Celebrate Halloween Like a Boss


A few of my friends have popped by today to wish you all a happy Halloween! They may look a little frightening but I promise they’re harmless. They are the vault bosses who reside at Elgin Cathedral in Elgin, Scotland.

Elgin Cathedral dates back to 1224.

Never heard of a ‘vault boss’? Yeah, I hadn’t either until I met these guys.

Or at least I hadn’t heard the proper term for this type of stone carving. Wikipedia describes a ‘boss’ as follows: “Bosses can often be found in the ceilings of buildings, particularly at the keystones at the intersections of a rib vault. In Gothic architecture, such roof bosses (or ceiling bosses) are often intricately carved with foliage, heraldic devices, or other decorations. Many feature animals, birds, or human figures or faces, sometimes realistic, but often grotesque. The Green Man is a frequent subject.” If you have ever visited or seen a documentary on Rosslyn Chapel (you may know it from the Da Vinci Code), then you have probably seen a vault boss.

In Elgin, the intricate, lifelike stone carvings were constructed by skilled masons under the tutelage of a master mason named Gregory.  Though no one knows the specific story behind the various faces,  Historic Environment Scotland says, “In the medieval period, it was believed that faces reflected peoples’ characters, and the passions – expressions of emotion – were thought to be inherently sinful.  In the carvings there is a clear contrast between the serene faces of the dead and the Divine, and the more emotive heads of the living.”  

So, ready to meet some of the Elgin boss crew?  For each bosss I have included the caption from the signage that is on display at the cathedral.  

Vault Boss 1400’s: “With his brow furrowed and mouth open wide, this grimacing man looks like he’s crying out in anger. Perhaps these tormented souls with their convulsing, screaming faces were located in the nave-where the townspeople came to worship-as warnings against sin.” -Historic Environment Scotland
Vault Boss 1400’s: “This carving is extrememely lifelike. Could it be a self-portrait by one of the masons? He is shown wearing a cowl and has a bearded chin. With his mouth open slightly and teeth showing, he could almost be laughing.” -Historic Environment Scotland
Vault Boss 1400’s: “This carving of a man’s head has surely been styled on someone real. His clean-shaven face is highly realistic. Look for his receding hair line and the wisps of wavy hair, just visible around his ears. A hint of a smile plays on his large lips.” -Historic Environment Scotland
Vault Boss 1400’s: “This lifelike carving is thought to be a woman, dressed in a widow’s barbe (worn around the head and neck). Was she known to the masons? There was no laughter – not even a smile – in medieval art until the end of the 1100s. But then, starting in France, smiles like this one began to spread across western Europe.” -Historic Environment Scotland
Vault Boss 1400’s: “Although still extremely lifelike, this carving seems to be half-man, half-lion. Hybrids, or half-humans, may have been intended to symbolize the lower, bestial traits of humanity. Perhaps this stone was placed high up in the cathedral, giving the mason the freedom to depict this figment of his imagination.” -Historic Environment Scotland
Vault Boss 1400’s: “Teeth bared and tongue sticking out, this expressive face breaks all the rules. Far from serene and orderly, it was probably intended as a warning against sin.” -Historic Environment Scotland

I hope you enjoyed the vault bosses and I hope you all have a spooktacular Halloween!


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