THE sculptor of Lincoln Cathedral's new statue of the Blessed
Virgin Mary, for whom the cathedral is dedicated, is Aidan Hart,
from Shrewsbury. He has been a professional iconographer and carver
for more than 25 years.
The sculpture, more than seven feet high including its plinth,
weighs 1.5 tonnes, and has been carved, largely by hand, from a
three-tonne block of limestone donated by Great Ponton Quarry in
Lincolnshire. Influenced by the cathedral's original Romanesque
architecture, the sculpture has taken more than three years, and
has been polychromed, using traditional egg tempera with natural
earth and stone pigments.
The sculptor is a Reader of the Greek Orthodox Church in
Britain. Speaking at the dedication on the feast of the Visitation,
he said that his and the reordering committee's aim had been to
make the statue an "icon", "a door or window between heaven and
earth, to be a place of meeting". He prayed that the chapel would
become "a little Bethlehem"; for the statue was not only of the
Virgin Mary, but of God Incarnate, which was why "The word was made
flesh" was carved on the plinth.
The vision that had informed his design decisions was St
Athanasius the Great's statement: "God was made man that we might
be made God," echoing 2 Peter 1.4. "This theosis, as theologians
call it, is fundamental to the Orthodox Church," he explained. And
this teaching was also to be found inthe Anglican tradition,
particu-larly in the work of Lancelot Andrewes.
Because God had become matter, he said, the material world was a
help, not a hindrance, spiritually; and modelled matter could also
be a prayer to God. "We can pray and praise in stone and colour as
well as in word and song. This very cathedral is a hymn in stone, a
Hosanna in the Highest."
As an iconographer, Mr Hart said, he did not sign his work; and
he paid tribute to the many who had helped, from his assistants to
the truck drivers, and Dr Peter Burman, who had made the first
contact with him by email. "Liturgical artists are sacred joiners,
carpenters of gates. Once the gate is made, their work is done and
they withdraw, happy to know that it works and people are using it.
. . In the Byzantine world,it is . . . the donors, and not I the
carver, who are called the makers or builders of the work, the
A particularly important influence was the icon-type Our Lady of
the Sign, drawn from Isaiah 7.14.
"The Christ Child is surrounded by a vesica. This mandorla is a
kind of halo, and represents the divinity of Christ. This little
Child is the Second Person of the Trinity made flesh. As we affirm
in the Nicaean Creed, Christ is 'God of God, Light of Light, very
God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with
the Father'. . .
"The Christ Child, who is depicted like an adult child, holds a
blue sphere, inscribed with a golden cross and stars. This sphere
represents the universe which Christ not only created, but also
sustains and guides towards its fulfilment in the New Jerusalem.
This Child is the Pantocrator, which means the All Powerful One,
the one who holds all things in his hands.
"He raises his right hand in blessing, the two fingers together
representing his divine and human natures united in the Second
Person of the Trinity, while the thumb and other two fingers tucked
togetherin His palm symbolise the Three Persons of the Trinity,
three in one.
"A cross is inscribed within Christ's halo to show that God has
entered our suffering. He has risen from the dead and conquered
death by death. Inscribed in the vesica is the rainbow." This was
the rainbow mentioned in Revelation 4.2,3. But, in the sculpture,
it did not represent heaven only, but also the Virgin's womb, he
said. By the incarnation, Mary had become more spacious than the
From you, O Virgin, God wasincarnate
and became a child, our God before the ages. He made your body into
athrone, and your womb He made more spacious than the heavens. All
of creation rejoices in you, OFull of Grace! Glory to you!
In the sculpture, Mary was enthroned. "In fact, she has herself
become the throne of God. She is the New Ark of the Covenant, the
Mercy Seat of the Old Testament, through which God revealed his
glory to the Israelites. The sculpture shows Mary depicted both as
humble handmaid and also as the Queen of Heaven."
The aim of the sculpture was not to depict the incarnation as
just a past event, he said. "More profoundly, its aim is to draw us
into a place where Christ can be born in us today. For Mary is the
type for all us believers; for we are all called to be God-bearers,
In the carving, he said, "Christ looks at us, engages us. Mary
on the other hand looks a little beyond us, and towards the far
western end of the cathedral. She ponders the mysteries of God. I
have noticed that the saints whom I have been blessed to know
listen with two ears, see with two eyes. What I mean is that, while
they were fully attentive to what I was saying, their hearts were
simultaneously listening to God. As a consequence, whatever they
said or did to help me bore God to me. So it is with Mary, whose
contemplative nature make her deeds and words all the more pregnant
with divine power."
And he had sought to unite stillness with dynamism. "We wantthe
chapel to be a place where people can find stillness of heart, or
hesychia as the Greek writers call it, that God might be born in
their hearts afresh."
The earth-red inner robe of the Virgin represented her humanity,
while her heavenly blue outer robe represented the divinity of
Christ which she had received. "Christ's warm orange ochres are the
colours of the sun; for he is Light and life- giver."
He concluded: "We want people to draw near to this carving of
the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln. We want you to touch the warm
stone, to feel our Lady of Lincoln is close. We want people to
light candles.We want people to make offerings to the poor and the
suffering, people whom the Mother of God loves so much and feels
for with a mother's compassion. We want this carving of the Blessed
Virgin Mary of Lincoln to be loved to bits."