Cathedral Treasure, Finalist Number 8.
Flowering of naturalistic craftsmanship, Leaves of Southwell – Southwell Minster.
Sir Nikolaus Pevsner famously wrote his monograph The Leaves of Southwell in 1945, describing in detail the exquisite naturalistic stone carvings of animals, leaves and mythical creatures all around the Chapter House.
Dating from the end of the thirteenth century, they are a fine example of the English Gothic style and are recognised as being of international significance.
The skill, ingenuity and powers of observation of the medieval stone masons mean that these decorated carvings are unrivalled in England, and no less important than those found in Rheims and Naumburg.
A major project of conservation and repair, completed in 2022, has afforded new insights into to how and why these superbly decorated stone carvings came to be in this small market town in Nottinghamshire, once home to the Archbishops of York. Could the splendid octagonal Chapter House reflect nearby Sherwood Forest, where the natural world bursts with vitality? How do the Leaves speak to us seven centuries later of harmony and fragility in God’s creation, providing insight as we counter climate emergency?
Perhaps they are a meditation on Psalm 1, which invites us to wise living:
And he will certainly become like a tree planted by streams of water,
That gives its own fruit in its season
And the foliage of which does not wither,
And everything he does will succeed.
The adjacent Palace Gardens complete the visitor’s experience, with exploratory trails tracing the new planting of all the species found in the Chapter House.
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