Does All Saints Church in Hereford, England, Really Have This Crude Figure?

People in the 14th century could be just as immature as people today.

  • Published
Statue, Sculpture, Art
Image via Reddit

Claim

A photograph shows an 800-year-old crude relief sculpture of a man exposing himself on the ceiling of All Saints Church in Hereford, England.

Rating

Context

This is a genuine photograph of a crude relief sculpture on the ceiling of All Saints Church. While this carving was most likely carved about 700 years ago, not 800, we have not been able to determine its exact age.

Origin

In August 2021, a photograph supposedly showing an 800-year-old relief sculpture of a man exposing himself on the ceiling of a church in England was circulated on social media. The following image features, well, a man exposing himself. (This image may not be suitable for all viewers.) 

This is a genuine photograph of a relief sculpture at the All Saints Church in Hereford, England.

We’ve found several additional photographs of this crude sculpture. While we can’t say with absolute certainty when this was carved, it was likely created when this church was built in the 1300s. 

Britain Express reports that construction on All Saints Church in Hereford started around 1200 AD. The original building was damaged, most likely from an earthquake, and had to be rebuilt. It was completed circa 1330 (which is about 700 years ago, not 800):

All Saints Church is a Hereford landmark, its slender, twisted spire catching the eye today as it has done for over 800 years. The church was begun around AD 1200, though that early 13th-century building suffered damage, probably from an earthquake, and had to be rebuilt.

The rebuilding process took a century and the church was not completed until around 1330. It is roughly as wide as it is long and has an unusually high roof.

The unusual twist to the striking spire is not the result of great age; it seems to have twisted immediately after being erected, probably because the builders erected the tower foundations on a rubbish pit that could not holds the weight.

While the church has been renovated since then, it appears that this was one of the original carvings from the 13th century. RRA Architects was responsible for the renovations in the 1990s. The company writes on their website that the focus was on repairing “substantial fabric decay.” During this renovation, RRA Architects also added a second level to serve as a seating area for a newly installed coffee shop. (The church still holds regular services but visitors can also eat at cafe):

RRA Architects writes:

As the cast iron rods expanded due to rusting, it blew the stonework apart which inturn, began to allow water into the buildings fabric. This ongoing weathering, culminated in 1996 when a dangerous structures notice was served on the building as it was feared that the whole top third of the spire could fall. A 200m exclusion zone to Hereford City centre was cornered off and RRA were commissioned to make emergency inspections to detail the cause of this decay and work out a possible way forward. After a thorough and detailed inspection, it was found that the top section of the spire and other areas some means of water proofing were urgently needed to ensure the life of this Grade II* listed building. Emergency funding was granted and repairs began on shoring up and rebuilding the spire.

To pay for these repairs RRA Architect’s team, together with the priest in charge, proposed a bold intervention in to this urban church, one which would be the first of its kind in the UK. RRA proposed the reordering of the church which allowed it to free up space and become more flexible. A new café space with mezzanine seating was proposed allowing customers to dine in places which are usually inaccessible in churches. This new café space was unlike anything else seen in the UK and proved very popular with religious and non religious people alike. So much so, the café exceeded its targets within a year and half of opening instead of the planned 3 year period. This allowed the church to become a multiuse space, catering for liturgical and secular activities. This bold intervention used freestanding structural supports whilst retaining as much historic fabric as possible, making the new intervention reversible.

While this relief sculpture may have been difficult to see when the church was first constructed, the addition of a second level gave customers a better look at the spandrel — the “sometimes ornamented space between the right or left exterior curve of an arch and an enclosing right angle,” according to Merriam-Webster — where this flashing bishop resides. You can get a look of exactly where this sculpture can be seen on Pugin-tiles.com, a website dedicated to the work of English architect A.W.N. Pugin. 

We investigated a similar rumor that supposedly showed an astronaut carved on the walls of a church in Spain that was constructed in the 12th century. In that case, however, we found that the carving had been actually added to the church during renovations in the 1990s. That doesn’t appear to be the case here.