First clean in 100 years
Winchester Cathedral is getting a monumental spring clean this year, as the stone surface of the Great Screen is cleaned for the first time in over 100 years.
With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, urgent repair work to the Cathedral’s presbytery has been carried out over the last three years, including re-leading the roof, restoring the windows, and conserving the vault.
This spring, the upper scaffold in the presbytery, which has been in place for the last four years to allow the conservation work to take place, will gradually be removed via an additional scaffold erected in front of the Great Screen.
The additional scaffold will provide unique access to the screen, enabling the surface to be cleaned with soft brushes and a vacuum cleaner. During the cleaning process, loose dirt and dust will be removed from the stonework which currently give the Great Screen a “negative” appearance, with dark areas lighter than those that should be pale.
The cleaning of the Great Screen is being funded by the Friends of Winchester Cathedral and the work will be undertaken by McNeilage Conservation, with two or three experienced conservators working on-site together to clean the screen from top to bottom.
According to Cathedral records, this will be the first time that the Great Screen has been cleaned since the 1890s.
Built between 1450 and 1476, the Great Screen is one of the most iconic features of Winchester Cathedral. The original stone statues on the screen were destroyed in 1550, following Edward VI’s decree that all religious statuary should be destroyed. The bodies of the statues were used to provide stone for new walls in the Cathedral Close whilst the heads were buried in infill behind the screen, and were only rediscovered in 1820.
The empty niches were filled with urns in 1750, which remained in place until 1818. The Great Screen’s current appearance dates from the late 19th-century, when the screen was restored following an appeal launched in 1883. The statuary was completed in 1891, with the exception of the central figure of Christ Crucified, which was added in 1897.
The cleaning of the Great Screen is the one of the first landmark moments for the Cathedral in 2018, a year which will see Winchester Cathedral transformed by a number of developments funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The newly restored presbytery vault and windows will be revealed in April or May 2018.