Among the many fascinating things to see in Ripon Cathedral, of special interest and charm are the wonderful medieval carvings which decorate the Choir Stalls. These were made by a team of local carvers between 1489 and 1494.
Each stall in the back row has a lifting seat, with an ornately carved ledge on the underside called a misericord (or 'mercy seat'), designed for clergy to lean against when standing during long services.
These highly imaginative carvings generally depict stories from the Bible or popular folklore.
Come and see the bagpipe-playing pigs, the mermaid, the fighting wyverns or the griffin attacking the rabbits...!
Grotesques are ugly faces or monsters, usually carved in stone, placed as decoration on pillars and corbels on the interior of a church. Their main purpose is to amuse and to show off the skills of the stone mason. Some scholars believe that images representing evil were put in Cathedrals during the Middle Ages as a warning to the often illiterate congregation - evil is never far away!
They are not to be confused with gargoyles, scary and often winged monsters carved in stone, which perch on the roofs of cathedrals and serve as water spouts. Think of the word "gargle" which derives from the French word for throat, "gargouille".
Among its many gargoyles and grotesques Ripon Cathedral also has a 'green man', 'a mouth puller,' and a 'toothache man'.
The medieval sedilia (priest's seats) beside the High Altar under the East Window, are also covered with marvellous and fantastical creatures.
The library was built above the Chapter House in the early 14th century as a chapel to the Virgin Mary. Gargoyles that were originally outside the building can still be seen near the ceiling. Used as a library since the 17th century, today it also houses the Cathedral’s treasury.
Highlights of the collection include the Cathedral ‘gold set’, made by John Plummer of York in 1674, and still used for major festivals; as well as the exquisite silver cross and candlesticks given in memory of Robert Bickersteth, 2nd Bishop of Ripon (1854-1884).
Then, of course, there is the famous Saxon ‘Ripon Jewel’, together with other unusual artefacts, including a silver covered ebony elephant from Sri Lanka, set with citrines, garnets and topaz.
The collection is arranged geographically and spans the centuries, comprising delicate communion cups from rural Teesdale dating from the 1570s, to the high Victorian plate of churches in Leeds. The most modern piece is a chalice made to commemorate the visit of HM the Queen for the distribution of Maundy money in 1985, also on display.
The library also contains a collection of 'Long Gallery' portraits depicting kings and queens of the 15th and 16th centuries. These were probably painted during the reign of King James I (1603–25).
The Treasury display in the Cathedral Library can be viewed during normal visiting hours.
Ripon Cathedral is open to visitors every day from 8.30 am to 6.00 pm. Entrance is FREE.
The ‘Ripon Jewel’ is a Saxon ornament that was found close to the Cathedral in 1976. It is a small gold roundel, 29mm (just over an inch) in diameter. The back is a plain gold sheet, but settings for gems have been fashioned on the front with strips of gold. The four square cells have been filled with amber, and the smaller triangular cells with garnets. The central setting and inner arcs of inlay are missing.
The undercroft below the chapter house was used as a bone repository until 1865; it is now the Chapel of the Resurrection.