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the Bishop's Palace: Corbels


Carved corbels of human heads on an interior wall. Bishop Henry Gower added almost 200 sculptures within the Bishop's Palace. There were six large statues (of which only the battered remains of the two over the great hall porch remain) but the majority were a remarkable collection of carved corbels.

Corbels of human heads were set into some of the interiors, and a mixture of human heads, animals and mythical creatures were incorporated within the arcaded parapet. In the 14th century, marvels and grotesques were as much part of religious teaching as saints and angels.

The mixed imagery depicted on the external corbels is similar to that found in illuminated manuscripts, in stained glass, and on misericords of the time. There are 149 corbels within the arcades of the parapet, 53 of which are eroded beyond recognition. These are most easily seen from the step provided in the great chapel and from the east wing behind the solar.

No other medieval domestic building has so much sculpture richly applied, though examples of the same images may be found in ecclesiastical buildings such as Exeter Cathedral and York Minster.

The placement of the sculptures on the palace is probably not accidental. As visitors approached the palace from the cathedral to the east, they were confronted with grotesques and monsters. On entering the courtyard, they saw recognizable if exotic creatures, and on moving into the bishop's apartments they were overlooked by sere