For the past two months the east end of the cathedral has been hidden by scaffolding, while painstaking repair and restoration work took place on the fifteenth century stone vaulted ceiling with its famous pendent bosses. Details of the work that has been carried out are given below. The work is now complete.
The stone-vaulted ceiling of the cathedral's chancel sits over the twelfth century wall arcades, which were remodelled in their upper stages during the fifteenth century to support the new structure. The vault has stone pendant bosses with octagonal ‘lanterns’ beneath them, which hang miraculously suspended in mid-air. In his book Cathedrals of England Sir Alec Clifton Taylor commented: “Structurally, this is a feat of extraordinary architectural ingenuity, to which no Late Gothic buildings on the continent of Europe offer any close parallel.”
Stone does not work well in tension and the bosses have been subject to repairs in the past, and more recently, to occasional surveys from a mobile crane. Past restorations saw brass rods inserted into some of the bosses and others clamped together with wire cages. In a recent survey two were discovered to be fractured and the present works were put in hand to check all of them and carry out appropriate repairs. The bosses appear to be carved from one piece of stone, hung from the stub that projects from the arch rib by metal staples. Whilst most were reasonably secure, they were all in need of some attention. In some places the stone legs of the lanterns had cracked and several of the decorative leaves had been lost to erosion or where loose, removed for safe keeping. The original metal staples had begun to rust and further metal work used to reinforce the bosses.
Where the ‘legs’ of the lanterns are cracked they have now been drilled and pinned together with fine stainless steel rods. New vertical stainless steel rods have been inserted to replace the rusting wire cages used in earlier repairs. All the bosses and the ceiling have also been gently cleaned, the open joints in the masonry have been re-pointed and where significant decorative detail was missing, replacement sections have been carved.
The work was carried out for the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church under the direction of Jane Kennedy, Architect to the Foundation, of Purcell and Sam Price, structural engineer from Price and Myers. The repairs were undertaken by masons and conservators from Cliveden Conservation and the scaffold was built by C and R Scaffolding.
Photos: Ralph Williamson
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