Photographs by Robin Banerjee. Many thanks also to Colin Reid, author of the cathedral guide referred to here, for kindly helping me to identify the statues. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. For the placing of all the statues, please see the large picture of the west front on our website. Click on the following images for larger pictures here, too.]

Left: King Edward VII. Right: Edward I, in the company of William I, Henry V, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. Sculptor: Nathaniel Hitch (1845-1938).

As the only cathedral project of the turn of the century, Truro provides a fascinating glimpse of the monarchs and churchmen admired at that time. Edward inevitably features prominently, in the top centre of the two entrance porches: he had laid the foundation stone of Truro Cathedral in 1880, when he was Duke of Cornwall. Queen Victoria can be seen in profile on the left: she had granted Truro its city status in 1871. On Edward's other side is Queen Alexandra. Unfortunately, the soft Bath stone used here has not weathered well. Compare this glimpse of the queen with the still beautifully detailed likeness of Queen Alexandra by Goscombe John, in a canopied niche on the Brompton Road elevation of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The group shown at right, which stands to the right of the porches, depicts Edward I amidst William I, Henry V, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I . Henry V clearly displays the Garter — it was he who instituted the Office of the Garter. Not shown here, but among the kings shown on the left of the porches is King Arthur, flanked by other early English kings. Thanks partly to the medieval enthusiasms of the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood, King Arthur was a great favourite of the Victorians. He is also closely associated with Cornwall, the county in which Tintagel Castle is situated.

Two other sculptures by Hitch. Left: Bishop Edward White Benson (1829-1896), first Bishop of Truro from 1877-83. Right: Bishop William Stubbs (1825-1901).

Bishop Benson, who stands in the centre of the lower level of niches, below Edward VII, was the driving force behind the new Cornish diocese, and saw the beginning of the grand cathedral building project (see Reid 8). He became Archbishop of Canterbury from 1883-96. Benson is flanked by two other prominent churchmen, Bishops Wilkinson and Gott, who were the second and third bishops of Truro respectively. The fourth bishop of Truro, Stubbs was highly influential as an ecclesiastical, medieval, modern, and constitutional historian, amongst whose other offices were Regius Professor of History at Oxford and Bishop of Oxford.

The west front thus provides an insight into the top echelons of the church of that time. Not visible here, but occupying a niche round the corner to Bishop Stubbs, with a now empty niche intervening, is Bishop Temple of Exeter (1821-1902), a former headmaster of Rugby, and a prominent churchman as well as academic. He had been appointed Chaplain-in-Ordinary to the Queen in 1856, replacing Benson as Archbishop of Canterbury (1896-1902). He had greatly facilitated the creation of the new see and hence cathedral (see The Cornish See, 5).

Perhaps the weathering of the stone is one reason for Nikolaus Pevsner's dismissive remark: "Architectural sculpture, whether within or without [the cathedral], is of a regrettably dull quality" (233). But, in a subsequent book, he and Priscilla Metcalf give another reason: "As so often in Pearson's later churches, the architectural sculpture is regrettably stiff, or, to be kinder, impersonally hierarchical, and exactly opposite to the free Arts and Crafts work of the time, which Pearson mistrusted" (290). In all fairness, formality must have been essential both to the dignity of the subjects as well as their setting — on the very face of the only new cathedral of its particular age. Hitch worked in quite a different style elsewhere. For the biggest contrast, see his stone-carvings on the exterior of the Black Friar pub in London, where no doubt he had a considerably freer hand.

Related Material

Sources

Chapman, Mark D. "Benson, Edward White (1829-1902)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online version. Web. 24 January 2012.

The Cornish See and Cathedral: Historical & Architectural Notes. Heard and Sons, Truro; London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1887. Internet Archive. Web. 24 January 2012.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, rev. Enid Radcliffe. The Buildings of England: Cornwall. London: Penguin, 1970.

Pevsner, Nikolaus and Priscilla Metcalf. The Cathedrals of England: Southern England. London: Viking (Penguin), 1985.

Reid, Colin. Cornwall's Cathedral: A Short Guide. Hudson's Heritage Group and Truro Cathedral, 2011.

Spooner, H. M., rev. Mark D. Chapman. "Temple, Frederick (1821-1902)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online version. Web. 24 January 2012.


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Last modified 24 January 2012