Wednesday, August 10, 2016
I'm told that today is International Lion Day. In honour of this occasion, I offer my readers a lion – more national than international, as he is part of the royal arms of King James I of England (aka James VI of Scotland) and is found in the church of Saints Peter and Paul, Wisbech. The coat of arms, carved some 400 years ago, hangs in the head of one of the large arches separating the south aisle from the nave, and if I tell you that it fills most of the upper part of the arch you will get an idea of just how large it is. The lion must be nearly as tall as an average human adult.
Royal arms have been installed in English churches since the reign of Henry VIII, Henry having broken from Rome and declared himself head of the church in England. Many such coats of arms survive in churches, but most of them date from after the English Civil War. That makes the arms at Wisbech triply unusual – as rare survivors from the early-17th century, as amazingly large, and as quite well and vigorously carved. His tongue, teeth, and so on are carefully delineated, and his mane cascades about his shoulders like the wig of any Stuart monarch. Fit for a king, indeed.