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Sculptures of pioneering women to replace eroded mythical carvings on medieval church

20 May 2021


The only known portrait of the British-Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

The only known portrait of the British-Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

CARVINGS of mythical beasts on the exterior of St Mary’s, Beverley, in the diocese of York, which have been severely eroded over 900 years, are to be replaced with sculptures celebrating pioneering women in history.

In April, Chancellor Peter Collier QC granted permission for nine new carvings, to include the Queen; the astronaut Helen Sharman; the 19th-century computing pioneer Ada Lovelace; the scientist Rosalind Franklin; the black Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole; and the chemist and physicist Marie Curie.

He wrote: “In my judgment it is entirely appropriate to celebrate these lives for their human achievement.” The applicant, he said, had “identified what for them were three significant criteria determining the choice of characters, namely: ‘local connection, a weighting towards maths, the sciences, and engineering and also to include BAME representation.’ I endorse that approval of those choices.”

In the application, the Vicar of St Mary’s, the Revd Rebecca Lumley, wrote: “The contribution of women to humanity isn’t always properly recognised in the telling of history, and throughout history women’s voices have been silenced. We take seriously the Church’s role in battling inequality and injustice. And so we hope that this project will help highlight the remarkable achievements of these women, and provide hope and inspiration for future generations.”

The masonry of the 11th-century church is undergoing restoration; limestone carvings of characters from C. S. Lewis’s Narnia stories have also been commissioned to replace those badly weathered or lost (News, 3 July 2020).

York diocese’s church-buildings adviser, Keith Halliday, said on Wednesday: “There has been a remarkable scheme of conservation works over the last few years at St Mary’s. The Incumbent and her dedicated team are fulfilling their vision by making the church more accessible to all, all encompassing in education and more engaging with history. . .

“With many more years of conservation work planned, St Mary’s is a leading example of what can be achieved through a clear vision and dedication to preserve our national heritage and engage with the local and wider community.”

Forthcoming Events

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
With Anthony Reddie, Azariah France-Williams, Mariama Ifode-Blease, Luke Larner, Will Moore, Stewart Rapley and Victoria Turner.

4-8 July 2022
HeartEdge Mission Summer School
From HeartEdge and St Augustine’s College of Theology.

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