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Rare carving discovered in Salisbury church

15 November 2019

Kelvin Inglis

A tricephalous carving of the Holy Trinity, held up by an angel, which was discovered at St Thomas’s, Salisbury

A tricephalous carving of the Holy Trinity, held up by an angel, which was discovered at St Thomas’s, Salisbury

WORK to restore the UK’s largest complete “Doom” painting in a Salisbury parish church has uncovered a rare new discovery: a tricephalous carving of the Holy Trinity, held up by an angel.

The Rector of St Thomas’s, Salisbury, the Revd Kelvin Ingles, said that the carving of the three faces of the Trinity on one head did not feature in any of the guidebooks or histories of the church, and was probably forgotten about many centuries ago, as it was covered up by layers of grime and varnish.

Suspended high above the nave, adjacent to the Doom painting, it was hidden from view until restorers started to remove the grime.

Mr Ingles said that the discovery had been a “remarkable revelation”.

“There are three faces merged into one: three noses, three smiling mouths, and four eyes. The best way to see the individual persons is to cover the eyes in turn. This image has been suspended above the nave for centuries, but has been forgotten, being quite impossible to see at height.”

Such carvings were made between the 15th and 17th centuries, but were banned by Pope Urban in 1628, and many were subsequently destroyed.

Mr Ingles said: “For me, this image imperfectly illustrates that which cannot be known, and as such is a monument to the determination of humanity to grapple with the mystery of God’s nature. A lot of people will have found the image controversial, and I can only assume its height and obscurity has saved it.”

He said that the congregation welcomed the discovery: “The congregation of St Thomas’s is proud of their fine church with its extraordinary Doom painting. Visitors come from all over the world and make straight for [Salisbury] Cathedral; St Thomas’s, just a short walk away, is often a surprise to them. Now, once they have mastered the word, our welcomers will take great pleasure in pointing out our tricephalous Trinity.”

Work to restore St Thomas’s is being carried out by Peter Martindale Conservation and St Anne’s Gate Architects, of Salisbury. An appeal to raise funds to continue the clean-up is still under way.

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