Excavations in Lichfield Cathedral in 2003 uncovered this limestone fragment, decorated with the carved figure of an angel. The angel’s pose and gesture suggest that he represents the archangel Gabriel. The missing part of the scene would have depicted the Virgin Mary. The artwork seems to have been based on sixth-century, eastern Mediterranean models.
Anglo-Saxon sculptures could be painted. This sculpture is remarkable for preserving some of its original, multi-coloured appearance. Pigment analysis has revealed that the angel’s robes were painted red and yellow to present a ‘red-gold’ appearance; this was the most prized type of gold among the Anglo-Saxons. The wings were delicately painted with shades of red, pink and white. The hair was yellow. The halo could have been gilded.
The sculpture seems to have formed part of a house-shaped, stone shrine. It was probably constructed to enclose the wooden coffin-shrine that contained the body of St Chad (d. 672). Chad was the fifth bishop of Mercia and the first to establish his see in Lichfield. The cult of St Chad was heavily promoted at the turn of the 9th century, when Lichfield was briefly made into an archbishopric. This was probably when the Lichfield Angel was made.
The fragment was found inside a structure which had been burned, which was in turn inside the remains of a stone Anglo-Saxon building. The sculpture seems to have been deliberately broken up and buried; remains of hammer-and-chisel marks can be seen in the break to the right of the angel. It is not known when or why the sculpture was destroyed, but a silver penny of King Edgar (r. 959–975) was found in the same area. This suggests it was buried before the end of the tenth century.