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Hidden medieval sculptures brought to light by UCA digital archive

Priceless medieval sculptures, discovered at a Somerset church more than 160 years ago, have been made available online for the first time by the University for the Creative Arts' (UCA) Visual Arts Data Service (VADS).

The fragments of the original treasures, which were found in the walls of St Cuthbert's Church, Wells, during a restoration programme in 1848, include faces, biblical scrolls and crowns, and would have once formed the two large stone altar pieces, known as reredoses.

Amy Robinson, Programme Manager (Digital Curation) at UCA , says: “In total, around 450 pieces of sculpture dating back to the medieval period were uncovered during the church restoration. Since the find in 1848, the fragments have been stored in various places and conditions, suffering further damage as a result.

“The original reredoses would have been destroyed during the Reformation, with the remaining pieces stuffed rather unceremoniously into a wall, which had subsequently been covered by layers of plaster. Digitally archiving the collection allows this incredible find to be much more widely seen, while helping to protect the fragile sculptures from further handling and damage.”

The collection has been recognised as one of the most important groups of medieval sculptures in an English church today and last year, a team at St Cuthbert's Church researched, catalogued and digitised the items.

“The sculptures are now part of a database which holds more than 300 collections of important and historical art, including around 1,300 newly-researched master paintings, as well as iconic fashion items created by renowned designer Dame Zandra Rhodes and worn by the likes of Princess Diana and Freddie Mercury,” Amy adds.

The digital archiving of these medieval sculptures was made possible by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, ChurchCare, The Alfred Gillett Trust, Somerset Archaeology and Natural History Society (Maltwood Fund), and the Leche Trust.

Hosted at UCA for two decades, VADS provides free online access to a growing collection of more than 140,000 images contributed by universities, libraries, museums and archives from across the UK, which are available freely for non-commercial educational use.

To view the collection, visit www.vads.ac.uk

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