The 19th World Book Day will be celebrated by readers around the world today - and staff at Rievaulx Abbey are celebrating its literary links by working on a 14th century statute of St James the Great holding his book.
The statute is currently being cared for in English Heritage’s archaeology stores in North Yorkshire and will soon be returned back to its home at Rievaulx Abbey to be placed on display in a new museum opening at the end of May.
It is thought to represent St James the Great, the patron saint of pilgrims, and shows the man himself dressed as a pilgrim with a buttoned sleeveless overcoat and bearing standard pilgrim symbols of a staff and book it was originally set in a niche at Rievaulx Abbey, near Helmsley.
During the dissolution of Rievaulx Abbey in 1538, the statue was damaged and is now headless, but still weighs in at 120kg. Such destruction was inflicted on monastic sites and religious items to render them unusable for prayer and worship.
However, St James’ book still remains intact; and careful cleaning and study has revealed that the sculptor even represented the pages and metal book clasps which were an essential part of any medieval book with parchment pages.
Collections curator at English Heritage, Susan Harrison, said: “Doing work on this fascinating statue on World Book Day seemed fitting. This object is another piece of history which helps us to tell the story of the lives of the monks at Rievaulx Abbey and the dissolution of the first Cistercian abbey established in the north of England.
“The library at Rievaulx once contained over 200 books, time was set aside each day by the choir monks for reading and study. Little evidence of these books remain from the site apart from some of the metal book fittings lost during use or prised off at the Dissolution so it’s wonderful to see this representation of a medieval book in stone.”
The statue of St James will join a large collection of original and previously unseen objects which will go on display in the new museum opening at Rievaulx Abbey from late May.
The interpretation will provide a new insight into how Rievaulx looked at various stages of its development and the former lives of the monks at one of the most powerful and spiritually renowned centres of monasticism in Britain.