This headless and abraded stone statue is interpreted as having an ecclesiastical background. It was found off of Bosham by a fisherman using an oyster dredge and is one of the most evocative finds yet reported through the Protocol.
The statue is made of granite – a difficult material in which to pick out fine details though it is clear that the figure is wearing a draped garment similar to a Roman toga. Iain Hewitt of Bournemouth University notes that early post-Roman Christians frequently regarded Roman stylistic elements as being synonymous with Christianity – hence many Christian images depict characters wearing draped ‘toga-like’ garments.
The statue itself is not thought to date from the Romano-British period (it is thought to be later) though as yet it is not firmly dated. Stone artefacts are dated based on typological styling and the absence of the head and abrasion of finer details makes firm dating of this find unlikely at this stage.
Granite is a robust and hard-wearing material which suggests that this statue was intended for display outside where the fabric of the stone would give it some protection from the elements. Wessex Archaeology staff noted that Bosham church, close to the area from which it was recovered, has a niche designed to hold a small statuette (and which currently holds a statue of Madonna and child).
How the statue came to be offshore is unknown but two likely scenarios have been suggested. Iain puts forward the plausible theory that the statue may have fallen victim to a post-medieval iconoclasm. The second commandment – ‘No graven images or likenesses’ – bans the worship of icons and this figure, which has been decapitated, may have been cast aside under this commandment. Alternatively, the statue may have been damaged and cast into the sea during civil unrest, such as the siege of Chichester during the English Civil War which occurred in December 1642 or the sacking of the city by earlier invaders (depending on the age of the statue).