Until 1888 the cathedral was a parish church. At 247 ft, it also has Yorkshire’s tallest church spire which is a marked improvement on the first tower which collapsed in 1320. It’s a building that has seen change, redevelopment and neglect in its time and lets not forget the plague and the Wars of the Roses. The Vicar of Wakefield died of the plague in 1349 and the Battle of Wakefield occurring in December 1460 saw the death of Richard, Duke of York along with his second son Edmund Earl of Rutland. The twelve-year-old lad having pleaded in vain for his life was killed by Lord Clifford on Wakefield’s Bridge in vengeance for the death of Clifford’s father at the First Battle of St Albans.
My favourite part of the cathedral is the quire where the fifteenth century choir stalls are housed. The carvings range from an owl to a green man. The owl is the emblem of the Savile family and it was placed here when Thomas Savile commissioned the stalls in celebration of his marriage to Margaret Bosworth in 1482. The green man is more problematic. The motif first appeared in England in the twelfth century in the form we recognise him today with foliage and tendrils of hawthorn or oak sprouting from his mouth. However, it was a common motif in Europe before this period and has its roots in a pagan past. It was replicated down the centuries and as well as the medieval example there are some clean cut Victorian interpretations on display. Other carvings on the misericords – the hinged seats on the stalls to ease tired legs during long church services – include a Victorian pelican which symbolises charity and a cheeky medieval acrobat showing us his bottom although decorum is maintained as a leaf covers his dignity.
It’s odd to think that many of these carvings were made at a time when England was in the throes of a bloody civil war. Perhaps it was with some relief that the craftsman who created the misericord depicting the tudor rose completed his work.