The Sawley Angels

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The stone carvings, known as the "Sawley Angels"   were once part of an ornate thirteenth century canopy tomb which stood in the north aisle of All Saints' church. Sadly the tomb was broken up in 1838, but a drawing by George Maynell, a local historian, was made in 1810. This shows the effigy of a priest in vestments beneath a canopy on which angels are carved in relief. The effigy was protected on either side by grilles of wrought iron which reached  about half way up the canopy.

 

The dismantled parts of the tomb were disposed of in the churchyard, although one piece was incorporated into the garden wall of the rectory whilst another was placed face downwards in the floor of the south porch, its smooth flat surface serving as a paving slab! It wasn't until the 1980s that these fragments began to come to light. Eventually they were taken to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where they were restored and examined by experts. The carving is of exquisite quality and is comparable with the very best work of English sculpture of the period. The two surviving angels (from the four which formed the corners of the canopy) are work of the highest standard.

 

Carved stone canopied tombs were reserved for the elite and it has been suggested that the Sawley tomb may have been made for Ralph de Chaddesdon, a cleric of some standing, who served as Treasurer of Lichfield, Archdeacon of Coventry and Chancellor of the diocese. During his time as Prebendary of Sawley he oversaw the remodelling of the church nave and south aisle. He died in 1275 or 1276.

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It is possible that the carved figure of a priest lying on the floor at the east end of the north aisle represents Ralph de Chaddesdon and that this was the effigy originally contained within the now destroyed canopy tomb. If this is so, it is the only part of the tomb still retained within the church. The "Sawley Angels" and other tomb fragments are now on permanent display in the Medieval Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where, of course, they can be appreciated by members of the public. They can also be viewed on the museum's website Here.

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             The Sawley Angels on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Acknowledgements

 

This article was compiled from: A History of Sawley Church by T.L. Perry 2007 Edition

Age of Chivalry  Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400 Edited by Jonathan Alexander and Paul Binski

Photographs of the Sawley Angels are courtesy  of the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum