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Old Screeds

The Leonine Sagittaries at Three Medieval English Churches

Speaking of looking high up at the sculpture of medieval churches, evidently is is not just the capitals at the tops of columns that are important to consider. There are also the "corbels" and "bosses." An example of the latter is the sculpture of a sagittary battling a dragon at Westminster Abbey. The website where I found this beauty says, "This is a stone roof boss in Westminster Abbey." I would say it is boss, indeed!

sagittary battling a dragon at Westminster Abbey

Just take a sec to gaze on this lion centaur, c. 1250. Look at the four claws on each foot! The mane around the waist. I love his fierce expression. I went looking for more info about this and found a reference in a 2020 book by David Carpenter, Henry III, Vol. 1. Evidently the king and queen would come to church and sit in a special pew -- one with a perfect view of this fellow. Here's the quote:

David Carpenter, Henry III, a centaur spearing a dragon

Of course, not being clued in, Carpenter calls it a "centaur" — but it is clearly a leonine sagittary!

Next up is a sagittary corbel at the Church of St John the Evangelist, Elkstone, Gloucestershire. I found this in a PDF of a 2014 masters thesis by Jonathan Andrew Turnock, "Reconsidering the Reign of King Stephen, A Contextual Study of Sculpture created in Gloucestershire Between 1135 and 1154." Search for "Centaur" to get to the good stuff. Here's the sagittary, c. 1160.

Sagittary at Elkstone

Now, it is a bit hard to tell if this fellow is a leonine or equine sagittary, but I come down on the side of the lion based on that tail. I've blogged about flowery medieval sagittary tails before, and this is a fine example. You can see another photo of this sagittary here.

And I found another extraordinary sagittary in Turnock's thesis, from Winchester Cathedral. Turnock describes this as a "Capital attributed to the patronage of Henry of Blois," Well, Henry of Blois was the younger brother of King Stephen, and as my loyal readers (George) know, the leonine sagitarry was associated with both King Stephen and with Blois, the town in France from which the family came. Here's the one at Winchester Cathedral.

Sagittary at Winchester Cathedral

Although, sadly, his paws are broken off, it is clear that this is a lion centaur. That mane, that tail! So sweet.

Home | This post was researched and written on 15 Sept 2020.