At The Lutterworth Press, we are delighted to announce that Michael Rimmer’s The Angel Roofs of East Anglia: Unseen Masterpieces of the Middle Ages has been shortlisted for the History and Tradition prize at 2016 East Anglian Book Awards.
It has been estimated that over 90 per cent of England’s figurative medieval art was obliterated in the image destruction of the Reformation. Medieval angel roofs, timber structures with spectacular and ornate carvings of angels, with a peculiar preponderance in East Anglia, were simply too difficult for Reformation iconoclasts to reach. Angel roof carvings comprise the largest surviving body of major English medieval wood sculpture. Though they are both masterpieces of sculpture and engineering, angel roofs have been almost completely neglected by academics and art historians, because they are inaccessible, fixed and challenging to photograph.
The Angel Roofs of East Anglia is the first detailed historical and photographic study of the region’s many medieval angel roofs. It shows the artistry and architecture of these inaccessible and little-studied medieval artworks in more detail and clarity than ever before, and explains how they were made, by whom, and why.
Michael Rimmer redresses the scholarly neglect and brings the beauty, craftsmanship and history of these astonishing medieval creations to the reader. The book also offers a fascinating new answer to the question of why angel roofs are so overwhelmingly an East Anglian phenomenon, but relatively rare elsewhere in the country.
Before any visit to a historic church, habit leads me to start with Pevsner, whose deadpan description of the roof of St Nicholas, King’s Lynn, reads, “The roof has tie-beams on shallow arched braces with traceried spandrels. Above the tie-beams tracery and arched queenposts, also with tracery . . . each alternating truss has angels as hammerbeams.” There is little there to indicate that St Nicholas’ angel roof is a miracle of English carpentry, one of many such to be found throughout East Anglia where the genre flourished from the late 1390s until the 1530s, at which point the artistically deadening hand of Reformation began to sweep away religious imagery. Amidst the turbulent iconoclasm of the Reformation years, when so much ecclesiastical art and decoration was defaced and destroyed, most angel roofs survived, protected by their inaccessibility. Of the 170 surviving angel roofs in England, roughly 70 per cent can be found in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. The same inaccessibility that protected these roofs has also made them hard to appreciate without the aid of binoculars and the resulting consequence of a stiff neck.
This book is of great importance because Michael Rimmer, a keen photographer and connoisseur of angel roofs, has succeeded in documenting virtually every surviving medieval angel roof in East Anglia. Thanks to scaffolding in churches under restoration, I have been privileged enough to get up close to an angel roof a few times. Now thanks to Michael’s photographs, that experience is available to many for whom these photographs will be a revelation, showing the complex mix of carpentry, engineering, artistry and faith that make these roofs so thrilling to contemplate. I have the honour of being Chairman of The Churches Conservation Trust; St Nicholas, King’s Lynn, with its angel roof, is among the nearly 350 churches we care for. I believe they all have the power to galvanize communities and inspire and delight individuals.With a generosity to match his talent, Michael has kindly decided to donate his royalties from this book to The Churches Conservation Trust and all lovers of the English parish church should be grateful to him.
Chairman of The Churches Conservation Trust
More praise and reviews includes:
“Michael Rimmer allows us to enter worlds that are otherwise remote. His text provides privileged access to the minds both of the medieval kings and carpenters who produced the roofs, and the early modern religious vandals who diminished them. But the greatest privilege is to see the roofs themselves through his camera lens. As we move from distant views of angels in whole ranks to close-ups of their faces and their attributes, we seem to hear the music of their instruments and the song of their voices, even feel the fluttering of those magic wings. To hold this book in your hands is to gain early entry to Paradise.”
Professor John Onians, Professor Emeritus of World Art, University of East Anglia
“The Angel Roofs of East Anglia is a wonderful book about a remarkable form of medieval English architecture. In the Middle Ages, English carpenters designed and built a number of the world’s most innovative and ingenious timber framed buildings. Hammer beam roofs, some of which were adorned with carved and painted angels – most notably the one completed in 1399 that spans the Hall of Westminster Palace – were the English carpenter’s most spectacular achievement. Rimmer’s book explains and celebrates a forgotten but truly awe-inspiring type of craftsmanship and construction.”
David Leviatin, editor of The Mortice and Tenon Magazine
“The Angel Roofs of East Anglia captures perfectly the sheer beauty and fun of this amazing feature of East Anglian churches. The angels tell us so much about the history not only of the churches that they adorn but the craftspeople who created them. The Churches Conservation Trust is enormously proud to look after some of the amazing places photographed in the book; I think that when people see what treasures exist on their doorsteps Angel Roofs will inspire a whole new generation to visit and enjoy this country’s historic churches.”
Crispin Truman, Chief Executive of The Churches Conservation Trust
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Michael Rimmer’s The Angel Roofs of East Anglia: Unseen Masterpieces of the Middle Ages is available on our website, www.lutterworth.com.