Fallen angel sparks major preservation project for Ripon Cathedral's ancient quire

A fallen angel, having resided over Ripon Cathedral's medieval quire for so many centuries, has sparked a major project over the preservation of its cultural heritage.

Intricately adorned angels, sculpted at the hands of 15th century artisans, each hold a unique insight into the minds of the carvers who crafted them so long ago.

Now, after one fell from height to lose its wings, specialist conservators are securing the whole hosts' preservation as 500 years' of wear begins to take its toll.

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"This chance is once in a generation," said conservator Tristram Bainbridge as he stands in wonder amid the scaffolding within the cathedral's ancient quire.

Tristram Bainbridge with the fallen angel that prompted the restoration work. Picture Gerard Binks

"There is such a history here, and with a project of this magnitude it will be another 100 years before we get to be so close.

"What's incredible is that this still exists, and hasn't been destroyed over 500 years," he adds. "This is the opportunity we now have, to restore it.

"It is such a part of our heritage, there aren't many places like this in the world. And they are not just of national significance, but internationally."

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Tristram Bainbridge working with a tiny brush on one of the angels in the Medieval quire. Picture Gerard Binks

Restoring Fallen Angels

The project will see the preservation of some 70 angels within the cathedral's medieval quire, which plays host to its choir and also serves as a place of worship.

Work will be undertaken by specialists from Bainbridge Conservation to restore the canopies over the stalls, while the famed misericords, once serving as ornately carved tiny seats to a long gone clergy, will also be mended.

One such carving, depicting a rabbit disappearing down its warren, is said to have inspired Alice's Adventures in Wonderland with Lewis Carroll's father having served as a canon here.

Pictured the restoration team busy at work in the Medieval quire. Picture Gerard Binks

Every carving, says Mr Bainbridge, from the fantastical beasts to some perhaps deemed a little rude for a house of worship, offers an insight into the minds of the original workmen.

"We can see the hands of the different carvers, in the same way a painting talks," he said.

"We do feel a connection with the original craftsmen. We are in the same world as they were, working with wood, although using different materials.

"Each one has a slightly different approach, in the level of attention to detail. They are unique, to each different carver."

Tristram Bainbridge with the fallen angel that prompted the restoration work. Picture Gerard Binks

Thousands of cotton swabs to clear centuries of dust

An estimated 1,500 hours of work will go into the £120,000 eight-week project, funded by the Headley Trust; Charles and Elsie Sykes Trust and Pilgrim Trust, along with fundraising.

Ancient wooden joints, known as 'trenails' or tree nails, are to be restored, while thousands of cotton swabs, handmade from bamboo, are to clear centuries' worth of dust and grime.

Finally, a beeswax compound is to transform the woodwork from a dusty grey to a soft brown colour, with cameras streaming the work to visitors as stalls are closed until March.

"In our work, as conservators, our job is to preserve this so that future generations can enjoy it," said Mr Bainbridge.

Sally Aumoniel working on the restoration in the Medieval quire. Picture Gerard Binks

"That's our mission. If we don't intervene, they will deteriorate further."

Cathedral's 'crowning glory'

Julia Barker, cathedral director of operations, said: “Ripon’s misericords are one of the cathedral’s crowning glories and it’s wonderful that they are still in use today.

"The work we are carrying our will make sure that they can be enjoyed by future generations and can continue to be used by our choir and clergy much as they would have been 500 years ago.”

The Dean of Ripon, the Very Rev John Dobson added: “I am very grateful to those providing the funds to make this crucial conservation project possible.

"Angels often attract interest; they are actually God’s messengers, as Mary and Joseph both knew well from the time of Jesus’ birth.

"This project might just prompt us to consider what God is asking his angels to communicate to our society today.”

The restoration team amongst the scaffolding from left Tristram Bainbridge, Sally Aumonier, Harriet Sharman and Rachel Lawson. Picture Gerard Binks
Tristram Bainbridge working with one of the angels. Picture Gerard Binks
The rabbit carving said to have inspired Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Picture Gerard Binks
Ripon Cathedral. Image Gerard Binks