Lady Chapel altar and carved wooden reredos, Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire. Designed by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907) and carved at the Zwink workshop, Oberammergau. Text and colour photographs by Jacqueline Banerjee, the latter reproduced here by kind permission of the Chapter. Black-and-white image capture by the present author too. Click on all images for larger pictures, to see the details described in the text.

"The alabaster altar rails have carvings of lilies, the flower associated with the Virgin Mary" (Scaife 7).

The Lady Chapel with its highly unusual octagonal apse is dedicated to St Mary and St Chad, and dates from the fourteenth century. But it had been incorporated into the main part of the cathedral in the eighteenth century (Scaife 7). In the later decades of the Victorian period, Kempe, best known for his stained-glass design (which can also be appreciated in this cathedral), reordered it to give it its own identity again. Kempe also designed the reredos, which was executed in about 1895 in the famous woodcarving studio of the Zwink family, which still operates today. The altar rails are carved from alabaster (Clifton 102).

Right: Close-up of central panel of the triptych. Left: Fuller view of the Lady Chapel.

The central panel of the reredos, seen more closely here, shows a Nativity scene, with the Virgin and the shepherds, in the middle, then the Annunciation (upper left), the Salutation of Elizabeth (lower left), the Adoration of the Magi (upper right) and the Presentation in the Temple (lower right). David, Isaiah, St. John the Baptist and St. Chad are depicted on the back of the two doors, to be seen when closed. On either side of the Nativity scene itself are four carved figures. These are St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory (see Clifton 102).

Kempe not only designed the reredos and generally reordered the chapel, but also designed the female saints who are ranked around the walls. These were carved by Farmer & Brindley (Scaife 7) and installed in 1895 (Greenslade). The five seen here are, from left to right, the young St. Prisca shown here with a palm branch denoting her martyrdom, and a lion at her feet, its head just visible to the side of them; St Faith with a sword and rack; St. Catherine, just to the left of the central panel, with sword, wheel and book, treading on a monster; St Margaret, just to the left of the central panel, with a book and cross, treading on a dragon; and St Lucy, another youthful figure who like St Prisca opposite has a palm branch denoting martyrdom, as well as her lamp. "The statues are really beautiful, and are infinitely superior to most of the other modern sculpture in the cathedral. It will be noticed, too, that the figures seem the right size for the niches, instead of being much too large, as in many other cases," writes A. B. Clifton (100).

The Lady Chapel will look even more beautiful when its very special medieval Herkenrode stained glass, acquired from Belgium in 1803, is restored. The following picture from Clifton, p. 101, gives a faint idea of what it will look like when this long and costly task is completed.

Related Material


Clifton, A. B. The Cathedral Church of Lichfield: A Description of Its Fabric and a Brief History of the Episcopal See. London: George Bell, 1900. Project Gutenberg. Web. 17 June 2013.

Greenslade, M. W., ed. "Lichfield: The Cathedral."' A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield. (1990): 47-57. Web. 17 June 2013.

Scaife, Pat. The Carvings of Lichfield Cathedral. Much Wenlock, Shrops.: R. J. L. Smith, 2010. Print.

Last modified 17 June 2013