Ludlow Palmers
helping to conserve the fabric and treasures of St Laurence's
The Baldacchino

Over the altar of St John's chapel there is an extremely rare late C15 carved altar canopy or baldacchino. In the pre-reformation church altar canopies from which curtains were hung to hide from public view parts of the mass that were considered private to the officiant. They were usually removed at the Reformation and it is not clear why this one has survived.

Uniquely, the canopy extends beyond the width of the altar with two flat side-pieces on either side of its central vault to supporting corbels on the north and south walls of the chapel. The underside is panelled with oak wainscot boards decorated with bosses. Three shield-bearing angels are positioned, one at the apex and the other two at the feet of its arch round the window. A vine trail runs along the eastern face with somewhat damaged open-work cresting above and below. In addition, and not immediately visible from outside the sanctuary, the north and south returns from the bottom face of the vault to the east window have beautifully carved pomegranate trails a design that was later repeated along the top of the linenfold panelling on the north wall. Both these returns have elaborate top cresting consisting of intertwined trails that support alternately bunches of grapes and flowering trefoils. Drop cresting below completes the decorative carving.

When the canopy was last restored in the 1950s it was partially repainted on the evidence of surviving pigments. The three angels had yellow or golden hair with blue circlets, golden wings, natural flesh tints for face and hands, and white albs with red sleeves. The shields appear to have had a white ground with traces of a charge thought perhaps to have been symbols of the Passion or emblems connected with the nine orders of angels. At the same time missing roof bosses were replaced and all the bosses treated with new gold leaf and a small amount of vermilion backing to set off the gold, here also thought to follow the original treatment.

Even without documentary evidence, the date of the baldacchino coupled with the combination of Tudor roses among the roof bosses and pomegranates decorating the wood carving suggest a connection with Prince Arthur's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, resident together in Ludlow prior to the Prince's death in April 1502. The pomegranate is a heraldic symbol of the House of Aragon. The baldacchino is one of the treasures of St Laurence's.

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