Westminster Abbey is the premier historical monument of England. It
is not the oldest of our sanctuaries, but in beauty it is not surpassed by any,
and, as the coronation-church of our sovereigns, and the burial-place and
shrine of remembrance of the heroes of our race, it is more closely bound up with
every moment and aspect of our history than is any other work of human hands
in the whole Empire. Nor, indeed, will there be found throughout the world any
place or building in which a great nation has so continuously sought to perpetuate
the memory of its great sons.
The central distinction which has been the means of attracting to Westminster
the whole multitude of later memories has been its status as the shrine of the monarchy
of these realms. That status may date back to the eve of the Conquest, if it be
true that Harold, in January of the year 1066, was crowned, or crowned himself,
in the new-built church of Edward the Confessor. It is certain, at any rate, that
on the Christmas Day of that same fateful year William the Conqueror elected to
be crowned here because it was the Confessor's church, and because he based his
claim to the throne of England upon the promise made to him by the Confessor, and
that in so doing he inaugurated a series of solemnities uninterrupted from that day
to this. For all but one of the sovereigns since the Conquest have been crowned here:
the exception, young Edward V, was never crowned at all.
At a definite epoch in its history the church became also the burial-place of the
sovereigns and their consorts: in this it was unlike other coronation-churches:
only the Polish kings were both crowned and buried at Cracow.
It was the second founder of the church, Henry III, who inaugurated this custom.
In doing so he was following precedent, for several of his predecessors—William I,
Henry I, Stephen—had been buried in Abbey churches (Caen, Reading, Faversham)
which they had founded. But he was swayed less by precedent than by the desire
to rest near the Confessor, whose memory he had so glorified, whose name he chose
for his eldest son, and in whose coffin he was actually laid at first. Sixteen of his
successors, the last being George II, are buried in the Abbey:
"Making the circle of their reigns complete.
These suns of empire, where they rise, they set."
Though the information is easily accessible in many books, it may be convenient
to record once more the burial-places of the sovereigns from the Conquest.
|William II||Winchester.||Henry II||Fontevrault.|
|Henry I||Reading.||Richard I||"|
|Henry III||Westminster.||James I||"|
|Edward I||"||Charles I||Windsor.|
|Edward II||Gloucester.||Charles II||Westminster.|
|Edward III||Westminster.||James II||Paris.|
|Richard II||"||Mary II||Westminster.|
|Henry IV||Canterbury.||William III||"|
|Henry VI||Windsor.||George I||Hanover.|
|Edward IV||"||George II||Westminster.|
|Edward V||Westminster.||George III||Windsor.|
|Richard III||Leicester.||George IV||"|
|Henry VII||Westminster.||William IV||"|
|Edward VI||Westminster.||Edward VII||"|
No better occasion than this will offer itself for introducing a word about that
strange palladium of the Empire, the Stone of Scone, which Edward I brought from
Scotland and placed in the coronation chair which he made to hold it and which
holds it still. What was it ? The mediaeval chroniclers, as is well known, made
it to have been Jacob's pillow at Bethel, and told of its transportation to Ireland
and thence to Scotland. Nineteenth-century antiquaries unearthed and supported
the legend that it was St. Columba's pillow brought from Iona. Both tales point
to an ancient, one to an immemorial, sanctity: both are well beyond the reach of
Whatever was its original form, and whatever the origin of the sacredness
attached to it in the minds of men, this Stone is surely the most venerable and
mysterious object now to be seen in the Abbey.
It is not, however, the main object of the inventory which these pages introduce to
bring out the historical, the imperial, or the spiritual significance which Westminster
Abbey possesses for the British race. That has really been done once for all in
Dean Stanley's Historical Memorials, which deserves to rank as a classic. The
aim is humbler and simpler, yet, in a way, not less ambitious. It is no more, and no
less, than to record and describe in detail every existing part of the fabric and fittings
of the Abbey church and the monastic buildings attached thereto which can be
assigned to a date anterior to 1714. It is important that this limitation of date should
be realized: familiar as it may be to readers of previous volumes issued by the
Commission, it may be new to the larger public. They will not find here a complete
catalogue of the monuments, memorials, and furniture set up in the Abbey in the
18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Nothing that is not over two hundred years old
is described: and this limitation excludes many of the most bulky and
conspicuous objects in the church, as well as the more sober memorials of men of
On the other hand, they will find a methodical account, drawn up in accordance
with the best knowledge of our day, of the structure of the church and its dependent
buildings, and of every relic of mediaeval, renaissance, and 17th-century workmanship
which in the year 1924 was to be seen there.
Such is the character of the record itself. In this introduction to it an attempt
will be made to analyse it and to guide the reader to the points of greatest interest,
artistic and archaeological. As in the inventory, so here, the church will be treated
first, and the monastic buildings (far more briefly) by themselves: and the basis will
be the natural one, the order of date.
The history of the fabric is comparatively simple. There was a church of
St. Peter at Westminster in the 8th century we are sure; there may have been one
in the 7th. The legend first recorded in the 12th century told how St. Peter had
himself appeared and consecrated the new church which Mellitus (first Bishop of
London, a.d. 616) was preparing to dedicate on the following day. But of the
Anglo-Saxon period no relic is now visible, unless it be a stone coffin-lid upon which
a cross has been cut, and which is now preserved in the chapter house vestibule.
For our purposes the history begins with Edward the Confessor who, probably
soon after his accession in 1042, began the building of a great church, the plan of
which was apparently modelled upon, or at least closely akin to, that of Jumièges,
in Normandy, still extant as a ruin. It is on record—yet the record is not accepted
on all hands as conclusive—that Edward completed the church even to the (western)
Of this church, again, no relic exists above ground: a few fragments of foundations
have been disclosed at different times by excavation; bases of piers of the choir,
and the curved wall of the apse. This church was dedicated on Holy Innocents'
Day (28 Dec.) of 1065, only some ten days before the Confessor's death. It is
possible, though it is nowhere recorded, that in connexion with the first translation
of his relics to a shrine, which took place in 1163, the church was extended eastward,
and an ambulatory added to the choir. Except for this conjectured alteration, the
Confessor's church remained unchanged from the year before the Conquest until
1220, when a large Lady chapel was built at the extreme E. end, at the cost of the
Abbey. How it was connected with the Norman church, if not by the extension
just spoken of, is not known. This chapel survived until, in 1503, it was replaced
by Henry VII's chapel.
The church which we see is the work of Henry III, the greatest builder and the
greatest patron of the arts who has ever occupied the throne of England. He began
it in 1245, when the eastern part of the Confessor's church was pulled down, and
he went on building until 1269, by which time the whole eastern limb, the transepts,
and the four eastern bays of the structural nave, together with the lower part of the
fifth, were completed. The western part of the nave of the Confessor's church was
A hundred years later (in 1375) Cardinal Simon Langham, formerly Abbot of
Westminster, and later Archbishop of Canterbury, began, and King Richard II pressed
on, the continuation of the nave westward, and by a rare and notable inspiration,
the work was continued in the style of Henry III's time, and so carefully that the
difference of date between the two portions may very easily elude any but an expert
eye. By the year 1388 the Confessor's church had disappeared.
Under Henry IV the work languished; Henry V was enthusiastic in furthering
it; not so Henry VI. In and after his time the building was carried on at the cost
of the Abbey. The last piece of work to be done on the structure of the nave was
the vaulting of the fifth and sixth bays from the crossing (where a gap had hitherto
been left) carried out in 1504–6 under Abbot Islip, who also did some building at
the W. end.
The western towers (and the gable between them) were still unfinished, and
unfinished they remained until about the middle of the 18th century. It was in
1739 that the completion of the south-western tower (the latest to be taken in hand)
Meanwhile two additions of unequal importance had been made to the fabric.
The smaller was the chantry of Henry V, inserted E. of the Confessor's tomb,
and begun in 1438; the larger was the new Lady chapel, or Henry VII's chapel,
already mentioned, of which the foundation stone was laid early in 1503. This
building is one of the most marvellous creations of expiring Gothic. It may be just
worth while to add here that John Islip, the last but one of the old line of abbots,
built a small two-storied chantry chapel on the N. of the ambulatory of the choir
shortly before his death, which happened in 1532.
Thus the fabric of the church consists of three great sections: choir, transepts,
and part of the structural nave, built in 1245–69: remainder of the nave, built
between 1375 and 1506: Henry VII's chapel, begun in 1503. Add to these the
western towers of 1734–40.
It is not practicable to set out a list of all the minor repairs and mutilations which
the church has undergone. Only the most far-reaching can be mentioned. By the
end of the 17th century the atmosphere of London had grievously corroded the whole
exterior: in 1698 part of the duty on coal was devoted by Parliament to remedy
the mischief that coal-smoke had wrought. The repair was begun in that year under
Sir Christopher Wren, and continued by him and his successors until 1745, with the
necessary result that hardly a single original stone of the external surface of the main
structure was left. This repair did not include Henry VII's chapel: that was wholly
refaced by Wyatt in 1807–22: his methods compare most unfavourably with those of
Wren. In and after the middle of the 19th century much work was done by Sir Gilbert
Scott and the rose window of the S. transept was renewed by J. T. Micklethwaite.
In 1875 Scott began, and in 1884 Pearson continued, the work of remodelling the
front of the N. transept in a way which laid both of them open to severe criticism.
Externally, then, the church is a copy, not by any means faithful, of the
Internally, however, it is a masterpiece of the noblest period of Gothic
architecture, and a treasure-house of works of art of that and of later times.
The plan of the structure is French: the working out and the details are
English. As Edward the Confessor seems to have borrowed ideas from Jumièges,
so it has been long recognized that the Cathedral of Rheims, the coronation-church
of the kings of France, was to a great extent copied in the eastern portion of Henry
III's church. It has even been made to appear possible that "Master Henry,"
the architect first employed by the king, was a man of Rheims. Nor is the Rheims
influence the only foreign one that has been pointed out. On the showing of Professor
Lethaby "the Sainte Chapelle at Paris and the Cathedral at Amiens have each their
share of influence on the new work, though not to the same extent" as Rheims.
Anyone who is even superficially acquainted with the great churches of France
will be reminded at Westminster of two of their constant characteristics—a series
of radiating chapels surrounding the apse, and the great height in the central alley.
Westminster, indeed, is the only one of our Gothic churches in which the apex of the
vault reaches the height of a hundred feet above the floor. It is also the only one
in which the French chevet with radiating chapels is faithfully reproduced, though
at Hayles Abbey (destroyed), Tewkesbury and elsewhere the influence of Westminster
Another distinguishing point about Westminster is the fact that the ritual choir,
or monks' choir, projects several bays into the nave. It did so in the Confessor's
church, and it did so in most of our monastic cathedrals: but in few places is the
arrangement better preserved than at Westminster, though even here it is not intact,
for a screen that stood a bay further W., with altars against it, has disappeared.
In most other cases the choir screen has now been carried back to the "chancel
arch," E. of the transept.
Other points concerning the plan of the church are these. The N. transept,
of four bays, has aisles both on E. and W. In that on the E. were three chapels—
taken from the N., they were those of St. Michael, St. Andrew, and St. John the
Evangelist. The S. transept has an eastern aisle, but there seem not to have been
any chapels in that: and the space corresponding to the western aisle of the S.
transept is here filled by part of the cloister, which thus encroaches upon the church.
Above this piece of the cloister is the muniment room, where a vast collection of
the archives of the Abbey is stored—archives which in recent years have been made
to throw light on many sides of the history, and from which yet more will doubtless
come. On an ancient plastered partition here is a damaged painting of the hart, the
badge of Richard II; and in the room are chests, some as old as the end of the 12th
Of the chapels which flank or surround the choir the two first (on N. and S.,
at the entrance of the ambulatory) are rectangular; the four which follow towards
the E. (on the N. and S.) are polygonal. The rectangular chapels on N. and S. are
respectively those of Abbot Islip (the Jesus chapel) and of St. Benedict. A supplementary chapel, of Our Lady of the Pew, is fitted in between that of Islip and St.
John the Baptist. There is a very beautiful alabaster niche over the entrance. The
polygonal ones on the N. (taken from the W.) are those of St. John the Baptist and
St. Paul: on the S. (from W.), those of SS. Edmund and Thomas of Canterbury,
and St. Nicholas. Add to these the chapel of St. Faith, which, though entered from
the S. transept, is outside the wall thereof, and intervenes between the church and the
In most churches which, like this, possessed a famous shrine that was the
object of pilgrimages, a considerable space for the accommodation of that shrine
was set apart behind the high altar. At Westminster the Confessor's shrine, gravely
mutilated, yet better preserved than any other in this country, still occupies that
place, the most sacred and historic in the church; and that is his chapel. At the
eastern end of it is the chantry chapel of Henry V cleverly bridging over the
Three important appanages of the church have ceased to exist. Attached to the
N. transept portal was a large Galilee porch: in the angle between that transept
and the nave was the Sacristy, where many church valuables were kept: further
N. was a detached belfry of very massive construction, which came to be known
(quite erroneously) as the sanctuary—whereas the whole precinct of the Abbey was
the sanctuary. The Galilee, which dated from Richard II's time, was demolished
about 1662; the sacristy at an earlier but unknown date; the belfry about 1750.
Views or plans of all but the sacristy have been preserved.
There is a common belief that-the architects of the great mediaeval churches
are nameless to us. As soon as records come to be examined the falsity of this
notion is made plain. In the case of Westminster the investigations of Professor
Lethaby (perhaps the foremost in dispelling the illusion), Mr. R. B. Rackham and
Mr. Westlake—to name no earlier workers—enable us to name, and in some degree
to visualize, the whole line of the men who presided over the building from its
inception. They were:—
|Master Henry, the mason, perhaps more exactly "of Reyns," who,
says Professor Lethaby, "must be considered as the architect of the building in all its parts"||From 1245 to about 1253.|
|John of Gloucester||1254|
|Robert of Beverley||1261|
These three were the directors of the building under Henry III.
For the rebuilding of the Nave.
Henry Yevele, from 1388 (at least).
William of Colchester, from 1400.
John Thirsk, from 1420. He was responsible for the chantry of Henry V.
John Smith, from 1452.
John of Reading, from 1460.
Robert Stowell, from 1471, followed by
Thomas Redman, in 1505, and
Henry Redman, in 1516.
For Henry VII's chapel the records are not yet forthcoming. Robert Vertue,
Robert Jenins and John Lebons are named as the King's three master-masons at
this date, and it has been usual to look upon Robert Vertue as the principal designer
of the work. But this is not proved. An ecclesiastic, William Bolton, Prior of St.
Bartholomew's, Smithfield, is styled Master of the Works in the King's will, but
he may have been concerned merely with the finance of the works. We await
Passing now from the structure of the church to its contents, we propose to
take account very briefly of various classes of works of art which are represented
there: and, first, of figure-sculpture, architectural and sepulchral.
Architectural figure-sculpture of the 13th century is confined to the relics
of the arcade sculptures. These have been sadly mutilated by the insertion of
monuments in the lower stage, but some beautiful fragments remain on all three walls
of the N. transept, and in the chapels of St. Paul and St. John the Baptist. In the
W. aisles of both transepts there are also some figured bosses in the roof.
But the finest of these arcade sculptures are in the upper stages of the end walls
of the two transepts, especially on the S., where the two angels in the corners rank
among the noblest of English works in this province of art.
It is convenient to include the chapter house in this part of our survey, and
to call attention to the sad remains on the outer portal (in the cloister) of two angels
on brackets, and a Jesse tree in the arch; and, within the building, to the Angel
and Virgin of the Annunciation above the portal: these again are of the highest
Reverting to the church and proceeding E., we have some interesting figure-sculpture on the cornice of the E. face of the altar-screen. This is of the 15th
century and tells, in fourteen scenes, the story of St. Edward the Confessor. The
selection and treatment of subjects are curiously close to the pictures in a manuscript
at Trinity College, Cambridge.
In the same part of the church the imagery of Henry V's chantry is noteworthy
for its statues of saints and particularly for its representation of the coronation and
In passing we must not omit mention of the grille or grate of the chantry,
probably the work of a smith of the time of Henry VII,
But Henry VII's chapel was, and is, far richer in saintly imagery. Outside,
on its turrets, it had a hierarchy, in part at least of Old Testament worthies, whose
names, much corrupted by stone-cutters, are still to be seen. Within, it has a series,
unrivalled in this country, of the saints on whom the popular devotion of the time
was concentrated. Some, like St. Armel (Arthmael, Armagilus) of Brittany, and
St. Wilgefort, are unfamiliar: and a word about these may be welcome. There
is evidence to show that Henry VII considered himself indebted for preservation
from shipwreck to St. Armel, whose name and picture are not seldom found in
prayer-books of this date. St. Wilgefort—Uncumber—Liberata—known by a
multitude of names, is one of the oldest of all hagiological figures: a princess of
Portugal who, urged by her father to marry, whereas she had vowed chastity, prayed to
be made uncomely and was endowed with a large beard, whereupon her father crucified
her. Many of these images have a grotesque liveliness about them which tempts
one to think they might be portraits. If so (it is a very doubtful and contentious
point) they are far more likely to have been inspired by quite obscure people in the
sculptor's entourage than by personages of distinction. There has always been a
tendency to find portraits of famous contemporaries in statues on our churchfaçades or in paintings on screens, but it is rarely justified. The caution is perhaps
worth repeating here, and it is worth while to add that even the effgies on tombs
of the 13th and 14th centuries are, to say the least, very much idealized.
In this same chapel is the only considerable work in wood-carving which the
Abbey possesses—the stalls with their misericords which are rich in genre and
Of Sepulchral Imagery the church has an unsurpassed treasure. The oldest
relics are the dim effigies of early abbots in the S. walk of the cloister—sole
specimens here of 12th-century images: but in the presbytery and the Confessor's
chapel are tombs of the 13th and 14th centuries which in their pristine glories must
have shone like gems, and even now are beyond price. Crouchback's and Aymer de
Valence's—the two canopied tombs on the N. of the presbytery, are of admirable
design, though Aymer's canopy is markedly inferior in execution to Crouchback's.
The 'weepers' and effigies on these and on the neighbouring tomb of Aveline, the
remains of colouring recently revived by a skilful hand, and the heraldic decoration
(of which the whole church offers the most varied and splendid examples) claim a
prolonged study. Not less do the effigies in the Confessor's chapel. Here are Henry
III and Edward I's queen, Eleanor of Castile, in metal by William Torel, Edward
III, Philippa, by Hennequin of Liège, Richard II and his queen Anne. Torel's are
the finest of these: the effigy of Eleanor must be placed in the forefront of all such
work. The fine iron grate about her tomb was made by Thomas, of Leighton
(Buzzard), in 1294.
On the back of the plate on which Henry III's figure lies are some masterly
little sketches incised, not accessible now, but to be seen in Professor Lethaby's
The chapel of St. Edmund, on the S., has three other most notable tombs:
those of John of Eltham, of William of Valence (with Limoges enamel-work upon
the oaken effigy) and of Edward III's children.
Of churchmen's monuments, that of Archbishop Langham, in St. Benedict's
chapel, is perhaps the finest. The 15th-century tombs with effigies or brasses are
numerous, but do not call for special remark here.
Italian work of the first years of the 16th century is found in Henry VII's chapel.
The effigies of Henry and his queen, and the medallions of saints on the sides of the
tomb: the effigy of his mother, the Lady Margaret, and the medallion of Sir Thomas
Lovel in the S. aisle—to which may be added the fragments of marble in the altar—
are all by Pietro Torrigiani (for so—and not Torregiano—he seems to have been
consistently called by Vasari, his biographer, as well as in this country). On the
other hand the magnificent screen which encloses Henry's tomb, once rich with
another band of saints of which but six remain, is by Thomas Ducheman. The
great western doors of the chapel, of oak plated with bronze, are not to be
paralleled in England for richness. They are doubtless native products.
It is, moreover, in this part of the church that some of the most imposing of
the later monuments will be found: but to embark here upon even the most general
survey of the works of the later 16th, the 17th, and the early 18th centuries, we feel
is impracticable. They are both a curse and a blessing to the Abbey. The erection
of them has entailed dismal outrages upon the structure and upon their predecessors:
beautiful 13th-century sculptures have been cut away, rich 15th-century screens
have been torn down: enormous masses of marble block up ancient features and throw
their surroundings out of scale. When the Duchess of Northumberland was buried
in 1776 the splendid canopy over John of Eltham's tomb broke down under the
weight of spectators; and when James Watt was put in place he narrowly missed
going through the floor. But such catastrophes and such bulky additions are, we
may believe, done with; and we would not now erase a line of the history of England
(and of sculpture, native and foreign) which is written in and upon these memorials,
though doubtless everyone who reads these pages bears his own special grudge against
one or more of them.
We next reach a form of art practically unique in England—the Mosaic work
that is to be seen in the presbytery and the Confessor's chapel. On the shrine of St.
Edward, on Henry III's tomb and on that of his children, are remains of beautiful
Cosmatesque mosaic. This form of mosaic takes its name from the family of the
Cosmati. They were of Rome, where their most perfect achievements are to be seen,
notably in the cloisters of the Lateran and of St. Paul-without-the-wall. Parts of a
shrine of the same workmanship, which once belonged to Horace Walpole, are in the
modern church of Wilton, near Salisbury; but nowhere except at Westminster and
Canterbury is there an example made in England in mediaeval times. Canterbury
possesses a patch of much restored pavement of similar character at the site of Becket's
shrine. At Westminster, the mosaic of the Confessor's shrine is a signed work of
"Peter, a Roman citizen." The pavement of the presbytery (1268) was also signed,
by Odericus of Rome. It had a scheme and a meaning which was expounded in verse—
inscriptions now nearly gone. The universe, the macrocosm (as opposed to man,
the microcosm) was symbolized by a central circle, and its duration was set forth in a
longer inscription, of which the gist was proverbial in the Middle Ages. A hedge
lasts three years, a dog lives nine years, a horse twenty-seven, and we go on, always
trebling the last figure, through Man, Stag, Raven, Eagle, Whale, till we reach
19,683 years as the appointed duration of the world.
The pavement of the Confessor's chapel is a somewhat later work, though still
of the 13th century.
That of the chapter house—of figured tiles, not mosaic—is entirely English,
"the finest pavement of the kind," says Professor Lethaby, "now existing."
The tiles that have been found in great numbers at the abbeys of Chertsey and
Hales Owen are of the same school and perhaps designed by the same artist.
Paintings fall to be considered next. In these the Abbey, compared with most
English churches, is rich. On the N. side of Crouchback's tomb and on the S. side
of Eleanor's are faint traces of what must have been fine works; in the former case
figures of knights, in the latter a scene with the Virgin and Child adored by the king,
a tomb, and other figures.
To the same period, the last quarter of the 13th century, belongs the unique
and lovely retable now shown in the S. ambulatory of the choir. It is but a shadow
of its former self, and no wonder. A description written in 1775 speaks of it as "the
very old painting in Westminster Abbey which now (as a mere refuse bit of board)
forms the top of the case wherein the wooden stuffed images of our ancient kings
(vulgarly called the ragged regiment) are kept." The question, "English or French?"
has often been raised about this noble work, "the most beautiful thirteenth-century
painting in England." If it could be firmly established (and we think it has been
made to appear most probable) that a certain illustrated manuscript of the Apocalypse
(MS. Douce 180 in the Bodleian) written about 1270 for Edward I or Eleanor of
Castile, was done in England, then we should be justified in stating it as a fact that
the retable also was done in England: for the two works are most closely connected
The sedilia on the S. side of the altar have very notable remains of large figures
painted on both faces, and recent treatment has revived them to a most remarkable
extent. They are of the early years of the 14th century. To the close of that century
belongs the great portrait of Richard II—more likely, this, to be French than
English—and the dim paintings on the tester, or canopy, of his tomb.
The coronation chair was painted by Master Walter, Edward I's painter, in
1300–1. It had once a throned king with his feet on a lion at the back. The lion's
paws and the sides of the throne are once again distinguishable, thanks to revival.
On the arms are remains of gilt gesso-work with representations of birds among
leaves, which are really exquisite.
Wall-paintings form a class by themselves. The two important members of it
—disregarding small relics—are that in St. Faith's chapel, of late 13th-century date,
and those in the chapter house. The latter are of two periods. In the eastern bay
and those adjoining was a most beautiful Majesty or Last Judgment, now faded
almost to nothing. This was of the middle of the 14th century. The rest of the
walls was covered with illustrations of the Life of St. John and of the Apocalypse
(copied no doubt from one of the many pictured manuscripts of that book), and below
these was a frieze of animals with their names in English. These pictures were paid
for by a monk of the Abbey, John of Northampton, late in the 14th century. Only
the beginning and some of the scenes near the end of the series remain: far inferior
to the older paintings in merit.
Faint traces of figure-painting are in the upper storey of Islip's chapel. And
throughout the church, on tombs, shields, cornices, and elsewhere, the work of
revival newly carried out by Mr. E. W. Tristram has brought up beautiful touches
of gay colour and gold which were absolutely invisible before, and has greatly increased
the brilliancy of the colouring that was still perceptible.
Of Glass the church has little: nor do we know much about its former riches.
At present we can only point to the made-up, but mainly old, figures in the easternmost windows of the clearstorey, to two figures, also made-up, in the western towers,
to some inconsiderable pieces of decorative and heraldic work in the N. transept
and chapels, and to a number of heraldic badges and a single panel in Henry VII's
chapel. In connexion with this last it should be noted that the contract of 1526
for the windows of King's College chapel at Cambridge refers to the king's new
chapel at Westminster as the model to be followed at Cambridge in "form, manner,
goodness, curiosity, and cleanliness." Whether scheme and subject are included
is not quite clear. If that was the intention, we could definitely say that the
windows of Henry VII's chapel had a series of scenes from the lives of the Virgin and
Our Lord, illustrated by Old Testament types taken from the Biblia Pauperum
and the Mirror of Salvation, and accompanied by figures of prophets and angels
holding explanatory scrolls. That is the system of the King's College windows.
The glass of the northern rose window, dated 1722, falls only just outside our
period, and that of the W. window is but a decade later. Both are interesting members
of the scanty succession which connects mediaeval glass-painting with modern. The
N. rose glass (mutilated by Pearson's restoration) was made from cartoons drawn
by Sir James Thornhill, and perhaps he also designed the W. window, which was
made by Price in 1735.
It is in the Jerusalem chamber that the best fragments of earlier glass are
preserved. Here are several good subject-medallions of the 13th century. Their
provenance is not certainly known, but there is nothing to contradict the common
belief that they came from the church. The suggestion of Mr. Westlake is well worth
recording, that their original home was the Lady chapel of 1220 (destroyed, as we
saw, in 1503). It gains probability from the fact that the window in which they
are was put in by Abbot Islip, in whose abbacy also the old Lady chapel was
THE MONASTIC BUILDINGS.
We are dealing here not only with a great church but with the buildings attached
to it which were the dwelling-place of the religious community who served that
church. These buildings conform to a regular plan which is common, with slight
variations, to the vast majority of western monasteries.
The central element of this plan is a cloister, round which the structures most
important in the daily life of the monks were grouped. Wherever the site rendered
it possible they were thus arranged:—
The Church was on the North, as here;
The Chapter House, the place of daily meeting for administrative and other
business, was invariably on the East;
The Dormitory, or Dorter, usually on the East and on the first floor, as here;
The Refectory, or Frater or Dining-hall, facing the church, on the South, as here.
The Kitchen naturally adjoined it.
On the W. of the cloister no special building was prescribed: often there were
store-houses. Here, at Westminster, we have the abbot's lodging, now the deanery.
The cloister was fitted into the angle formed by the nave and transept of the
church, and there were accesses from it into the church, chapter house, and frater.
In it the monks sat, studied, taught, walked and talked, and sometimes were buried.
From the cloister there was also access by a passage (usually eastwards) to the
The infirmary was commonly provided, at any rate in later times, with a little
cloister of its own: and itself was—in early times—a building planned like a church
with an aisled nave and a chancel. The chancel formed the infirmary chapel. In
the aisles of the nave the beds were placed, and monks who were confined to bed
could hear and perhaps see the offices performed in the chapel.
The dorter had an access into the cloister and also into the church, for there
were nocturnal services which the monks had to attend: and as it was on the first
floor this second access was generally made by a staircase leading down into the
All these were necessary buildings. Every monastery had them. But clearly
they do not provide for every contingency, and so large an establishment as
Westminster was bound to have many subsidiary buildings in addition to them.
The position, however, of such buildings was not strictly laid down either by rule
or custom: it was dictated by the site at disposal. The usual requirements
A separate lodging for the chief officer, were he (as here) Abbot, or Prior,
or for both;
An establishment of some kind for the entertainment of guests;
An almonry for the dispensing of charity.
There was not always (it seems there was not at all at Westminster) a separate
building for the library: the books were often kept in presses in the cloister (as,
probably, they were here): and it is doubtful if in any of our monasteries the site
of the scriptorium, or writing-room, can be pointed out.
There was often a building near the frater or infirmary called the misericord, where
monks who had been bled (which was regularly done) or required indulgence in respect
of diet were cared for. Meat, which was not allowed to be served in the frater, was
permitted in the misericord.
Perhaps, in this connexion, the reminder may be useful that an ordinary monk
(unless he were of the Carthusian order) did not in mediaeval times have a cell or
room to himself.
Finally, a great deal of space was occupied by storehouses and granaries and
such domestic offices as bakery, brewhouse, and stables, which were often grouped
in and about the outer court, immediately within the great gate which gave access
to the precincts of the monastery.
At Westminster a large proportion of the monastic buildings has survived,
though naturally it has been appropriated to all sorts of uses.
In the first place we have the Cloister, intact except for restorations. The
cloister which we see stands nearly on the same site as the original Norman one.
A great fire devastated this part of the monastery in 1298 and occasioned a general
rebuilding, which went on very slowly until near the end of the 14th century, when
a great deal was done under Abbot Litlington.
The oldest part of the present cloister is, naturally, the angle adjoining the
church, the northern half of the eastern walk and part of the eastern half of the
northern walk. The southern half of the eastern walk comes next. The southern
and western walks are wholly of the latter part of the 14th century.
Of the buildings which surround the cloister the oldest are those on the E.
Here the ground-floor buildings next to the chapter house (technically they are
called the undercroft of the dorter) have some claim to be considered part of the
Confessor's building. They belong to the years immediately before the Conquest
or immediately after it: it is not really possible to say which. They once formed a
single long hall: now they are divided by a party wall. The portion next the
chapter house is called the chapel of the pyx, for in it was formerly kept the pyx,
or box, containing the specimens of the current coinage in gold and silver which were
periodically tested by comparison with certain standard trial pieces of gold and
silver. The latter continued to be kept here for some time after the pyx had been
transferred to the mint, but are likewise now transferred. Until that time the trial
of the pyx was held here every five years or so.
The large piece of the undercroft to the S. now serves as a museum for the
Abbey, and many relics, some beautiful and many very curious, are to be seen there:
among others, what is probably unique in England, the ancient dinner-bell of the
The main walls of the upper storey, which was the dorter itself, are also of
Norman date, but that part of the building has been wholly remodelled. It is now
divided between the chapter library (a venerable room, of which Washington Irving
wrote a somewhat famous description) and the school.
The Chapter House is one of the most beautiful things about the Abbey. It
is a thoroughly English structure: the circular or polygonal chapter house is a
characteristically English form: there are splendid examples at Worcester, Salisbury,
York, Southwell, Lincoln and Wells. It is part of Henry III's building, and seems
to have been finished by 1253. Attention has already been called to the relics of
sculpture and painting which it contains, and to its pavement. It has suffered
as much from restoration as any portion of the building. All the window-traceries
are new, and so is the vaulted roof. The fact is that tremendous mischief, including
the removal of the original stone vaulting, was done in the 18th century, when the
public records were accumulated here and galleries and a new upper storey were
put in to accommodate them. Before that, from some time in the 13th century to
the end of Henry VIII's reign, the House of Commons frequently assembled here. In
1547 they moved across to St. Stephen's chapel.
The crypt of the chapter house, with walls over 17 feet thick, probably served at
one time as a royal treasury.
Of the great Refectory, or Frater, on the S. side of the cloister facing the
church, only the walls are left. The structure is of Norman date. The scanty remains
of the Misericord adjoin it on the S. near the W. end. The Prior's Lodging, now
known as Ashburnham House, lies parallel to it on the S. Though refaced with brick
in the 17th century it is really a mediaeval building.
From the E. walk of the cloister a passage leads to the Infirmary or Farmery.
As has been said, the normal plan of these buildings was that of a church with nave
and chancel. Here the "chancel" (which here had nave and aisles of its own)
known as St. Katherine's chapel, still subsists in part as a ruin of Norman date.
The "nave," it seems, was done away with in the 14th century, and replaced by the
"Little Cloister," most of which is of the 17th century as we see it now.
St. Katherine's chapel was the scene of many interesting events, such as the
Church Council of 1176, summoned by the papal legate, at which the Archbishops
of Canterbury and York quarrelled for precedence, and the absolution of the king
and the barons by St. Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1236.
Adjoining the chapel on the S., and forming part of a private house, is the
infirmarer's hall, a 14th-century room, fairly complete.
The last building which needs to be singled out for special mention here is the
Abbot's Lodging, now the Deanery, which stands W. of the cloister and extends
W. and N.W. In it is the famous Jerusalem chamber (so called from some ancient
wall-decoration representing the Crusades now long gone) in which the last scenes
of Henry IV's life were enacted, and in which many assemblies of great note have
been held—the Assembly of Divines under the Commonwealth, the upper House
of Convocation, the Revisers of the English Bible. Here, too, Addison and Sir
Isaac Newton lay in state. The other great feature of the lodging is the hall built
by Abbot Litlington, which now serves as the dining-hall of the Westminster scholars.
In its general scheme it resembles the many halls of colleges and great houses which
we happily still possess, but its early date gives it a special interest.
Detailed descriptions of all the objects and structures which have been mentioned
and of many scores of others, will be found in the text of the inventory itself. That
has been already explained: but it seemed well to repeat it here, and furthermore
to acknowledge with all possible emphasis the debt which this introduction owes
not only to the writers of the inventory but to the many investigators who have
preceded them. It would have been irritating to the reader if at every step we had
named the authority for every statement we have made. But we should have an
uneasy conscience indeed were we not to commemorate here, besides Dart, Seymour,
Malcolm, Britton, among the ancients, besides Stanley, and Scott and Micklethwaite
in the Victorian period, the names of St. John Hope, Rackham, Robinson, Lethaby
and Westlake as imperishably bound up with the elucidation of the history of the
Abbey and with the care of its fabric and of its unrivalled treasures.
M. R. JAMES
(Provost of Eton).