Malcolm Hanson – The Pulpitum Screen

Even when the cathedral is closed and empty it is still full of faces, hundreds of them!  There are faces in very many of the windows, faces of the great and good, faces from the Bible, faces of angels, and masses more in woodwork and stonework, from green men to mouth pullers. 

The article below was written by Malcolm Hanson during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. 

One of my favourite features in the cathedral is covered in faces too – faces of kings, archbishops, a saint and at least 24 musical and singing angels.  But amongst all of these more than a hundred tiny faces of medieval people! 

I’m thinking about the pulpitum screen which dates from around 1470 and is carved in fine detail, though much of the sharpness has now been lost, weathered by the years, by clumsy ladders and just old age. 

What intrigues me about them is that many of those that have survived really look like medieval people, and it is not difficult to picture the stone carvers thinking of friends or family as they shaped these tiny figures.  And because the figures are so small, and many have now lost their features, they are for the most part just not noticed.  But they represent to me the ordinary people of the church, those many nameless and forgotten people who have worshipped here not just in medieval times but down through the centuries.  They have no other memorials, we don’t know their names or their stories, but they are there like shadows from the past, sharing their space with us. 

The stonework of the central arch of the screen bears clear marks of different stonemasons’ tooling.  This is the work of different craftsmen.  And as the centrepiece, above the arch, is a well worn carving of the Holy Trinity, with the Father cradling his crucified Son, with the Holy Spirit hovering above.  It’s difficult now to make out the details and interpretation is subjective.  Yet the message of God at the centre, the focus of worship and prayer is unmistakable. 

All those unknown, ordinary people, just like us, gather round their Lord, joining the heavenly chorus above, in humble prayer and praise.  We look forward to joining them again and taking our place alongside them in this great house of God.