A FALLEN angel at Ripon Cathedral - the cathedral for Craven - has prompted the undertaking of a £100,000 project to preserve medieval carvings which draw thousands of visitors a year.

Years of dust and general wear and tear have taken their toll on these remarkable works - which are of national significance.

One angel, who fell not from heaven but from the canopy directly above the stalls where the lay clerks, or adult singers, sit, will need to be replaced while the rest of the heavenly host need a good clean.

The ‘Restoring Fallen Angels’ project which will see the preservation of some 70 angels residing in the medieval quire as well as work to restore the canopies above the choir stalls to their former splendour.

In addition the misericords - the tiny seats with ornate engravings underneath upon which the choir and clergy perch - also need to be mended.

One such carving - in the Mayor’s Stall – is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Carroll’s father was a canon at the cathedral and the carving depicts a rabbit going down a rabbit hole.

The word misericord comes from the Latin word for pity – the ledges were used by monks who would otherwise have had to stand during lengthy services.

Ripon Cathedral’s director of operations Julia Barker said: “The carvings are so significant -we need to take care of them properly. This work will enable us to discover a lot more about them and how we can look after them so that they can be enjoyed by future generations.”

The Dean of Ripon, the Very Rev John Dobson added: “I am very grateful to those who have provided the funds to make this crucial conservation project possible. Angels often attract interest. Recently it was revealed that even some atheists believe in angels.

“Angels are actually God’s messengers, as Mary and Joseph both knew well from the time of Jesus’ birth. This project might just prompt us to consider what God is asking his angels to communicate to our society today.”

Over the next month scaffolding will be in place around one of the bays in the quire to allow a specialist conservator to test different methods of cleaning including laser cleaning - the aim is to remove the dust while leaving the finishes untouched.

Ms Barker said the scaffolding meant she could reach spaces around the cathedral that was normally unreachable.

The angel that fell from the choir stalls is temporarily in a box in acid free tissue paper and bubble wrapping until it can be restored to its proper place.

The current process will pave the way for two months of work in the autumn when fallen angels will be restored, misericords mended and canopies cleaned.

Restoring Fallen Angels is being carried out thanks to funding from the Headley Trust and the Harrogate based Charles and Elsie Sykes Trust along with continued fundraising.

The foundations of the cathedral at Ripon f St Peter and St Wilfred date back to the middle of the seventh century when the monastery established on the site by Scottish monks was a ‘power house’ in the development of Christianity in England and abroad.

The present medieval building is on the site of the stone church built at that time, and beneath the crossing there is still the original seventh-century crypt, where an unbroken tradition of worship continues to this day.

The crypt of St Wilfrid is testament to the ecclesiastical structures that he would have seen on his travels to Rome and in Rome itself, which would have included the few catacombs that were accessible in the seventh century.

It is known on his first visit, in around 655, he spent many months in devotion at the shrines of saints. By the time the crypt was built he had also spent a considerable amount of time in Gaul, which also had underground chambers for saints’ relics in some of the major churches.

The crypt was built within an excavated pit, and then the upper church was built above, covering a larger area. Although the church and the crypt were connected by the entrance and exit passages, they were not structurally related - the crypt was not load-bearing and was a complete structure within itself.

It is this structural integrity and independence that has allowed the crypt to survive intact, despite the various sequences of destruction and rebuilding that have taken place above ground, and it can be explored today - although its narrow passages may not be for all.

Ripon is famed for its misericords, which date from between around 1489 and 1494.

Remarkably, despite the severe damage of the Civil War, when the medieval glass was destroyed, the misericords survived intact.

Three hands can be detected in these masterpieces of the carvers’ art, and very unusually, for a period when carvers are commonly anonymous, it has been possible to determine that they were created by the workshop of the Bromflet family, known in the Ripon historical record along with other named local carvers from around this date.

With characters in the dress of the time, they present moralistic scenes, mythological creatures, and some biblical and doctrinal episodes, with extraordinary vigour and power.

The imaginative scenes, some humorous, some bizarre and some satirical, are said to have inspired Lewis Carroll. He would have become familiar with them during the time when his father was one of the Canons of Ripon.