Nave Ceiling – Peterborough Cathedral

13th January 2023

Cathedral Treasure, Finalist Number 7.

Remarkable decor from the thirteenth century, the Nave Ceiling at Peterborough Cathedral.

The nave ceiling in Peterborough Cathedral is the largest painted ceiling of its age in Europe. The viewer beholds a series of 57 lozenge shapes depicting all manner of figures. Some of them are kings, bishops or archbishops – possibly the ones who were alive during the 120 years it took to complete the great abbey church of St Peter. The seven Liberal Arts (music, geometry, logic, grammar, rhetoric, arithmetic and astronomy) are depicted, and there are images of saints such as Peter and Paul.

Some of the lozenges are difficult to interpret. The image of a monkey riding backwards on a goat while talking to an owl is not one that speaks easily to the modern mindset (it may be that it is a depiction of folly). In addition to the Lamb of God (the Agnus Dei) we can see Luna (the moon) in her chariot, the devil and Janus with his two faces. These strongly contrasting figures have led some to speculate that the ceiling is an extended metaphor concerning good and evil.

The great ceiling has survived fire and civil war. Today, thanks to electric lighting and a thorough effort at conservation at the beginning of this century, can perhaps be seen more clearly today than ever before.

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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