Douai Abbey is a Benedictine monastery situated near Woolhampton, some 10 miles west of Reading, It was founded in 1903 following the expulsion of Catholic religious orders from France,
For more information about Douai Abbey and specifically its history see
NB All the images in this section, Douai Abbey, are under copyright. You are welcome to use them for talks, presentations etc but we ask that you give acknowledgement: copyright Douai Abbey. Please ask if you would like to use them for any other purpose such as a publication, use in the media (TV, websites, etc). or on social media sites.
A King's Head
A head which appears to be that of a king was given by Dr Jamieson Hurry to the Abbot of Douai at the beginning of the 20th century. It is carved from Taynton type stone.
The head raises several questions. When and why was it carved? Does it date back to the early days of the Abbey? And the most pertinent question of all, is it the representation of a specific king or just that of any king, possible of the old testament? If it is the head of a specific king is it that of the founder of the Abbey, Henry I?
Height of face from chin to top of crown 22cms.
Maximum width across the eyes 15cms narrowing down to 7 cms at the chin
The depth of the sculpture (see lowest image); max 12 cms narrowing down to 6cms
The carved head is part of a large block of oolitic limestone which was clearly intended to be recessed into a wall. As the crown and top of the head are shaped and not flat it is unlikely to have been intended as a corbel.
One of the monks at Douai, Woolhampton, attempted to duplicate the carving on this portion of the stone, creating a Janus like figure. The head rested on a rockery for many years before being rescued.
The purpose and meaning of grotesques and gargoyles has been the cause of much debate. Were they depictions of terror - warnings against evil doing? Were they representations of evil? Often placed on the outside of churches were they an attempt to keep the devil from entering the building, making him believe that it was already possessed of evil spirits - the malocchio or evil eye?
Or were they just pieces of fun?
Alongside grotesques there developed a range of salacious and explicitly sexual and scatological imagery. Strange exotic animals often feature in their designs.
Many such carvings served as water spouts and gargoyles, the latter term derived form the sound of water gushing through through the orifices and so to the ground below
These two figures have almost humorous and harmless looking features. They look more human than imaginary. The more you look at them, the more real and sympathetic they become.
left: ht 25cms width across facce 24cms depth from to back 16cms
right: ht 29cms width 20cms max - 14cms min depth 15cms max to 8 cms
The carving to the left has a flattened area on the top of its head. It is possible that this was a corbel.