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The gargoyle tribute to NHS on Christchurch Priory

The new NHS 'gargoyle' atop Christchurch Priory
The new NHS 'gargoyle' atop Christchurch Priory

A TRIBUTE to the NHS has been set in stone at Christchurch Priory in the form of a carving of a mask-wearing nurse.

The sculpture is one of six installed at the 11th century church, replacing damaged gargoyles and grotesques. They were added high up on the walls as part of wider restoration work to the church.

The Rev. Charles Stewart, vicar of Christchurch, told the A&T that when the coronavirus crisis hit last year, there was a strong feeling among the local community and the congregation that one of the stone features should honour frontline health workers.

“In the preliminary stages of our project to restore the Priory it became apparent that six carvings needed to be replaced,” he said.

“We decided to open it up to the public so people could make suggestions about who or what they would like to see represented.

“Then in March the pandemic hit and we all saw the astonishing commitment of some NHS staff. In this context the feeling was that one of the six carvings should be of a nurse wearing a mask who would represent all those who had done so much for us in these unprecedented days.

“This was an opportunity to let everyone know what has happened. We wanted the work to be a reflection of and a lasting testament to the time we’ve been in.”

The sculptures also feature the royal crest in tribute to the Queen. Others honour former Christchurch mayor James Druitt, and engineer Donald Bailey who invented the Bailey Bridge.

There is also one for an unnamed member of the congregation who stands for all those who have made “an important contribution to the life of the Priory community”, and a fox in representation of the animal kingdom.

“The last may confuse people,” said Canon Stewart. “But the fox is having regard to the tradition of gargoyles here in the Priory.

“It has been part of what’s happened here in the past to represent the animal kingdom.”

The carvings were made by ecclesiastical sculptor Rory Young, who lives in Cirencester and has worked all over the UK on prestigious commissions.

Christchurch Priory, which was referenced in the 1086 Domesday Book, is due to undergo further restoration to its south side when funding is secured.

“We don’t yet know when this will be,” said Canon Stewart. “We were able to undergo this latest phase of work thanks to a grant from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund.

“This was set up in the early stages of lockdown and a number of major churches have been helped by it.”

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