Cardinal Wolsey’s £5m lost masterpieces are coming to his home town of Ipswich

Actor Paul Jesson who plays Cardinal Wolsey in the RSC production of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodi

Actor Paul Jesson who plays Cardinal Wolsey in the RSC production of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies with the Wolsey angels at the V&A. Picture: THE V&A - Credit: Archant

Cardinal Wolsey’s lost masterpieces - the four statues made for his tomb - are coming to his home town.

Dr John Blatchy with the statue of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in Ipswich at the official unveiling. Pic

Dr John Blatchy with the statue of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in Ipswich at the official unveiling. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

In a massive tourism coup for Ipswich, the V & A Museum in London is allowing the angel statues to come to the town in October.

They were bought for £5m by the V&A museum two years ago.

The story of Wolsey’s tomb and the angels reads like a medieval murder mystery.

Thomas Wolsey, often described as the son of a butcher in Ipswich, rose through the church to become Cardinal - the Pope’s representative in this country and the right-hand-man to King Henry VIII.

Bronze candle-bearing angel, about 1524-9, by Benedetto da Rovezzano - made for Cardinal Wolsey's to

Bronze candle-bearing angel, about 1524-9, by Benedetto da Rovezzano - made for Cardinal Wolsey's tomb. Picture: VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM - Credit: Archant

He was the most powerful commoner in the land.

His role in the King’s series of marriages is well known.

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But Wolsey later fell from favour.

Born in 1473, he was on his way back to London in 1530, where he was due to face charges of high treason, when he fell ill and died at Leicester Abbey.

Sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano made the angels for Cardinal Wolsey's tomb. Picture: VICTORIA AND AL

Sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano made the angels for Cardinal Wolsey's tomb. Picture: VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM - Credit: Archant

Mystery surrounds the exact circumstances. He was accompanied by his chaplain, Edward Bonner, who later became Bishop of London.

It was certainly convenient for the King, as it removed somebody who had become annoying to him, without the need of a public trial, and any further difficulties being caused with the Pope.

On November 29, 1530, Thomas Wolsey died, and was buried in the grounds at Leicester Abbey.

Cardinal Wolsey had very different plans for his funeral and entombment, expecting something much grander, of black and white marble and gilded bronze.

The angels were appropriated by King Henry VIII after Wolsey's death. Picture: VICTORIA AND ALBERT M

The angels were appropriated by King Henry VIII after Wolsey's death. Picture: VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM - Credit: Archant

He had the black marble sarcophagus designed and made for him, with four angels as corner posts by an Italian sculptor.

King Henry confiscated it, and was said to have fancied the sarcophagus for himself, but that never happened.

In fact the sarcophagus was used for another national hero, centuries later.

When Admiral Lord Nelson died, in the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805, he was placed in a coffin made from the mast of a French ship and then into the ornate tomb which is under the St Paul’s Cathedral.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey - Credit: Archant

That tomb is Wolsey’s black marble sarcophagus.

The whereabouts of the four Wolsey’s angels were unknown for centuries.

Had they been destroyed, or stolen, or were they sitting forgotten in a store room? The answer was revealed a couple of years ago.

They were hidden in plain sight - they had been used as gateposts at a Northamptonshire golf club for years.

Christchurch Mansion will host the angels exhibition. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Christchurch Mansion will host the angels exhibition. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

It was only after two of them were stolen, and they ended up in an antique shop in Paris where they were spotted by an academic, that their significance was revealed.

Wolsey had commissioned the four bronze angels from Rennaisance sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano,

The V & A Museum had a £5m public appeal to buy them for the nation.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund pledged £2.5m and the public appeal raised the rest.

Interest in the period was boosted by recent novels and the BBC series Wolf Hall.

The money came from donations - and the sale of Save The Wolsey Angels badges.

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said: “This unexpected opportunity to reunite and display these four beautiful works of sculpture, so intimately connected with the course of British history, could not be overlooked.“

Carole Jones, the head of the museum service at Ipswich Borough Council, said she was delighted such an important exhibition was coming to Ipswich.

It will be at the centre of an exhibition, about Tudor power and politics, in the Wolsey Gallery, at Christchurch Mansion.

There will also be a series of other activities around its presence in the town.

The angels will be on display from October 14 to March 11, 2018.

Admission will be free.