QEST Scholars Create Narnia Figures for Yorkshire Church

18th November 2020

Matthias Garn + Partner are have been working on a series of fourteen stone carved figures of characters from the Chronicles of Narnia for the exterior of St Mary’s Church, Beverley in Yorkshire.  The CS Lewis Company Ltd granted permission for the carvings to be based on these characters, and the highly competitive tender for carrying out of the work was won by Matthias Garn + Partner, with some figures sub-contracted to fellow QEST Scholar Andrian Melka. Matthias set up his own business in 2004 and his team have worked on ecclesiastical buildings across the UK to acclaim.

“For centuries there were carvings in these spaces on the outside walls,” explains Roland Deller, Director of Development for the church, “but over time they have weathered away completely. We don’t have any pictorial evidence to show us what was there, so have no way of reconstructing the original carvings. And so we decided to commission something new, to reflect more recent times.”

Before developing any of these designs, Matthias and his team studied the existing carvings on the interior and exterior of the church in great detail. They then developed drawings with the character of the existing carvings in mind. “The idea is to bring the Narnia characters to life by representing some aspect of their personality and/or role within the story,” he comments. “We would like the carvings to be instantly recognisable whilst also offering some sort of narrative context. For instance, we have Maugrim the wolf, a label stop, howling up at a gargoyle of the White Witch, and the White Witch leaning over towards a Mr Tumnus gargoyle, turning him to stone. The background of the label stops will also be carved with decorative detail, further contributing to the narrative context. These carvings will hopefully be a starting point from which to think more deeply about the story.” 

As well as Mr Tumnus and the White Witch, the other characters featured in the new carvings include Reepicheep the mouse, Fledge the winged horse, Glenstorm the centaur, and of course Aslan the lion.  The fictional figures will not be out of place at the church, which boasts 600 interior roof bosses, showing everything from Biblical characters to bizarre mythical creatures including the manticore and the basilisk.  Story telling is a strong part of the church’s history, to which these new figures will be an exciting addition.

“The precedent of animal and character carvings in churches stretches right back to medieval times,” explains St Mary’s Heritage Learning Officer, Dr Jennie England. “Amongst our roof bosses we already have countless wooden carvings of animals, real and mythical, and the misericord carvings under the seats in the Chancel feature an elephant and a pelican.”

“CS Lewis’ books are not just for children, they contain incredible truth which help many Christians today reflect on our own understanding of God and faith,” comments St Mary’s vicar Becky Lumley. CS Lewis is widely recognised as one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, writing particularly about reconciling faith with pain and suffering in the world, after his own experience of losing his mother at a young age and later losing his wife to cancer. As well as a deep Christian faith, Lewis had a vivid imagination, and it is this which has endeared the books to generations of children. Narnia is peppered with mythological creatures – fauns, centaurs, dryads, naiads – and of course talking beasts. Lewis had been fascinated by anthropomorphic animals since he was a child, when he and his brother created imaginary worlds inhabited and run by animals.