Late Medieval Roof Bosses in the Churches of Devon
roof boss, medieval carving, medieval parish church, Devon church, iconography, green man, foliate head, three hares, pre-Reformation religion
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Susan Andrew LATE MEDIEVAL ROOF BOSSES IN THE CHURCHES OF DEVON Abstract The extensive survival of late medieval bosses in the roofs of many parish churches in Devon has long been recognised. These carvings escaped the widespread destruction of images during the Reformation through their relative inaccessibility, and yet most have never before been recorded; nor has systematic study been made of their design, their positioning within a sacred space, or the ways in which they may have been viewed and used by a largely illiterate audience. This thesis rectifies this oversight in its detailed documentation and photography of figural roof bosses and contextual information from 121 churches across the county, appended as a gazetteer, and in its thorough analysis, which considers the varied interactions between the people of the parish and their carvings. The thesis reviews the literature on roof bosses in Britain, particularly the work of C.J.P. Cave whose studies have hitherto dominated the field, before considering materiality and method, namely the properties of oak, the dating of the timber, the carvers and the carving process, and the surface finish and visibility of roof bosses. The social, religious, and decorative context is then discussed, especially the role of ecclesiastical authorities in the life of the parish church and its people, and the motivation of patrons, clergy and laity in the decoration of their parish church. An exploration of motifs carved on roof bosses follows, with these motifs linked to other images within the parish church, the cathedral and the wider world, to the words of the sermon and the confessional, and to scriptural texts and popular literature. Medieval understandings of vision are considered, as are the circumstances in which roof bosses may have been seen and used. The thesis argues, in particular, that many bosses may have served as mnemonic devices and aids to prayer in a penitential process which sought to cure the soul of sin. The thesis concludes with case studies of six parish churches from across Devon which confirm that these carvings should be recognised as a significant resource for our understanding of the late medieval parish church and its people in the Diocese of Exeter and beyond.
University of Plymouth
Faculty of Arts
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