They have graced the exterior of one of the most beautiful medieval churches in England for 500 years. But carvings at St Mary’s in Beverley, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, have become unrecognisable fragments, eroded by centuries of weather.
Now the crumbling stonework is to be replaced by nine carvings celebrating the achievements of women. Eight are historical figures from the fields of maths, science and engineering. The ninth, pending confirmation from Buckingham Palace, will be the Queen.
St Mary’s, which dates from 1120 and is Grade I listed, is undergoing a restoration project to repair and restore the building’s stonework. Last year, the Yorkshire church installed 14 handmade stone sculptures representing mythical creatures from The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis.
“The Narnia sculptures reflected our interest in children’s literature and young people’s imagination. This project reflects the world today and the way we talk about history,” said Roland Deller, the director of development at St Mary’s.
The new carvings are of Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th-century author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women; the aviator Amy Johnson; the pioneering nurse Mary Seacole; the scientists Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin; the astronaut Helen Sharman; the mathematician Ada Lovelace; and the engineer Hilda Lyon.
Each of the women had “played a significant role in relation to the advancement of science or human knowledge”, Peter Collier, the chancellor of the consistory court of the diocese of York, said in his consent to the church’s application to undertake the work.
In the case of the Queen, the global impact of her reign was beyond question, he added. “‘In my judgment it is entirely appropriate to celebrate these lives for their human achievement.”
Becky Lumley, the vicar of St Mary’s, said: “We have chosen these women for the work they have done which has either inspired or enhanced the lives of others.
“Wherever we see the development of human society working to bring about the common good, we want to celebrate it and acknowledge that each person is made in the image of God with the capacity to do great works.”