Southwell, Nottinghamshire – Minster Roof and Leaves

There are already a couple of blogs of the beautiful Southwell Minster already on this site. It is a special place for me as I did a placement here while at Lincoln Theological College. 27 years later Helen Bates, who had the pleasure of teaching us at Derby Uni (at least, I hope it was a pleasure) is now working for Southwell Minster. She had organised a roof tour – would I like to join? Silly question. I went over from Duffield, and was joined at Nottingham by Helena, one of our fellow-students. From Newark Castle we got a taxi, and made it to Southwell just as the tour was about to start at 1030.

We had a health and safety briefing, and then climbed the scaffold stairs to the Quire roof. An inspiring notice as we went on site! They are replacing the roof of Westmoreland tiles with a new lead one. I asked why they were using lead when so many churches are having theirs’ stolen. They have decided that as the Minster is in the middle of the town there is good visibility and security, and lead is the best material. It was fascinating seeing how flexible it was as they put the clips on. The sheets are only fastened at the top, and then they add the various vents. The circles are poles through the roof which will hold the wires for the safe access scheme. You can see the different roof levels that have existed in this part of the Cathedral.

We went round to the south side where the work is not as advanced. Interesting to see how the roof is built up before the lead goes on. Lovely rainwater goods too. They are doing a superb job. Information at http://www.heritage-cr.co.uk/heritage-secures-phase-2-works-at-southwell-cathedral/

It was lovely looking down on the different bits of the Cathedral, on the Archbishop’s Palace and on the clergy houses – I want one! Lovely seeing the carvings from close-up.

We then went into the Cathedral and into the Chapter House. The carvings date circa 1287, and we had a wonderful guide. I thought I knew the carvings quite well, but it was good to see them in a new light. Here is the Chapter House itself, and the chap who might have been the Mason.

Let’s start with some Green Men and perhaps a green woman or two – wonderful symbols of fertility and life. Even now you can find all the different plants are carved in stone growing within a mile or two of the Minster. Part of the project is to try and connect children with nature – a lot of youngsters (and many of us older ones) have no idea what leaf is which.

Here are a couple more figures, and some more foliage. The carving is incredible. Note the empty acorn cases, and the pigs eating them.

There is a big National Lottery Heritage Fund project to conserve, protect and interpret the leaves. They are going to improve the heating, put in better lighting, and (best of all) disabled access. There will be interpretation work, and a lot of education work – Helen wants knitted Green Men! Have a look at https://www.southwellminster.org/theme/visit-the-leaves-of-southwell/, there are wonderful photos there too.

Lovely series of angel windows by Patrick Reyntiens, installed about 1995.

We caught the bus back to Nottingham and walked through the City back to the station. A really good day out, and here is a lovely prayer on their website:

Gracious God, source of life, we praise you for the wonder and diversity of the natural world, and we thank you for the genius of the craftsmen who carved the Chapter House leaves that speak to us still. Open our hearts and minds to your guiding Spirit, that we may discern together how best to cherish this good earth and safeguard its resources. As we listen to the leaves, show us to share in creation’s song and rediscover our harmony in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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