The Alabaster Carvers


Go into any church or cathedral in Britain and you are likely to see memorials to the departed. Many will be in white stone sometimes with red-brown veining which can be mistaken for marble. If the memorial dates from before 1670 the stone is most likely to be alabaster which is a crystalline form of gypsum whose source was centred on the East Midlands, South Yorkshire and North Somerset. This stone was valuable in the Middle Ages and was exported to places as far east as Poland, south as far as Spain, and north into Scandinavia as well as being a prime source for English tomb carving.
The danger is to look at the monuments with 21st century eyes and draw conclusions as to their purpose which is inappropriate to the period in which they were constructed. The Alabaster Carvers not only explains the purpose for which the monument was created but identifies some 2000 tombs, monuments and objects and the locations in which they can be found. True to its title the book contains the names and details of some 300 carvers over the centuries with biographical details and makes an attempt to identify monuments with their carver.
The drastic changes in the religious liturgy which took place in the middle of the 16th century had a major effect on the design and purpose of tombs and sparked iconoclast attacks. This is described with the beliefs which underpin the changes.
The book includes essays on such related subjects as transport, costume, painting and modern alabaster. There are specific essays on matters such as the tombs of Richard III in Leicester and the purchase of alabaster for the Abbey of Fécamps in Normandy in 1414.
Whilst not being the last word on alabaster, the book covers much of what one needs to know regarding the alabaster industry from 1327 to date and is a must for those interested in church history.

24 Apr 2017