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HomeNewsStonemasons discover that Alfred the Great statue is half ancient Roman goddess

Stonemasons discover that Alfred the Great statue is half ancient Roman goddess

A Southwark statue considered to be the oldest outdoor statue in the capital has been found to date back further than previously thought – all the way back to Roman times.

The bottom half of the Alfred the Great statue in Trinity Church Square was discovered by conservationists to likely date back to the 2nd century, around the reign of Hadrian.

During conservation work, stonemasons found that the lower body is made from Bath stone, a material commonly used by Roman sculptors.

Bath Stone is a freestone, meaning can be cut in any direction, unlike other rocks such as slate, which forms distinct layers. It is a golden colour that seems to glow in sunlight.

The lower half of Alfred the Great is now thought to be part of a colossal ancient sculpture dedicated to the goddess Minerva.

The Heritage of London Trust said to another publication that the original statue was around three metres in height, “making it the most significant native stone sculpture yet to be found from Roman Britain.”

Nicola Stacey, Director, Heritage of London Trust, said: ”It’s been wonderful to restore the statue and at the same time inspire local children with the curiosity of the story.

“Over the summer pupils visited and met the stonemasons so they’ve been involved from the beginning. It’s exactly what we aim at for our Proud Places programme, building pride in their local area, and it would be great if we encouraged one or two young archaeologists as well.”

King Alfred during restoration
Image: Heritage of London Trust Archive

In Roman religion, Minerva was the goddess of handicrafts, the professions, the arts, and, later, war.

The top half of the statue is Coade stone – a mix of clay, terracotta, silicates, and glass invented in the 1770s. It was fired for four days at a time in incredibly hot kilns.

Fitting the Coade Stone onto the Bath Stone, therefore, would have been difficult, as the Coade Stone clay would have shrunk during firing.

Alfred, King of Wessex, was a defender against the Viking invasion and a social reformer.

A legend tells that, when distracted by his problems, he allowed some cakes to burn while he was supposed to be watching them. He was roundly scolded by the woman whose baking was ruined.

For the first time Trinity Church Square, a private garden square accessible only to local residents, will be open to the public before closing again on Sunday November 14.

 

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