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PHOTO GALLERY: Medieval demons found at Norfolk church

PUBLISHED: 08:57 21 July 2012 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 July 2012

One of the bizarre and mysterious carvings which are exciting historians at Cambridge University.  Picture: Mike Dixon

One of the bizarre and mysterious carvings which are exciting historians at Cambridge University. Picture: Mike Dixon

Archant

A set of grotesque and unique medieval carvings has been rediscovered at a church in the Fens after being forgotten for hundreds of years.

The discovery of 12 demons in the roof of the nave at St Clement’s Church, Outwell, has sparked calls for the relics to be preserved for posterity and made more accessible to parishioners and visitors.

The carvings were found by Dr Claire Daunton, a historian at Trinity Hall, Cambridge while studying equally unique stained glass in the church.

Because of the light entering the roof area of the nave, the carvings are almost impossible to see clearly but she suspected they were quite extraordinary-early 15th century examples of a type of carving found in some European churches – they appeared to have been carved the wrong way round with the evil demons apparently overcoming each of the smaller apostles.

Closer examination of the carvings last month by Dr Daunton and representatives of English Heritage using a cherry-picker and scaffolding confirmed their significance and that they are of such huge local, national and international importance that steps must be taken to ensure they suffer no further damage from pests and the weather.

The inspection, however, did not produce consensus on exactly what the carvings are supposed to represent or what lessons congregations over the centuries are supposed to have drawn from them. One observer suggested the demons were being forced to hold the church up, although conceded they did not appear to be suffering much as a result.

Even more questions are raised by the positioning of the carvings. Although the grime of the centuries has made them almost invisible from the floor of the church, they are not in a position ever likely to be much noticed by worshippers or visitors.

That aspect of the find is now being studied by Dr Daunton and her team, which includes church architect Richard Waite.

Dr Daunton said: “It is safe to state that, in the present state of research, the figures are unique. They are beautifully executed, with fine detailing that is most unusual for a rural parish church and for the space they occupy in it.

“Much more research on them is needed, but first they need preservation, conservation, cleaning and some attempt is needed at dating them.”

Meanwhile, St Clement’s parochial church council (PCC), with the help of bishop of Huntingdon the Rt Rev David Thomson, has applied to English Heritage for lottery funding to have the carvings examined in further detail and a plan drawn up for their preservation, including making sure the church building is in a suitable condition for housing such precious objects, yet also making them accessible to the public.

But the PCC will have to come up with pump-priming money in the event of a grant and so it is setting up a Friends of St Clement’s organisation to raise the necessary cash.

Kate Jackson, who is setting up the Friends group said: “The discovery of these unique carvings is not just of local interest but will also be of national importance.

“We will aim to raise funds and bid for grants as part of a development plan to establish St Clement’s as a vibrant community centre for local people and to attract students of medieval architecture and tourists to the village.”

Rector the Rev Alan Jesson also emphasises the wide significance of the carvings.

“This is a tremendously exciting and important discovery which has also highlighted other unusual and unique aspects of St Clement’s. It shows how important St Clement’s was in the Middle Aages.

“I am so looking forward to seeing the progress of this project.”

St Clement’s is open, with a coffee shop, every Tuesday, 9am to 5pm.

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