A king, a peasant, a ram, a goat and a sea-monster will appear on the walls of Gloucester Cathedral when five new gargoyles are installed on 11th October.
The gargoyles are part of the South Aisle Restoration project – a five-year project costing £750,000 which is due to be completed in spring 2012.
In total, 13 new gargoyles will be carved for the South Aisle. Already in position are the Wolf, the Lion, the Old Beggar, the Young Boy and the Bird. The five new gargoyles are the Sea Monster, the Mad King, the Gloucester Peasant, Lady Goat and Sir Ram. Still to come are a Mother and Baby Salamander, a Young Maiden and a Young Man.
The gargoyles were designed by the Cathedral’s Master Mason Pascal Mychalysin. Inspired by Psalm 148, his designs illustrate the creatures of the earth praising the Lord. All the gargoyles are sponsored by generous donors.
“Carving gargoyles is a rare opportunity for us to express ourselves creatively,” said Pascal, “We are stonemasons and builders, not trained sculptors. But I am sure our medieval counterparts didn’t go to art school, so we are carrying on that tradition.”
The gargoyles will be positioned thirty-five feet high on the South Aisle. They are each three feet long and one foot thick. A crane will lift them onto the buttresses where they will be mortared into position. It will take around one hour to install each gargoyle.
A gargoyle is used to discharge water from the roof and away from the side of a building. Preventing rainwater from running down masonry walls is important because running water erodes the mortar between the stone blocks. The combination of cold and wet can cause severe damage to the building fabric as has happened in the past to the North Transept of Gloucester Cathedral, where the whole façade had to be replaced.
Gloucester Cathedral still has some Gothic gargoyles carved at the end of the 12th century. Most of the existing gargoyles are headless, due in large part to intentional damage during the English Civil War. There is evidence that the gargoyles were used for target practice by the Puritan soldiers and the stonework on the South Aisle shows impact holes from musket balls.
South Aisle Restoration Project
In the 1320s the South Aisle of the then Gloucester Abbey was rebuilt as the Norman building developed structural faults. Buttresses were constructed in order to prevent the collapse of the outside wall. Large new windows in the Decorated style were adorned with thousands of ball-flowers – a speciality of the West Country stonemasons. Gargoyles and statuary enlivened the external buttresses along the face of the Cathedral which meets the full force of the prevailing weather.
In the 1850s the Victorians restored the ravages of rain and wind, but chose to use Bath stone for much of their repair work. This too has weathered to near destruction, but in a fraction of the time that it took the 14th century carving to fade.
The Cathedral Architect reported, “The major work to restore the South Aisle of Gloucester Cathedral is essential, not only to the aesthetics of the building but also to make sure that the area is conserved for future generations.” Subsequently the Cathedral Chapter began to commission the long over-due and costly work to clean, restore and conserve the South Aisle, obtaining some English Heritage grants for the high level work.
In 2005, work began at lower levels giving the talented stonemasons of present-day Gloucester the opportunity to turn their chisels to carving ballflowers for two restored buttresses.
The restoration project covers four bays of the South Aisle. Any missing detail has been re-instated wherever possible and surviving mouldings conserved. Adjoining windows have been removed, cleaned, re-leaded and re-fixed with non-ferrous dowels.
Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights above.
2 Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.
4 Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.
7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,
9 you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and maidens, old men and children.
13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted;
his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.
14 He has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his saints,
of Israel, the people close to his heart.
Praise the LORD.