During a recent visit to College Hall, there was much excitement to witness restoration work being completed on the eastern wall, where the Majestas, ‘Christ in Majesty’ is located. Liz Elliott, Development Director, was very interested to hear from Richard Parker, the Historic Buildings Archaeologist working on this project, that the work comprises a pencil archaeological drawing of what the Majestas would have looked like, prior to its desecration. This detailed drawing will be used to reconstruct the stonework, to bring the figure and surrounding stonework back to its original condition. Liz was impressed with the amazing detective work necessary to reconstruct the figure and delighted to learn that one day in the future, King’s pupils will be able to look up to the eastern wall and see a fully sculpted figure of Christ above the stage in College Hall.
Dating back to 1140, the striking figure of Christ in Majesty, seated on his throne with one hand raised in blessing and the other holding a book (as described in Revelations) and measuring 8 feet by 12 feet, was sculpted in stone in the eastern wall of College Hall. The figure of Christ was surrounded by images of the four Gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – depicted as a Winged Man, a Winged Lion, a Winged Calf and a Winged Eagle respectively.
Late in the fourteenth century, the four niches were added, each holding the statue of a saint; the identity of each saint is unknown, although it seems likely that St Oswald and St Wulstan, with their particular personal significance to the Priory, would have been included.
It is understood that the sculpture was the inspiration for Graham Sutherland’s tapestry in Coventry Cathedral.
During the reign of Edward VI, significant damage was caused to the Majestas – the statue of Christ was defaced, the relief flattened to the wall and the smaller statues removed. Shortly afterwards, the wall was rendered and the Majestas hidden; a coat of arms painted on the wall was described by Richard Symonds in 1642, thought to be one of a number, including a royal coat of arms.
During work carried out to replace the stage in the hall, the remains of the Majestas were discovered in August 1872. Maurice Day, Headmaster, sought consent from the Dean and Chapter for the plaster to be removed, which was done by workmen using chisels, resulting in the ‘feathered’ appearance of the sculpture today.
We look forward to seeing the progress of this incredible work and we welcome OVs to come back to King’s for their own peek into College Hall to witness an important moment in its history.