Standing 3.37m tall, the famous 14th-century medieval red sandstone sculpture at Norton Priory of St Christopher carrying the Christ-child is truly a monument with a personality that has survived from its creation and installation down the centuries. Since 2013, it has been installed in the renovated museum and is the focus of an audio-visual display that narrates the biography of the sculpture, with striking colours projected onto the bare stone surface.
Produced by Sculpting with Light (as Hancock would say: “swipe me he ‘paints with light'”), the St Christopher’s sculpture is given a personality narrated by famous actor, writer, presenter and comedian Brian Blessed OBE.
I’d visited Norton Priory (an Augustinian house) before and posted about:
- the sarcophagi outside;
- the funerary monuments inside the museum;
- the human remains on display;
- the art and memorials.
but somehow I missed posting on the St Christopher sculpture. Yet on a recent trip with my second-year students, my students and I got to experience the full power of the powerful and enthusiastic Blessed narration, charting the passing of time and the changing locations and experiences of the sculpture from its carving and painting down to its fragmentation, restoration and installation in the museum.
Medieval archaeologists frequently talk about the importance of writing the biographies of monuments and material culture, as both a way to chart their shifting uses and perceptions, and to use them as media to explore multi-period shifting social, economic and religious narratives. Specifically for sculpture, they help us appreciate how spolia can be personified in multiple fashions through their corporeal form, and how they can continue to operate as mnemonic and ideological media down the centuries in starkly different historical conditions. For these reasons, the biographical approach is a striking way of engaging audiences with sculpture and its wider heritage environment, particularly for a multicultural secular society from whom the religious significance of St Christopher bearing Christ might be obscure.
Hence I applaud this distinctive digital visualisation which attempts to ‘bring to life’ the past, not through human subjects, but reanimating stone. The sculpture receives projected shifting colours and backdrops including the year in question. The funny moving mouth projected onto the sculpture, combined with Blessed’s narration, render the sculpture a talking and animated object: a custodian of its own memory and proud and passionate to tell its story to all who visit.
My only criticism is that the fish and Christ should also be allowed their parts in the narrative…
Incidentally, I left with another personality from the past: Canon Conan: a bear of great holiness and cuddles. In my head, he also talks with the voice of Brian Blessed, just like St Christopher.
I also acquired heritage jam and I’m slowly working my way through it, savouring the Norton Priory orchard’s products.