Mane Attraction! Maison Dieu Lion Grotesque Revealed

Carrie and children

Dover Youth Theatre actors Angelo Jenu (left) and Bertie Lawson-Macgregor (right) unveiled the finished carving alongside stone mason Carrie Horwood (centre)

An intricately carved lion, created by stone mason Carrie Horwood of Cat's Eye Carving, was unveiled yesterday evening (19 July 2023) at St Mary's Parish Church, Dover. The lion is a two-thirds size copy of a grotesque guarding the doors of the medieval Stone Hall at the Maison Dieu (Dover Town Hall).

The tactile lion will form part of a new sensory tour of the Maison Dieu when it re-opens to the public in spring 2025 following a £10.5m Lottery-funded restoration. It will be particularly relevant for blind and partially sighted people and will have its own audio description. 

Grotesques are stone carvings of humans or animals common in medieval churches, castles, and cathedrals. Some were fearsome, ugly, or scary creatures (hence their name), designed to ward off evil spirits. The Maison Dieu grotesques were designed by Neo-gothic art architect and designer William Burges.

Carrie spent 200 hours designing and making the grotesque at a series of public engagement events over the last two months where nearly 2,000 people have seen her at work and learnt about the Maison Dieu restoration. Hundreds more have had a go at stone carving, chiselling out their initials or a simple design into smaller blocks of stone, or created a rubbing of a Maison Dieu wyvern dragon which was also carved in slate by Carrie. 

The grotesque is carved from Lepine limestone, excavated from a quarry near Poitiers in France. This was once part of a prehistoric seabed and is full of tiny fossil shells. It dates from the Jurassic period when dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the earth. Lepine has a very close grain, which makes it ideal for carving. 

Carrie said: “Stonemasonry is generally inaccessible, and I’m so proud and honoured to bring it to everyone, and to give people a chance to have a go. I’m also excited to be part of the history and future of the Maison Dieu. I moved away to train 24 years ago, so to be able to bring my skills back to Kent is truly wonderful.”

Maison Dieu Engagement Officer Martin Crowther said: “We are delighted with Carrie’s wonderful beastie. She’s been a great ambassador for the Maison Dieu and thousands of local people have enjoyed seeing her at work, with many also trying out a new skill or learning more about our exciting project.”

Maison Dieu Grotesque

Maison Dieu Partners logo strip

Posted on 20 July 2023

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