‘They’ll make a nice pair!’ York Minster reveals St George and the dragon

York Minster stonemason Richard Bossons blows away dust as he adds the finishing touches to a newly-carved grotesque of St George. Photographs: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
23 Apr 2019 @ 5.50 pm
| History

Stonemasons at York Minster have marked St George’s Day by revealing a newly-carved figure of the patron saint as part of an £11 million restoration project.

The 3ft grotesque is one of four new carvings created to replace badly eroded 200-year-old figures removed from the cathedral last year.

St George will sit on a pinnacle alongside a dragon and two other grotesques produced as part of the 11-year scheme to conserve and restore the minster’s 14th-century South Quire Aisle.

The original carvings, which are believed to have dated from the late 1700s, showed three human figures and an animal or beast.

Tell a story

York Minster stonemason Lee Godfrey works
Richard Bossons, stonemason at York Minster, said the original stonework was very eroded “but we could tell that it was a human figure, we could see the position of the arms and it was holding something but it was impossible to tell what”.

“And we had a beast on the opposite corner and that lent itself to the dragon carving so that’s why we decided to go with George and the dragon.”

He added: “They’ll make a nice pair and tell a bit of a story so we’ve got a bit of a narrative going on there as well.”

Inside the stonemason’s workshop

Mr Bossons said he based his design for St George on a 14th-century tomb in a church in West Tanfield, near Ripon, North Yorkshire, to ensure that the carving was authentic.

The grotesque took 10 weeks to design and carve and will sit, with the other three figures, 70ft above the ground as part of a pinnacle, which the team are rebuilding using magnesian limestone from a quarry near Tadcaster.

They are due to be fixed in place on the minster later this year.

Acid eats in

St George is looking good on his special day
Alex McCallion, director of works and precincts at the minster, said the work to restore the South Quire Aisle is in its second year and is the biggest conservation project the team are working on at the moment.

He added that the restoration of the minster is a continual process, with projects being planned up to 20 years in advance.

He said:

  • A lot of this stone dates back to the mid-18th century when it was last restored.

    Obviously, over the 250 years since then, we’ve been through an industrial revolution and we’re down wind from four power stations so the acidity in the atmosphere and the magnesian limestone has taken its toll on the stone.

Mr McCallion said the minster’s stonemasons use exactly the same techniques as their medieval counterparts would have done when the cathedral was originally built but said very few people would ever be able to see the incredible detail of the carvings.

He said: “Once this scaffolding goes people won’t be as close to it again for at least another hundred years and that’s the medieval philosophy, it was all done for the glory of God. God could see the detail and we preserve that tradition.”

The York Minster Fund is currently raising money for the restoration of the South Quire Aisle. For more information, visit the minster website.