Angel roofs

I had never heard of England’s ‘angel roofs’ (the BBC uses roofs rather than rooves so I have too) until I saw this article this morning.

BBC: The hidden marvel most people miss

England’s 500-year-old angel roofs are striking – and all but unknown. Michael Rimmer’s photographs provide a rare chance to encounter their beauty up close.

Think of medieval England’s finest gems, and castles probably come to mind first. But the country has another type of treasure that few people know about: angel roofs. Built between 1395 and the English Reformation of the mid-1500s, these roofs are decorated with intricately carved wooden angels. Only 170 survive today.

Because so little of the art from England’s medieval churches survived the Reformation, that still makes these cherubim “the largest surviving body of major English medieval wood sculpture”, writes photographer and expert Michael Rimmer in his book The Angel Roofs of East Anglia: Unseen Masterpieces of the Middle Ages.


But the roofs remain seen by few; even those who visit the churches don’t always catch their details. “Distance and lighting make it hard to appreciate the detail of angel roofs with the naked eye, or even with binoculars. Were they as accessible and visible as, say, the Renaissance paintings in Italian churches, I think the best of them would be just as highly celebrated,” Rimmer writes.


I like this sort of thing.

There are many churches and cathedrals in Europe that are amazing, but I think they are often bombastic and overdone.

I haven’t seen any in England but I’ve been to Rome and seen the Vatican and St Peters, and to Florence and to Venice and seen some amazing architecture there. But it’s easy to become jaded by too big and too much.

The last two churches I saw in Italy were the smallest and one the oldest, but I liked them more than the bigger examples.

We arrived at a church in Ravenna on a Sunday just as the morning service was ending and the choir was still singing. Being alive with people made a big difference.

The last was near there – the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe. and this was as impressive as any in it’s austerity. It dates back to 549 and has is famous for it’s early mosaics.

I have a loose connection to this part of Italy, one of my uncles is buried in a war cemetery nearby at Faenza.

The angel roofs of England remind me of earlier simpler (relatively) efforts, which I  appreciate more than the out of control attempts to outdo Christ’s ideals by a long way.




  1. Corky

     /  May 7, 2017

    Much is always made of the majestic pyramids. And majestic they are. But many people will look at you blankly when you say ” have you ever seen the cathedral’s and churches of Europe”? I guess it’s not PC to acknowledge our cultural heritage.

  2. A special part of visiting Dunedin was to walk around the centre few blocks and visit the amazing church buildings there. Loved the architecture and that they’re open to Joe Public any time. Part of NZ”s history we don’t see much of up here.

  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  May 7, 2017

    Do you know about the old Scandanavian wooden churches?: