed an informed comparison of St Mary’s Redcliffe, Bristol and Tewkesbury Abbey, Tewkesbury surviving roof bosses. This will specifically focus on similarities and differences between the two sites by looking at design choice, the development of architectural style, the impact of patronage and iconographic choices. Through this research this project aims to add to the ongoing re-evaluation of the medieval period through a study of the conscious expression and idiosyncrasies of these sculptures.

Awarded Arts Scholars Award by The Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars (2022)

Blogs and ongoing database Curious Carvings project at St Mary's Beverley:

Person with digital cameraSculpture of figuresRoof boss sculptures