Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Girdle and St Thomas

Beckley, Oxfordshire

This wonderful panel in a tracery light in the east window of the Church of the Assumption at Beckley church in Oxfordshire, dates from the second quarter of the 14th century.  It forms a pair with another quatrefoil showing the Coronation of the Virgin (see below).  The iconography is interesting, it shows the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with Our Lady being carried up to heaven by angels.  She leans down and drops her girdle to a figure who kneels beside her tomb, St Thomas the doubter.  The whole episode is entirely apocryphal and even Jacobus de Voragine the author of the Golden Legend claimed it was of dubious authority, but it's a good elaboration to the story.  His text below describes the legend:
And our Lord said to the apostles: What is now your advice that I ought now to do to my mother of honour and of grace? Sire, it seemeth to us thy servants that like as thou hast vanquished the death and reignest world without end, that thou raise also the body of thy mother and set it on thy right side in perdurability. And he granted it. And then Michael the angel came and presented the soul of Mary to our Lord. And the Saviour spake and said: Arise up, haste thee, my culver or dove, tabernacle of glory, vessel of life, temple celestial, and like as thou never feltest conceiving by none atouchment, thou shalt not suffer in the sepulchre no corruption of body. And anon the soul came again to the body of Mary, and issued gloriously out of the tomb, and thus was received in the heavenly chamber, and a great company of angels with her. And S. Thomas was not there, and when he came he would not believe this. And anon the girdle with which her body was girt came to him from the air, which he received, and thereby he understood that she was assumpt into heaven. And all this heretofore is said and called apocryphum.
The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints.  As Englished by William Caxton (London, 1900-09), vol. iv, p. 241.

Beckley, Oxfordshire

Monday, 23 October 2017

The Penn Doom, Buckinghamshire

Penn, Buckinghamshire

High up in the roof space, attached to the east wall of the nave of Holy Trinity church in Penn in Buckinghamshire, is a very rare object indeed.  Painted on a series of wooden boards, forming a Tympanum, is a vibrantly coloured Doom painting.  It is one of only five Doom paintings on boards that have survived from medieval England. 

Penn, Buckinghamshire

The Penn Doom was discovered in 1938, in a series of events that closely mirror the discovery of the Wenhaston Doom in Suffolk in 1892, a subject of an earlier post on this blog.  In the summer of 1938, extensive repairs were being carried out at Penn church and during the course of the work some decaying boards, whitewashed and covered in lath and plaster were found above the chancel arch and were discarded in the churchyard.  These boards were further broken up and Mr Randall a local workman had already taken some to the tip.  For some reason he decided to brush off some of the whitewash and plaster on the boards and he instantly discovered colour.  He reported his discovery to the vicar, who summoned the wallpaintings expert E. Clive Rouse.  Rouse immediately came down to Penn, scoured the tip for missing pieces and in the local school room he pieced together and laid out the planks.  

Penn, Buckinghamshire

He came back at a later date to remove the whitewash and plaster and the Doom emerged for the first time in many generations.  
Rouse discovered, as he stripped the boards of their lath and plaster and whitewash, that the painted Doom composition he was uncovering was in fact a palimpsest.  What initially appeared was a painting with two layers, a later repainting obscuring an earlier painted scheme with the same iconography.  The later scheme was executed in bright colours with a crude use of line, while the elements of the earlier scheme that appeared from beneath the later layer, appeared to more subtle in their execution.    Both phases of the work were of the same subject matter, the Doom, the Last Judgement, but the second phase appeared to have simplified the iconography of the first.   In carrying out his work, Rouse attempted to uncover in some areas the details of the first phase that had been obliterated by the second. 

Penn, Buckinghamshire

Iconographically, the composition of the Penn Doom follows a typical pattern.  Christ, bearing the marks of his wounds, sits on a rainbow at the centre of the composition, he is judging the world.  On either side of him are angels in albs and apparelled amices, carrying instruments of the Passion.  To either side of them, are angels sounding the last trump on golden trumpets.  Ranging on either side and kneeling on a green mound below Christ, are figures of the saints interceding for the dead: to the left the Virgin Mary, to the right St John the Baptist and behind them two groups of the Apostles.   The green mound they are kneeling on, is a cemetery and at the sound of the trump, figures of shrouded men and women rise from their tombs.  Unlike the Wenhaston Doom, there is no mouth of Hell and no gates of Heaven in this composition and we can assume that the scene on the panel was originally completed by other paintings, probably on the walls.  

  Penn, Buckinghamshire

One of the elements that Rouse uncovered from the earlier painted scheme are a series of scrolls with blackletter text on them.  On his right the text: VENITE BENEDICTI PATRIS MEI POSSIDETE REGNUM (Come ye blessed of my father, inherit your kingdom) and on his left: ITE MALEDICTI IN IGNEM ETERNUM (Go ye evil-doers into eternal fire).  Both of these imply that there was originally a representation of heaven and hell as part of the original iconographical scheme.  Below the angels with their trumpets, is a text directed at the dead: RESURGITE MORTUI VENITE AD JUDICUUM (Rise ye dead and come to judgement).  These texts were all painted out in the later scheme. 

Penn, Buckinghamshire

Another element painted out in the later scheme was a representation of the Weighing of Souls and Rouse found the remnants of this appearing beneath the green pigment of the mound below the rainbow (photo above).  He carefully uncovered the outline of the head of Mary and also of St Michael and one of the pans of the scales that Michael was holding.  

    Penn, Buckinghamshire

Rouse, with the assistance of Professor Francis Wormald, a leading expert on medieval manuscripts, did try and have stab at the dating of the different phases.  Wormald suggested on the basis of comparison with manuscripts that the earlier phase of the world dated from around c.1400.  Of the later phase, Rouse came to the conclusion, primarily on the way the figure of Christ is treated, that the work was after 1450 and perhaps late in the 15th century.  That makes a lot of sense, the somewhat clunky feel to it feels late 15th or early 16th century.      
Penn, Buckinghamshire

When the panel was conserved in 1999 the timbers of the Tympanum were subjected to dendrochronology and this process indicated that the timber of the panel was felled between 1414 and 1448, pushing the date of the first phase of the painting forward some way.  An analysis of the paint suggested that this first phase was painted in an oil medium and in using a quite wide ranging and subtle palette.  The second phase was also painted in oil, but in a more limited palette and with a predominance of Vermillion.
Ruth Bubb who conducted the 1999 conservation scheme, found evidence of a third decorative layer in addition to the two painted layers.  She saw outlines of stars scattered over the whole surface of the painting, paying no respect to the composition and iconography.  She concludes that tin stars, glazed with a yellow varnish, were affixed to these spaces. They were probably pre-Reformation in date, as smoke particles from candles or incense were found trapped inside the star shapes.      

Penn, Buckinghamshire

The present location of the Doom panel is unusual, it is placed high up within the roof structure and is difficult to see, it is difficult to see how in that position it could have been in relationship with the great rood.  In its current location it isn’t in contact with any of the nave walls and it is difficult to see how the iconography and composition could have been completed, unless it was close to the nave walls.   The original chancel arch was removed in the eighteenth century and it seems likely that the Tympanum, which once fitted into that lost chancel arch, was moved upwards at that time to be used as a filling for the east wall of the chancel. 

R. Bubb, ‘The Penn Doom: The re-examination and conservation of an important medieval painting on wood’ in The Conservator 27: 1 (2003), pp.64-80.

E. Clive Rouse, ‘The Penn Doom’ in Records of Bucks 17, part 2 (1962), pp. 95-104.  

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Cerecloth, pledgets and grave goods - the burial of William Lyndwood.

In January 1852 builders were in the process of demolishing the medieval chapel royal of St Stephen in the palace of Westminster and were removing the walls of the medieval undercroft chapel. As they worked, they discovered an extraordinary burial.  In a rough hewn cavity in the thickness of the rubble wall, they found an uncoffined body wrapped up tightly in cloth and looking for all the world like an Egyptian Mummy. Laid across the body diagonally was a wooden crosier or pastoral staff, indicating that the burial was probably that of a bishop.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Rather excited by this unusual discovery Charles Barry the architect, called in the Society of Antiquaries and on Friday the 23rd of January 1852 they sent a delegation of their members to examine the find.  They brought with them G. F. Scharf, whose drawings and lithographs illustrate this post. The delegation noted that the burial of the body was unusual, it had been placed in an excavated cavity in the rubble wall and that no attempt had been made to create a vault.  It's location was just a few inches below the surface of the chapel floor and directly under a stone bench, that ran round the inside of the chapel.  In other respects the body's positioning was indicative of the individual's evident high status, for it was under the window in the north wall, close to the site of the undercroft chapel's altar.

The delegation decided that they would come another day to further examine the remains, once they had been removed from the wall.

On further examination it was evident that the body had been wrapped with great effort and care.  Between nine and ten layers of cere-cloth dipped in wax were used to cover the body and this had solidified into a mass that had to be cut to gain access to the contents within. The trunk, head and legs were individually wrapped in layers and then the body was secured along it's length with twine, knotted in various points with a half-hitch knot. The upper arms were wrapped in with the torso, but the lower arms appear to have been left free and the delegation concluded that this was in order that the body could be positioned to hold the crosier.   

William Blake's drawing of the body of Edward I, wrapped in its cere cloth.

Such tight wrapping in cere-cloth was a known practice for royal burials.  When the tomb of Edward I in neighbouring Westminster Abbey was opened in 1774, his body was found tightly wrapped in a cere-cloth as is shown in the image by William Blake above.  The crown was placed on the wrapped head of the king and the mortuary sceptres placed on his body, much as the crozier was placed on the body we are discussing here.  

The delegation took particular care unwrapping the head. Under the outer layers of cere-cloth, they discovered that the head had been individually wrapped with a layer of canvas forming a kind of mask. This had been tied onto the head with twine.

The death mask. 

When this was removed the perfectly preserved, but blackened face of the individual was revealed.  It was the face of an elderly man and his mouth was stuffed with a 'pledget of tow' imbued with wax, which protruded from the mouth. Scharf was able to take a death mask, which is still in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries. On the death mask you can still see clearly the indentation in the cheek where the pledget of wax had pressed into the side of the face.  What the purpose of the pledget of tow was is difficult to say, it may have been thought to aid in the preservation process.  

The cere cloth was cut away to expose the body, with the hope of finding some grave goods that might help identify the body. Unfortunately there weren't any. What they did discover was that there wasn't any evidence that a solution or dressing had been applied to embalm the body and the entrails and organs were still in place. For the most part the body had turned to grave wax or adipocere.  

The seemingly deliberate positioning of the pastoral staff was a strong indication that the individual was a bishop. The pastoral staff, which is now in the British Museum, has a carved oak head and a deal shaft. There is no evidence that it was painted or gilded and the use of such cheap materials might suggest that the pastoral staff was specifically made as a mortuary crosier.

The decoration of the head of the pastoral staff is rather conventional. The crook is in the form of a crocketed bent branch, filled with stylised oak leaves. The carving is rather flat and a date in the middle of the fifteenth century seems likely.

William Lyndwood (centre) on the brass to his parents in Linwood, Lincolnshire.

The burial by its location and the treatment of the body was that of a high status individual, the pastoral staff suggesting that it was the burial of a bishop, but who was he?  Given the stylistic date of the pastoral they knew they were looking for someone who died in the middle of the fifteenth century.  The delegation from the Society of Antiquaries came to the conclusion that this was the body of William Lyndwood, the canon lawyer and sometime bishop of St David's.  The supporting evidence for this conclusion is quite compelling. 

A copy of Lyndwood's Constitutions, in the library of his cathedral church in St David's.  

Lyndwood was the son of a wealthy Lincolnshire wool merchant and was perhaps the ablest canon lawyer of his generation and his 'Constitutiones Provinciales Ecclesie Anglicane', a gloss on English canon law, was for many generations the seminal work.  After study at Cambridge and preferred to numerous livings, Lyndwood first served in the household of the bishop of Salisbury, before joining the household of the archbishop of Canterbury, where he was Dean of the court of Arches. Coming to notice of King Henry VI, he was a trusted diplomat and in 1432 became Lord Privy Seal. In 1442 after the king petitioned the pope he was appointed bishop of St David's.  Lyndwood was consecrated in St Stephen's chapel, the royal chapel, directly above the place where the body was found in 1852.   He didn't visit his see and continued to serve in the royal household until his death.  

NPG D24017 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Lyndwood died in 1446 and wrote a very illuminating will.  He left his body:

'to be buried in the chapel of St Stephen in Westminster, where I received the gift of consecration, in such place as may be agreed upon between the dean and canons of the said chapel and my executors and I wish that the place of my interment may be decently ornamented for at least twelve months after my decease'. 
He also asked that his executors establish a perpetual chantry in St Stephen's and the royal licence for that was granted in 1454.  The chantry was to be 'in bassa capella' the lower or under chapel of the St Stephen's, for the soul of 'the said late bishop, whose body rests interred in the said under-chapel'.   

It was in that very under-chapel that the body wrapped in cere-cloth was found in 1852 and in the absence of evidence of another bishop being buried in the chapel royal in the fifteenth century, the body is likely to be Lyndwood's.   As for the body, in time it was reburied in the north cloister walk of Westminster Abbey.  

The account of the discovery: 'Report of the Committee appointed by the Council of the Society of Antiquaries to investigate the circumstances attending the recent discovery of a body in St Stephen's Chapel, Westminster' in Archaeologia 34 (1852), pp. 406-30. 

R. H. Helmholz, ‘Lyndwood, William (c.1375–1446)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/17264, accessed 4 March 2017]



Friday, 3 March 2017

South Creake Lent Array

During Lent in many parts of northern and western Europe, it was the custom for churches to be adorned with what has come to be known in modern liturgical parlance as 'Lent or Lenten array' and I have written extensively on the subject in a number of other articles on this blog. From the beginning of Lent, the practice was that altars, reredoses and images in church, were covered completely in hangings and veils of off-white material, which deprived the worshipper of the usual colour and ornament of the church building. For want of a better phrase, these veils and hangings forced upon the people a visual fast - they were forced to do without the familiar symbolism of the church for the duration of Lent.   Quite often the veils, frontals and dossals were stencilled with imagery, that referred to the image that was beneath, or the dedication of the altar - a tantalising hint of what was temporarily lost from view. The tradition of Lent array was well known to nineteenth century ecclesiologists, but it was only in the late ninteenth and early years of the twentieth century, that it came to be revived within the Anglican church, ostensibly under the influence of the Alcuin Club.  Sadly very little Lenten array now survives, it has been more or less systematically replaced year by year by the ubiquitous Purple, which is a shame, as it is a tradition that has a useful symbolic purpose.  Today I would like to share with you one striking example of the Use of Lenten Array from those that survive in use.

The parish church of Our Lady St Mary at South Creake is in north Norfolk, close to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Mostly fourteenth and fifteenth century, it is a handsome and noble structure that was built when this part of Norfolk was prosperous. A succession of rectors in the twentieth century, adorned the church with an eclectic set of furnishings, and modern images of the saints sit amid the old stone and woodwork. The aisles, empty since the Reformation, have been topped with altars to form beautiful chapels and the whole place has an air of continuity, as though the despoliation of the sixteenth century never happened. The church has a full set of Lent Array and from the beginning of Lent each altar and all the images are covered in veils and hangings of stout linen. Some of them have been made for South Creake some have been brought in from elsewhere.

Let's begin at the east end in the chancel, where the high altar has a Lent frontal made (probably in the 1920s or 30s) by the Warham Guild, the business Percy Dearmer established to make this sort of thing. The frontal is unbleached linen with a fringe of black and red and the motifs on it are stencilled. The stencilling is a striking design - a black lattice is formed from thorn, in allusion to the Lord's crown; this lattice encloses a series of motifs. Shields charged with Instruments of the Passion in a band, with above and below, alternating stencils of triple nails and triple drops of blood.

South Creake, Norfolk

Moving west into the nave, we come to the eastern nave altar, which is dedicated to the precious blood.  Here we have a Lenten frontal that was clearly made for South Creake and more recently too.  It's a bolder composition, but it takes as it's cue from some of the visual language of the high altar frontal.  A blood red cross fleury is set against a ground of droplets of blood. 

 South Creake, Norfolk

Into the south aisle and to the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Again the Lenten frontal appears to have been locally made and is not quite so successful a composition I feel.  A central roundel is charged with a winged hear, pierced by a sword - a reference to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a very post-medieval devotion.  In the extreme corners of the frontal are crowned MR monograms, which one cannot help feeling should be slightly larger and more centrally placed.

 South Creake, Norfolk

Crossing over to the north nave aisle and to the altar of St John the Baptist.  Again a local product I think, perhaps 1930s or 40s and quite charming.

South Creake, Norfolk

A detailed composition, the Agnus Dei symbol or St John is in the centre, surrounded by eight crosses fleury.  The Agnus Dei is a lovely piece of work, in this case painted on to the cloth, rather than stencilled.  The work reminds me of the work of Enid Chadwick, the artist and illustrator, who did so much work at nearby Walsingham.

South Creake Church, Norfolk

South Creake does have a banner by Chadwick and though a hunch, I do wonder if this and the frontal in the Lady Chapel are by her.

South Creake, Norfolk

All the images in the church and there are many, are also veiled, each with an individual linen bag to cover it.  On to these is either painted directly or applied to little panels of linen, the attributes associated with each saint.  These blood red emblems allow the enshrouded figures to be identified.
St George has a handy cross of St George on a shield.

South Creake, Norfolk

St John the Baptist has the flag of the resurrection, that matches the one held by the lamb of God on the frontal of his altar.

South Creake, Norfolk

Our Lady has a crowned MR monogram on her veil.

South Creake, Norfolk

St Margaret has her own image on hers.

South Creake, Norfolk

My favourite of all has to be the shrine of King Charles I, blessed Charles the Martyr.  His veil has a little block and axe, the instruments of his 'martyrdom'.

South Creake, Norfolk

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

A Medieval Image at Kidwelly in Carmarthenshire

Kidwelly, Carmathenshire
The Kidwelly Virgin and Child 

Recently I visited Kidwelly in Carmarthenshire, where in the Middle Ages the ancient parish church of St Mary, was shared by a small Benedictine priory, a cell of Sherborne.   High up on a bracket to the south of the high altar, in what was once the monastic quire, is a medieval image of the Virgin and Child, backed by a piece of marble.  Carved from alabaster, the Virgin Mary gazes down at us as she holds the Infant Christ on her arm, he playing with a bird.  The image is somewhat weathered and mutilated, the head of the Christ Child and her right arm being lost, but despite that the quality of the work is clear.   A photograph in Daven Jones' History of Kidwelly published in 1908, shows the image displayed in the body of the church at which point it was clearly more complete than now, with fragments of a lost lower portion displayed along with what now remains.  It is difficult to get a sense of the scale of the image in its current position as it is fifteen foot above the floor, but the 1908 photograph gives a sense that the image was monumental, a little over five foot tall and that the Virgin was originally standing.

When the photograph was taken in 1908 the figure had only recently begun to be appreciated again. Somehow, we don't know why, it survived the iconoclasm of the Reformation, first coming to notice in the 1840s when Daven Jones tells us it was to be found occupying a niche above the south door of the church, where it had been since time immemorial.  He tells us that the ladies of the parish were accustomed to curtsey to the image on entering the church.  It is hard not to interpret this behaviour as folk memory of the devotion paid to the image in the Middle Ages, though in truth we do not know that this was a cultic image or where the image was originally placed.  In 1846 the vicar of the parish, troubled by his parishioners devotion, removed the image from the porch and had it buried it in the churchyard, It remained there until 1875 when it was retrieved and was then placed in the vestry.  The present condition of the image is no doubt a consequence of the delicate alabaster enduring thirty years in the damp Welsh soil of the churchyard.    

Kidwelly, Carmathenshire
The Kidwelly image

In 1922 the image was placed in its current location, twenty foot above the floor, where it is out of harms reach, but can't be appreciated as a work of art, unless you have binoculars or a zoom lens on your camera.  I have the latter, so these images will allow you to appreciate it.  As I'm sure the photographs demonstrate, the image though battered, is of outstanding.  The swaying s-shaped posture of the image, and the deeply cut drapery, suggests a date in the later part of the fourteenth century.

The Flawford Virgin and Child
The Flawford Madonna and Child 
The three Flawford figures

 The closest comparable work to it, both iconographically and stylistically, is the Madonna (illustrated above) that is now in the Nottingham Castle Museum but was found under the church floor at Flawford in Nottinghamshire in 1779.   The s-shaped posture, drapery and the position of the Christ Child are very close in form to the Kidwelly Virgin and Child.  The Flawford image, being more complete, gives a sense of the original appearance of the Kidwelly image. Like the Flawford Madonna, the Kidwelly Virgin and Child is almost certainly a product of the south Nottinghamshire alabaster workshops.   A presence of a product of the Nottingham workshops in in the south of Wales, only serves to demonstrate the lengths medieval people went to to equip their churches and the connectedness of the British Isles in the late Middle Ages.

Kidwelly, Carmathenshire

Kidwelly, Carmathenshire

Daven Jones, D, A History of Kidwelly (Carmarthen, 1908), p. 72 and plate XV
Ambrose Jones, D. 'Figure of the Blessed Virgin at Kidwelly' in Archaeologia Cambrensis, 7th series 2 (1922), p. 415.   

Monday, 18 July 2016

over my dead "carkas", you will not dismantle my tomb.

I love late medieval wills, they are so full of interesting information that tell us about contemporary attitudes towards death, burial memorialisation, about interpersonal relationships and the duty felt by people to provide for those they left behind.  I'm currently doing a bit of research on gentry display and memorialisation in Derbyshire, which is taking me into the interconnected world of late fifteenth and early sixteenth century society and a lot of that depends on the evidence of wills.  As I was doing this I came across the will of Thomas Babington of Dethick, a Derbyshire landowner, lawyer and member of parliament, who died in 1519.   I had first come across his will about sixteen years ago when I was working on the patronage of Derbyshire's medieval stained glass.

The tomb of Thomas and Edith Babington at Ashover in Derbyshire.
© Copyright 
Michael Garlick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The county of Derbyshire, particularly the northern part, was made up of enormous country parishes, covering great stretches of upland and consisting of lots of small townships.  Dethick, the township where Thomas had the centre of this estates, was part of the parish of Ashover.  Also in the parish of Ashover was the town of Lea, home to the equally wealthy Rolleston family.  For burial purposes these major families were expected to resort to the parish church of Ashover and the eastern bays of the north and south aisles were given over to the two families for their use.  The eastern bay of the north aisle was the 'Rolleston quire' and the eastern bay of the south aisle was the 'Babington quire'.  As well as containing their graves, these spaces were decorated with heraldic stained glass that referred to the families and their alliances and in effect privatised the space.  The 'Babington quire' was dedicated to St Thomas of Canterbury and St Katherine and contained a perpetual chantry founded in 1511 by Thomas, at about the time his wife Edith Fitzherbert had died.
Babington appears to have had a particular attachment to St Thomas of Canterbury, his name saint and in his will he bequeaths his soul to 'oure lady, saint John Baptist and Seint Thomas of Canterbury' that they might pray for him.  Glass in the windows here and in the clerestory of the nave referred to Thomas Babington and Edith and also to their son Sir Anthony.  Sadly it has all gone.

This demarcation of separate space is not to suggest that the Rollestons and the Babingtons were at loggerheads or were in competition with one another, they were not.   Thomas Babington's sister Anna was married to James Rolleston of Lea and they are commemorated by a brass in the church. Towards the end of Thomas Babington's life his nephew Thomas Rolleston was in charge of the Lea estate.  The demarcation of separate space was to do with status and esteem, more than competition.   

The tomb of Thomas and Edith Babington at Ashover in Derbyshire.
© Copyright 
Michael Garlick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

As well as providing a chantry for this soul, he also erected during his own lifetime a tomb over the grave of Edith and this still remains in the Babington quire. Their tomb is a fabulous, fashionable and expensive alabaster monument, with recumbent effigies of Thomas and Edith in secular dress in the attitude of prayer.  He has a gold chain of office around his neck and a large purse at his waist, a wonderfully conspicuous way his wealth and political authority.  The effigies have been wonderfully recoloured to give the impression of their original appearance. 

The tomb of Thomas and Edith Babington at Ashover in Derbyshire.
© Copyright 
Michael Garlick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Their many children occupy the sides of the tomb chest as weepers.  In form it strongly resembles the monument of his father-in-law Ralph Fitzherbert of Norbury.    On the west end of the monument, Thomas and Edith are shown kneeling on either side of figures of St Katherine and St Thomas of Canterbury, images that reflect Thomas' personal devotion and the dedication of the chapel.  Thomas Babington was clearly in direct control of the creation of the monument.

 Ashover, Derbyshire

Although Edith was buried below this wonderful monument, it seems that Thomas wasn't buried underneath it, in fact his extraordinary will expressly forbids it:
'I will my body be buryed in my parish church of Ashover, nere by wif Edith, it it fortune me to deceas within xx. myles of the same.  And ells in such place as shalbe thought by them that shalbe wt me at the tyme of my diceas; But I will not that the Tombe which I have made in the Church of Ashover be broken or hurt for my carkas, but that it be leyde nere the same, and over that place that I shall lye in, a stone with a scripture after myne executors and supervisour myndis or the more parte of them to be leyde'. 
So in other words, he doesn't want the monument to be dismantled just to admit his body to a grave below it, as he is worried it would damage it, the monument was costly and he was evidently proud of it.  Instead he asks to be buried close to the tomb under a flat stone with an inscription, the inscription to be devised by his executors and executors, if they can agree on it!

On the chantry and the choirs the source is: J. C. Cox, Notes on Derbyshire Churches, vol. 1, p. 33 and vol. 2, p. 183. On the glazing: A. B. Barton 'The Stained glass of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire 1400-1550', unpublished PhD thesis, York, 2004, pp. 107-111. The will of Babington is published in Derbyshire Archaeological Journal 19, pp. 80-93.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Into the charnel house they go

Aylmerton, Norfolk

Following on from a post about burying the dead in church buildings in late medieval Britain, I now offer a post about digging up the dead.  As a historian I have long been perplexed by the modern notion that churchyards can be become 'full' and that we are running out of burial space for the dead. The idea that our historic churchyards with the marked graves of long-forgotten Victorians and Georgians, cannot be reused for the burial of modern people, is a bizarre notion and is at variance with the traditions and ideas of past generations, including the Victorians and Georgians who now dispossess our generation of the right to be buried in God's acre.   In the past the grave was not considered to be private, alienable property that could be occupied for perpetuity, the churchyard was considered a communal space that individuals borrowed to enable the clean and efficient decomposition of their shrouded corpses.  Human remains would be kept within the confines of the church and churchyard for perpetuity, but the concept that an individual grave space was yours and yours alone, was unknown.

Christ Church, Gleadless
The leaning grave in the centre is that of my great, great grandparents.  They died in the 1890s and they and their neighbours continue to block up space that would be better reused  for the burial of their descendants.
When I was Rector of a benefice in Norfolk, one pleasant September afternoon I went to conduct my first funeral in one if my four medieval churches. My first act as incumbent was to deal with a rather fine specific of a human jaw bone, complete with an excellent set of gnashers, which was presented to me by the churchwardens.  After I had conducted the funeral in the churchyard, the jaw bone was popped back into the ground as part of new grave's infill.  That was the way we operated in this church, one of my predecessors had the good sense to start to re-use part of the churchyard that had last been used in the eighteenth century.  When new graves were cut the bones of the dead were quite often disturbed and were usually added to the infill of the new grave by the gravedigger to one side of the new coffin.   In doing that we were to all intents and purposes following the pattern that persisted in past centuries.   The defleshed bones of the long dead, made way for the freshly dead corpses of the current generation.  This whole process was both pragmatic and sensible and a churchyard never came to be filled.

The Hague, MMW, 10 F 17, 73r.   from a French Book of Hours, c. 1490. 
Morgan Library MS M 199, f. 172r  From a French Book of Hours, c. 1460. 

In many medieval images of the burial of the dead from illuminated manuscripts you can see such a process being undertaken, though with a bit less dignity and decorum than in my former parish churchyard.  In the French images I share on here of that subject matter, the gravediggers manhandle shrouded corpses into their last resting place in a shallow grave, while around the graves, lying on the ground are the skulls and bones of those accidentally exhumed in the process.

Morgan Library, MS M 169, f. 99r.   From a French Book of Hours, c. 1470

Notice in the image above the little painted grave markers that mark the burial place.  For both economical and for practical purposes, these were made of wood.  Intended to last a generation or two at the most, they lasted just long enough for the deceased pass out of mind. Unlike the stone headstones favoured in the recent past, they were designed to decay and to be temporary.

Rothwell, Bone Crypt
image copyright Martin Beek

Rather than returning the bones to the ground as part of the grave infill, it was quite common in the later medieval period, for the bones disinterred during the digging of graves, to be added to a communal bone hole or a structure called a charnel house.   

BL MS Yates Thompson 46, f. 156v.   French Book of Hours, c. 1410-20.   How many clergymen does it take to bury one body?
The fabulous illuminated image above, is taken from an early fifteenth century French Book of Hours now in the British Library.  The scene is the same as in the other manuscript images I've shared, the burial of the corpse in a shallow grave,  In the background of the scene is a building with a pitched roof, this is a 'charnel' house, stacked to the rafters with the grinning skulls.  A number of medieval charnel houses remain in British churches, some have their grisly contents, some don't.  Some are subterranean structures, some like that in the French manuscript illustration are constructed above ground as freestanding structures.

Bone Crypt, Rothwell, Northamptonshire
The Rothwell bone hole, image copyright Martin Beek.  This Northamptonshire charnel house was reorganised and the last century.  The skulls have all been neatly placed on shelves and the long bones stacked in a large pile in the centre.  
There are two subterranean charnel houses in Britain that are known to still retain their contents. I say known, as there are no doubt others that have not been discovered or opened.  The known ones are are at Hythe in Kent and Rothwell in Northamptonshire.   The one at Hythe is a vaulted tunnel under the chancel.  The one At Rothwell (illustrated above) is a vaulted chamber under the south nave aisle.  This charnel house contains the remains two and half thousand (2500) of Rothwell's inhabitants, mostly dating from between the thirteenth and the sixteenth century.

The current neat arrangement of the chamber with skulls on wooden shelves and bones sorted into type dates only from 1912.  As the image above shows, the earlier arrangement was less ordered ans more shocking to behold.   The bones were originally arranged in heaps against three walls of the chamber.  Long bones in stacks, skulls on the tops of each heap.  In the Middle Ages the walls of the end wall of the chamber was painted and in the nineteenth century there were still faint traces of an image of the Resurrection of Christ, wonderful fitting for a chamber devoted to those awaiting the general resurrection. 

Of the many freestanding charnel house standing in churchyards, few now remain and those that do have long been emptied of their contents and turned to a different use.  In south Pembrokeshire, there are a couple.

Carew Cheriton

The first is at Carew Cheriton and is a fourteenth century whitewashed building to the west of the main church.    It consists of an upper Chapel, over a barrel vaulted charnel chamber.  I haven't been inside, but I understand there is a Piscina in the upper chamber, indicating its ecclesiastical former use.   This charnel house has survived because it continued to have a purpose for many years.  Following the Reformation, still no doubt with its grisly contents intact, it was used as a parish school room and continued being used as such until the twentieth century.

Carew Cheriton

There is a door into the lower chamber from the west end, but on north and south wall there are two curious round openings at ground level.  Presumably these were primarily for ventilation, but they could also have been used for depositing human remains into the chamber without the need to enter it.

Angle, Pembrokeshire

Down the road from Carew at Angle, is a second churchyard charnel house.   This little fifteenth century,structure known as the 'Seamen's Chapel' or the chapel of St Anthony, is smaller, but similarly constructed to the Carew charnel house.  The lower chamber is a vaulted charnel chamber, entered by a door in the east end.

Angle, Pembrokeshire

Above is a beautiful barrel-vaulted chapel, restored in the early twentieth century with an Arts and Crafts altarpiece by Coates Carter.  A plaque in the chapel records that the Chapel was founded in 1447 by Edward de Shirburn of Angle, I've not been able to find any evidence of that.

Angle, Pembrokeshire

As at Carew the charnel chamber is ventilated by two openings in the north and south walls.

Tunstead, Norfolk

At Tunstead in Norfolk there is a raised platform at the east end of the vast fifteenth century chancel, which forms an extraordinary backdrop for the high altar.  This platform, which also formed the support for the high altar reredos and was in the shadow of a monumental east window (now blocked) is raised over a narrow vaulted chamber.  The chamber is entered through a small door in its western face and it has an opening on its roof protected by a metal grille.  

Tunstead, Norfolk

Although this chamber is now just the repository for an old plastic swivel chair, it is almost certainly an internal charnel house, I can't see what else it could be.  Some fanciful suggestions have been made like it's a repository for relics, or was built as platform for the performance of mystery plays!   What hogwash, it's a charnel house.  Perhaps the bones is contained were brought up to surface when the chancel was constructed?  It is curious to have such a space created within the church building, but it was probably put here for practical reasons.  The chancel at Tunstead goes right to boundary of the churchyard and there would have been no space for one outside the east wall of the chancel.   What an extraordinary setting for the parish mass this would be. The fifteenth century parishioners of Tunstead would have witnessed the mass, with its prayers for the departed and all its supposed efficacy for the souls of the faithful, in front of the communal grave of the parish faithful.  

Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire

Internal charnel houses that shape the liturgical arrangements of a church building are not unique. The extraordinary nave altar at Dorchester Abbey in Oxfordshire, with its fourteenth century painted reredos is built on the roof of a substantial charnel vault. The altar, which in the Augustinian Abbey church was the parish or 'peoples' altar, is raised up on a flight of steps built up over the remains of the dead.  As the people of Dorchester worshipped, they worshipped with the physical remains of those who had passed that way before them.