the church of st john baptist

the African Masks

in St John's church


People rarely look upwards inside buildings, which is a pity as much is missed - especially in St John's church where there is a wealth of medieval carved roof bosses. You will, like me, need a very long telephoto lens or a pair of binoculars to see them.

This page is specifically for the roof bosses in the form of grotesque "African" masks, numbering about 30 in all and located primarily in the north and south aisles. The dating below is almost certainly applicable to the African bosses. Probably unique, the origins of these strange bosses are unknown.

According to Leslie Brooke " the roof, is a boss with the rather crudely painted royal arms of the fifteenth century. These are quartered England and France modern - the reverse of the order usually shown. It has recently been demonstrated that Henry IV, in amending the royal arms from France ancient, had not quite made up his mind, in 1404, as to the sequence of the quarterings - whether to give England or France priority - and that the very infrequent occurrence of the arms, as shown on the boss, occurred only in 1404-5, which would indicate the period that finishing touches were being applied to the newly-built church."

The painting seen on the bosses today is, of course, modern. Whether or not the bosses were painted originally is not known but unlikely, certainly not in the bright colours seen today.

It has been proposed that the black colouring of these bosses led to the suggestion of African origins. Personally, I believe that if you ignore the modern paint, they are emulating masks used by mummers during medieval mummer plays that may have been performed within the nave of the church. Mummer plays were folk plays performed by troupes of masked amateur actors and singers, traditionally all male, known as mummers or guisers. The word mummer is found in an old English word mommer, relating to miming, masking and frolicking.


For the carved church mice - click here

For the Medieval carved roof bosses - click here




In no particular order....



























and also....


A monkey?


A jackal.