As Harriet Sherwood reports for the Guardian, 14 limestone sculptures depicting Aslan the lion, Jadis the White Witch, Reepicheep the talking mouse and other magical creatures are set to replace worn medieval carvings on the church’s exterior. Alison White, the bishop of Hull, blessed the newly commissioned statues in a ceremony held earlier this week.
The statues’ installation is part of the first phase in the historic house of worship’s ten-year restoration, writes Alexandra Wood for the Yorkshire Post. Partly funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project mainly centers on more than 600 medieval wooden carvings of monarchs, mythical creatures and religious figures.
Though these intricate carvings, also known as roof bosses, are in need of conservation, they remain in better shape than the external stone carvings, which have weathered away entirely over the centuries.
“We didn’t have any pictorial evidence to show us what was there, so had no way of reconstructing the original carvings,” says Roland Deller, director of development at St. Mary’s, in a statement. “… [W]e decided to commission something new, to reflect more recent times.”
The restoration team invited local art and design students to submit ideas for the new sculptures. One created a sketch of Mr. Tumnus, the faun who befriends Lucy, the youngest Pevensie sibling, when she first arrives in Narnia. Inspired by the submission, the church commissioned a whole series of Narnia carvings by sculptor Kibby Schaefer and master mason Matthias Garn.
Lewis’ seven-volume series, published between 1950 and 1956, tells the story of four young siblings who are evacuated to the English countryside during World War II. The children discover Narnia by walking through a magical wardrobe and soon find themselves entangled in a fight between good and evil.
“[T]he story has much resonance for today,” says Reverend Becky Lumley, the vicar of St. Mary’s, in the statement. “ … Our children [have been] in a very different kind of lockdown to that of the Second World War but they too need to imagine new possibilities and hope.”
Lumley adds, “These books are not just for children, they contain incredible truth which helps many Christians today reflect on our own understanding of God and faith.”
Lewis famously became a devout Christian after years of atheism following his mother’s death and his own service in World War I. Many scholars and critics have argued that the Chronicles of Narnia are a Christian allegory, with the lion king Aslan, who is brutally killed by the White Witch but later returns from the dead, cast as a fictional representation of Jesus.
The Narnia statues will fit right in among St. Mary’s array of mythical, historical and biblical carvings. Perhaps the most famous of these characters is a 14th-century stone messenger rabbit said to be the inspiration for the White Rabbit illustrations in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The church’s roof bosses are “a way of storytelling without words, created in a world which had a high level of illiteracy,” says Deller in the statement. “They show everything from biblical characters to bawdy daily life, as well as bizarre mythical creatures like the manticore and the basilisk.”
In addition to Aslan, the White Witch, Mr. Tumnus and Reepicheep, the Narnia carvings depict such characters as Fledge the winged horse, Glenstorm the centaur, Farsight the eagle and Jewel the unicorn. Per the Guardian, the stone sculptures—made with the permission of Lewis’ estate—will be displayed at ground level to enable visitors to see them up close before moving to more permanent positions on the church’s exterior.