Lichfield Angel – Lichfield Cathedral

13th January 2023

Cathedral Treasure, Finalist Number 6.

Angel in waiting: hidden for nearly a millennium, the Lichfield Angel (c.800)

There are 10 finalists in our Cathedral Treasure competition. You can vote for your favourite and you’ll be in with a chance of winning a copy of Janet Gough’s brilliant Deans’ Choice: Cathedral Treasures of England and Wales.

The Lichfield Angel demonstrates the ambition of King Offa of Mercia (757–796) to rival the achievements of Charlemagne (r.768–814). When this amazing object was discovered under the floor of the nave in 2003, it changed our understanding of Saxon sculpture. Its three pieces had lain undisturbed for nearly a thousand years, face down, partially over air pockets so that the carving was little affected by damp or abrasion. Other survivals had usually to contend with the weather, or at least with daylight and human attention. Suddenly we could all see what the Saxon carvers were capable of in terms of the delicacy and imagination of their work.

The Lichfield Angel is thought to be the left-hand half of an Annunciation, and therefore to be missing the figure of the Virgin. It represents the Archangel Gabriel, carrying his staff as messenger to the Virgin. He was originally coloured, and traces of paint survive in some places (again a rarity with sculpture of the period). The figure was red against a white ground, with a white halo edged in ochre (possibly as a base for gold leaf). The feathers on the angel’s wings were red at the base and white at their tips.

The sculpture clearly forms part of one end of a box-like structure, most probably a shrine chest. It is tempting to identify it with an early shrine to St Chad (d.672). Chad’s first shrine was described by the Venerable Bede (c.731) as a wooden structure, but this limestone could perhaps have replaced that and served until (so the excavation evidence tells us) it was buried shortly before the Norman Conquest.

Vote for your favourite here.

Source : Deans’ Choice: Cathedral Treasures of England and Wales, Janet Gough.

Take at look at all the finalists and vote for your favourite here or tap / click the image below.

Cathedral Treasures - Finalists