The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century high altar at Winchester Cathedral has one of the most important ensembles of English woodcarving of its time. It consisted of a Laudian (Anglican High Church) timber canopy surmounted with carved drapery, cartouche, and naturalistic festoons in the style of English carver Grinling Gibbons, a master woodcarver of the seventeenth century. Despite the fine woodwork, the canopy arrangement was disassembled and scattered to different areas of the cathedral, as a result of changes in liturgical practice. The carved drapery and festoons hung, in a worsening condition, below the south transept crossing arch.
Carvings of the south transept restored
Supported by The Paul Mellon Endowment for British Heritage and the Butler Foundation, we began conservation of the carvings in the south transept in 2009. The conservation team met with the Cathedral Chapter and Fabric Advisory Committee to agree on an approach to the work—it was then cleaned and consolidated, and new sections of the lost elements were carved to improve the coherence of the piece.
WMF Britain’s 2011 Paul Mellon Lecture celebrated the completion of the project by bringing together the experts who had worked on the canopy. These experts discussed its place within the development of English woodcarving and the changing role it has played in the life of the cathedral. The carvings of the south transept are newly mounted and illuminated, for visitors and churchgoers to enjoy once more.