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July 01, 2007

Angel orchestra

One of the glories of Tewkesbury Abbey is its great vaulted nave roof. Sixty five feet from the ground it is admittedly difficult to see without getting a crick in the neck, but it is very well worth the effort. The "Bosses" which lock and decorate the intersections of the vault "ribs" are all individual and colourful with the central spine all bearing scenes from the life of Christ. On either side of the Gospel story, an orchestra of angels all accompany the story on a variety of medieval (and some very much earlier!) instruments.

Reebeck player.JPG
This plaster cast of one of the bosses shows an angel playing a medieval violin called a "Reebeck". The cast barely does ijustice to the real one which is brightly painted.

A portable organ - called a "Regale" it had free beating reeds rather than pipes and is played by pulling sliders out to sound the note. The crank operated a small bellows which provided the wind for the instrument.

angelic bagpipes.JPG
Love them or hate them, the bagpipes have been around for some time - and may have even found a place in heaven!

These plaster casts of the real bosses do not do them full justice, the originals are fabulous. What I have long found fascinating is the fact that many of the angels seem to be playing instruments more closely associated with Ireland - several of the harps are clearly Irish and not Welsh - suggesting that the carvers were brought here from Ireland. That would make sense since the principal family involved in the endowment of the Abbey are the de Clares. Those who know their Irish history will know of Strongbow - one Richard de Clare, conqueror of Ireland for the Norman Henry II (After Henry reminded him that he was a vassal of Henry's!) and the Lord of County Clare.

Do pay the Abbey a visit if you are in this area, it is always a rewarding experience.

Posted by The Gray Monk at July 1, 2007 11:34 AM

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In the phrase "since the principle family involved," please read "principal" for "principle." Thank you. --David

Posted by: David White at July 2, 2007 10:37 AM

David, thank you for the correction - now made. Bit of a Freudian slip I guess given the de Clare's links and history ....

Posted by: The Gray Monk at July 2, 2007 06:24 PM