Coventry, Holy Trinity (another medieval eagle lectern)

An hour or so wandering around Holy Trinity church, Coventry, this afternoon, having emailed for permission to photograph the eagle lectern. Can’t call these things pretty, but having taken an interest in them, can’t help wanting to go eagle-spotting.

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The nave is currently filled with scaffolding and flags.

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The ‘Godiva window’, or what’s left of it.

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The Coventry (Holy Trinity) late-medieval eagle lectern. The custom-designed wooden base is a much later addition.

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A very fine example, especially considering it has endured 500 years of use. More upright than most, where centuries of baring heavy bibles mean they tend to lean backwards a bit.

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The birds were cast in fourteen parts – eight claws, two legs, two wings and the one-piece head-body-tail section. A rectangular block of metal was also used to seal the hole in the end of the tail where an iron bar was inserted to support the piece while being cast.

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The metal insert at the base of the tail – part of the manufacturing process – has encouraged the myth (which I accepted unquestioningly until learning better) that the birds were giant money-boxes, with coins being inserted in the beak and collecting in the taie, to be collected by the parson through a little door..

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Most also have three little lions at the base of the stand.

One wonders how they began. Earlier lecterns would have been wooden and carved in various styles. I imagine one day a wealthy church council commissioned a brass version and some unknown master-metalurgist came up with this design.

Other churches wanted something similar, so, having the moulds and patterns at the ready, mass production began and before you knew it the things were popping up all over the place. The quality varied and different parts had to be recreated as the moulds and blanks broke or wore out. Production continued for three or four decades – a generation – before ceasing.

In the 1700s, anti-imagery movements meant that many were melted down. Fifty now survive, scattered across England or a few shipped abroad. Three-and-a-half centuries later the Victorian ‘Gothic Revival’ copies started appearing, all based on that original, single design produced by person or persons unknown, 500 years earlier.

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