Object of the Month March 2017

Sculpture of St Catherine, late 15th century

This is all that remains of a sculpture of St Catherine of Alexandria. She is shown triumphing over the Roman Emperor Maxentius who had ordered her death. The original sculpture stood in the side chapel devoted to St Catherine. When the monastery was sacked in the 1540s, the sculpture was broken up and turned into building stone. Sir Edward North, Chancellor of Augmentations, and responsible for selling monastic land throughout the country, used the original building materials to construct a grand Tudor mansion, parts of which survive today.

This piece was used to build a wall in Master’s Court, from where it was recovered in the 1940s. When the Charterhouse was restored after the Second World War, the architects Seely and Paget marked out the footprint of the side chapels in the paving in Master’s Court, and throughout the interior of the building, which allows visitors to understand the expanse of the monastic site.

The side chapel of St Catherine was built before 1517 by Sir Robert Rede, a one-time Mayor of London and Chief Justice of the Pleas under Henry VII. He was buried in the Charterhouse in 1519, in the side chapel which he had recently endowed ‘for my body to rest in’. By the 1530s, the Priory Church had four other side chapels, each devoted to a popular medieval saint: St Agnes, St John the Evangelist, St Anne, St Jerome and St Bernard.

This fragment of St Catherine is on display in the Charterhouse museum, along with other collection objects and loans from the Museum of the London and the V&A, which illustrate the lives of the Carthusian monks who occupied the site for 160 years.

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