FOR centuries, the grotesque carvings adorning the exterior of York Minster have been based on real or imagined characters of their times, from medieval monks to today’s tradesmen. The latest figure on the façade is a seller of Big Issue North, a magazine that supports the homeless.
The idea came from Norbert Lawrie, a Big Issue vendor who has spent more than 30 years living rough on the streets of Britain, when he met David Willett, a Minster stonemason. “He said it would be a good idea to put a Big Issue seller on the Minster,” Mr Willett said.
“The grotesque I was replacing lent itself quite nicely to being a Big Issue seller. It had crossed legs, its arms were missing but it had two stumps coming forward, a cloak, and hair. I couldn’t tell if it was holding anything; so I stuck a Big Issue under his arm and a hand out begging. If we can tell what it is, we can copy it; if we can’t, the rest is up to us as long as it’s in the style of what was there. So it’s in medieval costume.”
He said that it was “good to bring some awareness to the plight of the homeless, and hopefully get the message out that people need help. The Minster quite liked the idea.”
Mr Lawrie said that it was the “icing on the cake” for a life spent campaigning for the homeless. “This is the end of the journey for me,” he said. “It’s the place I have been looking for all my life, and to have something up on the Minster, where around the corner I slept in a shop doorway, is amazing.”