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Westminster Abbey: A King’s Dream, A Nation’s Icon
Manami York Pennsylvania State University Medieval Britain Dr. Hudson, Professor
Westminster Abbey: A King’s Dream, A Nation’s Icon Foreword
“A people without history Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel History is now and England.”
-T. S. Eliot1
It is in the heart and soul of every person to build something to live after
them. Those groups of people that form the world’s nations are no different. They desire to build the monument to represent all they stand for and to show to the world their greatness. Foundations, walls, decorations, and design flounders without a preponderance of spirit to soar far above the moorings and as in religious structures, to show God what man can accomplish. Within the heart of London resides the presence of the contemporary British monarchy that only echoes that of England’s prime, its medieval era. Within this period, such things like the Tower of London, the War of the Roses, and the many wives of Henry VIII come to the minds of those who know the basics of England’s past, but there is one aspect of this time that most everyone has heard of around the world; Westminster Abbey. Being a church with a decadent history of both art and monarchy, it is one of the most important and well known structures that exist in Europe. Resplendent as the Abbey appears today, one needs to understand its humble beginnings and development during the Middle Ages
within the historical context of its time in order to have a true sense of its grandeur and impact on the nation of England.
“Antiquities are history defaced, or some remnants of history which have casually escaped the shipwreck of time.” -Sir Francis Bacon2
From the year 184 AD, it is possible that there was a church of Westminster in
existence that was located in the marshes west of London, according to a 15th century monk named John Flete. In his account, he claims that the Emperor Diocletian had ordered the church to be dishonorable and unacceptable and placed a temple venerating Apollo in its place. In 488, Ambrosius Aurelianus restored the church which was destroyed by the invasion of the Danes. Flete claims he attained this information from “a certain very ancient book of chronicles written in the old language of the English or the Saxons.” 3 As interesting as this history sounds, it is suspected that Flete was trying to upstage St. Paul’s Church which claimed that it was built where a temple of Diana used to stand. The church on Thorn Ey was thought to be called St. Peter’s to counter against London’s St. Paul’s. 4 Curiously enough, the church had earned its name through being the western rival of St. Paul’s. During a mission of St. Augustine to England and the reign of King Æthelbert of Kent, Westminster Abbey became the structure that we associate today roughly around the
7th century. If it did exist, and this being more plausible than Flete’s writings, it would have likely been constructed with Roman bricks and with a structure resembling a rectangle with a rounded chapel towards the east.5 Its location would have been just to the west of where the present church stands. The reason the word “if” is utilized is because there are minimal traces of this church, due to the damaging invasion of the Danes, and what we do know of it only exists in very few manuscripts. Around the year 960, St. Dunstan, the bishop of London, had established the building as a monastery for Benedictine monks. But the definite history and fame of Westminster Abbey begins with Edward the Confessor in 1042.6
Westminster Abbey, Edward the Confessor, and the Normans
“Art and Religion are, then, two roads by which men escape from circumstance to ecstasy. Between aesthetic and religious rapture there is a family alliance. Art and Religion are mean to similar states of mind.” -Clive Bell7
Considered to be the founder of the Abbey, Edward the Confessor ascended
to the throne around 1042, taking over a kingdom not only under the threat of attack but also with an aristocracy deeply divided within themselves of the Pro-Danish, headed by Godwin of Essex, and the Pro-English, lead by Leogar and Leofric. Even with problems such as these, Edward had endowed one particular project that he would not even be able to see the completion of: the building of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, immortalized as Westminster Abbey 8. The king decided to build
the church not only to be in close proximity of his palace, but also to show his devotion to St. Peter and located it at Thorney Island just slightly outside the city of London, a rather strategic location where the earlier version was suspected to be. The plan was that the structure would be surrounded by water, making it an ideal place to have the royal living quarters.9 Curiously enough, the church had earned its name through being the western rival of St. Paul’s and the suffix of “-minster” refers to a monastic church.10 Edward not only contributed the funds for the building of the cathedral but he also gave the church a great amount of land from royal estates that made the church wealthier and more prestigious within the country.11 Architecturally speaking, the church is extremely significant to England’s architectural history because it introduced the Norman Romanesque style into England.12 Beginning around 1045 and not completed until 1065, the church followed the general dimensions of the churches in Normandy, exceeding the size of any of them.13 Even though this phase of Westminster Abbey no longer exists above ground today, there is a considerable amount of information that is able to be determined by excavations below the floor of the current nave and other portions of the church. From excavations, historians have concluded that the internal length of Edward the Confessor’s church was approximately three hundred and twenty-two feet. Within this dimension survives an apsidal choir of two bays, transepts, and a nave consisting of twelve bays. The foundations of western towers have been discovered, but they are suspected to be later additions to the structure since they do
not appear on the Bayeux Tapestry, as it depicts the Romanesque church of Edward the Confessor’s period.14 (Image I). After fifteen years of work within this phase of the church, monks were recruited as far west as Exeter to be members of Westminster.15 Edward the Confessor passed away on January 5, 1066 and was unable to see the final dedication of the work that he had so faithfully patronized. The great king was buried in front of the High Altar at Westminster and was later to be canonized in 1161 and to be known as the patron saint of the kings.16 When Edward the Confessor passed away, Harold became King of England, with the previous promise of William attaining the throne forgotten. Harold ended up ruling for approximately nine months but by the end of five months, the Norman Conquest was well under way. William, Duke of Normandy and later to be known as William the Conqueror, led a Norman invasion into England at the Battle of Hastings. After this pivotal battle of English history, William defeated Harold and became the King of England while encompassing the title of the Duke of Normandy.17 The very first coronation at Westminster Abbey occurred on Christmas of 1066; the coronation of William the Conqueror as the new King of England. William wished to be crowned king at this church in order to make himself associated with the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor, who had the reputation of being one of the greatest English rulers. The idea of the coronation service being held at Westminster Abbey became a precedent for the succeeding rulers of England.18 There were two Medieval English
kings that were not crowned at the Abbey: Richard III, who had lost his throne and his nephew Edward V, who was killed rather abruptly.19 Henry III’s Church
“The life so short, the craft so long to learn, Th’ assay so hard, so sharp the conquering.”
By the year 1216, a new king had come onto the throne, Henry III.
have thought that Henry was imbued with a strong love of art, after specifically studying French cathedrals, which often surmounted the attention towards his kingdom. Because he especially appreciated architecture, he was considered to be a great patron of the arts, and in this case, a major reason why Westminster Abbey has the reputation of being one of the most fantastic churches in Europe. It is said that Henry had spent about one-tenth of the kingdom’s wealth on his project of rebuilding Westminster using the finest foreign materials that were available.21 He started rebuilding the eastern part of the Abbey in 1245 where he worked closely with the master mason, Henry de Reynes. His purpose in doing so was to create a structure suitable and worthy for the body of the late king Edward the Confessor to be honoured. Henry had strengthened the church for two purposes; as a location for coronation services and also a place for royal burials-satisfying both aspects of church and state. What also should be noted is the fact that the church was surrounded by monastic buildings, creating a stronger sense of intertwining between church and
state. The influence of state was not only evident through the coronation services and the burials of British monarchy at Westminster but also as the royal treasury was present within the walls of Westminster.22 People other than the kings and queens were also starting to be buried there; monks of the Abbey, abbots from the Choir, and even private individuals, all of who are different members of society demonstrating that Westminster was becoming a representative of more than just the monarchy.23 Prior to the actual building, one thing needs to be mentioned. Henry’s son, Edward I, contributed to Westminster Abbey what were to be the materials of marble and porphyry for his father’s tomb that he acquired on his Crusade to Acre.24 While he donated some of the porphyry, the great slabs of red porphyry used in the ambulatory from St. John the Baptist’s Chapel were thought to have been brought by Italian craftsmen from Roman ruins which were originally derived from quarries in Egypt dating from the 6th century.25 Edward I commissioned the tomb of his father and also his wife, Eleanor of Castile, to be completed by a practicing goldsmith by the name of William Torel. The significance of Torel’s work lies within the concept of constructing commemorative structures, bronze effigies, resembling sarcophagi with the outer casing resembling the monarchs within. Reminiscent of French Gothic art was the style of lingua franca as seen from the outer casings of the royal figures.26 Perhaps the source of inspiration to have the church serve as a royal mausoleum was influenced by the Cathedral at St. Denis in Paris, where French monarchs were laid to rest.27 Through Edward’s campaigns in Scotland, he brought the Stone of Scone or
the Stone of Destiny to the Abbey where he incorporated the stone into what is from this point to be known as the Coronation Chair (Image II). Ever since this, every sovereign has been crowned over the Stone of Scone.28 The stone itself is considered to be the symbol of Scotland’s independence and was not returned to its home country until 1997.29 The architectural rejuvenation of Westminster Abbey is considered by historians to be split into two phases lead by two different men, one being Henry de Reynes, the other Robert of Beverly.30 Although not much is known about de Reynes, he was a man thought to have been from France whose brilliance lied in his ability to adapt French style within an English context. He took his French cathedral inspirations from specifically two locations, the cathedrals at Amiens and Reims. In turn, this brought the Gothic style of architecture from France into England. From Amiens, de Reynes placed two deeply recessed porches along the northern front which were in direct response to the two deeply recessed porches placed in the western front at Amiens.31 He took from the cathedral at Reims the form of the apse; the church had a small choir with a short ambulatory along with a ring of radiating chapels. The formation of the chapels were different at Westminster because they had pairlight windows reaching as high as the fault along with wall arcades and a wall passage that surrounded the Abbey at the level. Also, instead of building a triforium, a standard of any French cathedral, he produced a gallery containing windows that would only be visible from the exterior and virtually hidden from the interior. 32 The master mason faced some difficulties
while building this portion of the church; 1.) he was limited to the ground plan of the Confessor’s church and 2.) he had to make as little noise as possible during this rebuilding in order that he did not disturb the daily lives and activities of the monks.33 The result of Henry de Reynes building was extremely impressive. He successfully gave Westminster a height that was taller than any other medieval church in England, a central space (like Reims) where coronation services were conducted, kept a certain aspect of the Confessor’s church and updated it (the choir west of the central crossing), and finally lengthened the transepts of the abbey and built a polygonal chapter house. The polygonal chapter house was thought to be purely English and had no parallel with structures in France like other features of Westminster. He was able to accomplish the height that he did by using flying buttresses as support for the main vaults.34 There is one particular vault that is the highest of any Gothic vault in England, reaching a height of one hundred and two feet. He also created the English fashion of making the nave rather lengthy but the transepts surprisingly long in comparison to the nave. The transepts under his design had four bays rather than the transepts at the Cathedral at Reims containing two bays. 35 A rather important aspect of this phase of the church was the certain material utilized within the church. Henry enjoyed utilizing this one particular stone, which also happened to be a rather luxurious stone in monetary and aesthetic terms of the masonry world, Purbeck marble. This material is actually a special type limestone that has crystallized forms below its surface due to extreme heat and pressure. Normally, limestone in general
could not be polished without damaging it, but Purbeck marble has the ability to be polished without being harmed, giving it the nickname of marble.36 In addition to being the master mason of most of Henry III’s Church, de Reynes was also known for being the mastermind behind the beginnings of the outstanding south transept. It is important to go into great detail behind this area because it reveals the fantastic work and detailing of the period. In this portion of the structure there is the great rose window. Because this is such an intricate aspect, there were five stages in order to complete the south transept. The first or lowest stage contains five bays with only one without a wall arcade. Along this wall arcade exists intricate carvings of what appeared to be once brightly coloured roses, adding femininity to the broad and intimidating bays. Within the two easternmost bays, a discovery was made in 1936 that revealed two interesting wall paintings. This occurred when 18th century monuments were removed from these bays and revealed a slightly coloured wall covered with dirt and grime from over the years.37 After meticulously cleaning the wall, two nine-foot oil wall paintings of St. Christopher and St. Thomas towered over those who had just made this discovery (Image III). St. Christopher is portrayed in a manner that would be common within medieval manuscripts, with Christ as a child sitting on his shoulders while carrying a staff. The young Christ is clutching an apple in his hand, which in medieval symbolism is usually associated with the concept of eternal life. In addition to this, the background of the scene is completely diapered with small rosettes, echoing that of the rosettes in the
wall arcade previously mentioned. The other image depicts the scene entitled the “Incredulity of St. Thomas.” This scene illustrates St. Thomas kneeling at the feet of Christ while his hand is placed on Christ’s side, intending to depict strong reverence on behalf of St. Thomas. Golden fleur-de-lys are diapered as a border of the image while the colours in both wall paintings contain shades of green, blue, red, vermillion, and yellow. Traces of the same colours utilized in these pictures are present around the church on other walls, a hinting that there was a series of wall paintings of saints, but they are now, unfortunately, completely gone. The wall paintings are dated from the late 13th century, during the reign of Edward I.38 The second stage saw the construction of a wall passage that is located all around the church, a level above the previously discussed murals. The third phase consists of a border, containing an alternation of trefoiled heads and lancets, which surround the six profoundly set windows which are set in the wall. Capitals and their columns line the base of this phase while this same line even extends up to the level with the wall passageway. The windows themselves serve to be aesthetically pleasing while being the central characteristic and to demonstrate the flawlessness of proportionality of the entire south transept.39 The fourth stage offers a new perspective in a fantastic relationship between the architect and sculptor. The three arches in this phase are actually all the same in design with the other triforium. This is a different variation from the arches throughout the church that are usually patterned with different designs. In the middle arch, right at the apex, there is just a touch of
propaganda. The abbot at the time, Richard de Crokesley, had a little carved head of himself placed in that particular spot, just to show who was connected with this part of the church during its construction. Throughout the spandrels present in this phase, there are four great men presented in these spandrels. The scene with four individuals, illustrates a pilgrim-St. John-attended by two angels, receiving a ring from Edward the Confessor. The two angels are considered to be excellent examples of art from the 13th century. Thought to have been the work of Master John of St. Albans, who was known as the “sculptor of the king’s images,” the special quality of the angels is noticeable through their sculpted physical qualities and the emotions they evoke. One angel has a very austere look on his face while the other is smiling in a most pleasant way. The angel that is smiling is said to be completely reminiscent of the angel at the Cathedral at Reims, one of the sources of Henry de Reynes’ inspiration for his design of Westminster Abbey40 (Image IV). The final stage revolves around the rose windows. These colourful stained glass monuments in the south transept and even the north transept are considered by some to be unsurpassed, even by the rose windows present in the cathedrals of France. An amusing aspect of the south transept should not go unmentioned. A series of seventeen large corbel heads towards the east end of the triforium show various visages of certain individuals, with facial expressions ranging from the most beautiful to the most theatrical. There are allusions to Greek fifth century art that is christened to be representative of Master Henry de Reynes (Image V) while there are
certainly some heads that are comical with exaggerated faces and expressions41 (Image VI). Sadly, Henry de Reynes died in 1253 but was succeeded by the man who became master mason, John of Gloucester. John did not contribute nearly as much as Henry de Reynes did but merely worked to perfect what was already mostly completed and prepared plans for future endeavours within the church. He, too, died and by 1260, John was replaced by Robert of Beverly as the master mason. Unlike Henry de Reynes, John of Beverly barely utilized foreign influences.42 This second phase lasted until the dedication of the newly renovated church in 1269. All of the shields and insignias present within the spandrels in the wall arcade of the choir walls are from the second phase. These emblems are thought to belong to the patrons that financed the building of the church, who were most likely barons and other such aristocracy, one famous one being the lion insignia of the de Montforts (Image VII). Because of the royal controversy that occurred between King Henry III and Simon de Montfort in 1264, it is assumed that these shields were put in place prior to the rebellion against the crown.43 From these shields, we also see the colours that were once vibrant and used in Henry’s church. Over the years, the colours have dimmed and deteriorated but art historians have uncovered that Henry III’s church had once been lavishly decorated and coloured, primarily from this phase.44 From this period under Henry III came two crucial structures to the church, Edward the Confessor’s Shrine, which is considered by nearly everyone to be the
most sacred spot in the entire cathedral, and St. Faith’s Chapel. Edward’s Shrine was constructed in 1163 during the reign of Henry II. His remains were transported from before the High Altar and into his newly constructed resting place. Henry III removed this particular shrine and rebuilt it using materials and patterning such as glass mosaic, marble tesserae that came from Rome and even precious metals and jewels in 1245. The pavement within the area was completed by an Italian craftsman named Pietro di Oderisio under the Cosmati technique from Italy- a mosaic of various materials such has marble, glass, and colourful porphyl stones45 (Image VIII). Because it was believed to be so sacred, there are worn depressions in the stone steps in front of the shrine where pilgrims would come to pray on their knees.46 It is clear at this point that the church not only venerated St. Peter but also St. Edward the Confessor.47 Built within the 1250s and sandwiched between the Chapter House and the south transept is the Chapel of St. Faith (Image IX). While not as famous as the Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor, it is important to discuss it because of its captivating qualities. The architectural shape of the chapel itself is said to be irregular due to its placement flanked by the buttresses and the walls of the south transept. The use of this particular area of the church was first and foremost a vestry for the monks but now is utilized for prayer and even used for ceremonies like marriages and confirmations.48 Martyred because of her practice of Christianity, there is a massive wall painting depicting St. Faith, where she is holding in her hands a book and a gridiron, while fashioning a crown on her head.49
Between the years 1245 and 1269, most of the present Abbey church was completed. Henry III intended to rebuild the entire church of Edward the Confessor but unfortunately passed away before it was done. The nave of the Confessor’s church was still connected to Henry’s new choir and was not rebuilt until 100 years later in the 14th century. This portion was not actually finished until the early 16th century but was successful in maintaining the same style and principles of Henry III’s church of the 13th century.50 Another aspect to the church that is truly important to mention is the emergence of mullions and bar tracery present along the frames of the windows. Overall, Henry III’s patronage of the almost complete rebuilding of the church reformed the design of churches in England as we see the transition from a simplistic architecture like that of Salisbury Cathedral to the more complex and intricate styling of Westminster Abbey.51
Henry V’s Chantry Chapel
“O England! Model to thy inward greatness, Like little body with a mighty heart, What might’st thou do, that honour would thee do, Were all thy children kind and natural! But see thy fault!”
Over the span of 150 years, the transition of power from Henry III to Henry
IV did not benefit Westminster very much. Within this time period, the Great Pestilence had entered into the Westminster community 1348. Twenty-six monks lost
their lives to the Great Plague which held up the completion of the nave.53 While Henry III was the royal patron in charge of funding what is most of the church today, Henry IV decided to do nothing. Instead of finishing the nave at Westminster, he retired all efforts to complete the Abbey and hired men to work on Canterbury Cathedral, ironically to finish Canterbury’s nave. But the story goes that in 1413, Henry IV went to pray at St. Edward’s Shrine at the Abbey, after being sick and rumoured to have a case of leprosy, when he had a stroke right there on the spot. The monks went mad in panic and carried the king to the Jerusalem Chamber within the Abbot’s private lodgings. In there they told the king that he was “in Jerusalem” in which he responded that he was told he would die in the Holy Land and then passed away in front of the fireplace a happy man. After this event, the Prince of Wales hurried to London where he was soon crowned King of England, Henry V. This particular scene of rush is more well known through William Shakespeare’s play Henry IV where the Prince had placed the crown on his head while his father lay motionless on the floor.54 After the death of his father, Henry V immediately commissioned the nave of Westminster Abbey to be completed. Some think he hurriedly rejuvenated the project straight away because he was afraid of neglecting St. Edward like his father did, with the result of death, while others might think he was maybe praising the church for getting rid of his father. Located to the east end of Edward the Confessor’s Shrine, the Chantry Chapel of Henry V was completed in 1431 during the reign of Henry VI.
Progress halted due to the death of the king. The funeral was quite a sight to see; his coffin transported by a funeral chariot pulled by horses, three charged knights, and a parade of mourners proceeded up the incomplete nave of Westminster Abbey. In his will, which he wrote in 1413, he not only declared where he wanted his tomb to be placed, he also stated his plans for the Chantry Chapel. There are two spiral staircases, lined with sculptured figures and designs, leading to the ambulatory of this chapel (Image X) with the ambulatory conveniently operating like a bridge, similar to Sainte Chapelle in Paris.55 The whole chapel is adorned in décor, either through sculpture or pictures, especially emphasizing Henry V’s badges: Swan, Beacon, and Antelope.56 The walls contain some shelving that was intended to house relics. All of this architecture and décor was orchestrated by the master mason John Thirske who was in charge of rebuilding the nave, which was finally completed around 1450. Various relieves around the Chantry depict specifically Henry V’s coronation along with his military ventures throughout his lifetime. The workmanship and quality of the sculpture in the Chantry Chapel were not up to the caliber present among the works in Henry VII’s Chapel, but it was certainly current of its time through its particular angular carvings, which later appeared in Flanders and Germany.57 Also during this time, Thirske was in charge of building a stone screen, depicting scenes from Edward the Confessor’s lifetime, to place behind the High Altar. Not finished until 1441, it changed the image of the eastern end of Henry III’s church. There was
a circle of royal tombs that the screen cut across while also concealing the Shrine from the Choir.58
Chapel of Henry VII
“The very walls are wrought into universal ornament, encrusted with tracery, and scooped into niches, crowded with the statues of saints and martyrs. Stone seems, by the cunning labour of the chisel, to have been robbed by its weight and density, suspended aloft, as if by magic, and the fretted roof achieved with the wonderful minuteness and airy security of a cobweb.” -Washington Irving59
Starting in 1503, the rebuilding of the Lady Chapel under Henry VII
commenced and was not completed until 1512, during the reign of Henry VIII. While Henry VII had intended to renovate the chapel to be the burial place of his predecessor, his son completed it to be the burial chapel of his father. The work accomplished on Westminster Abbey at this time is considered to be cosmopolitan because of the participation of various nations outside of England. The stained glass and sculptors were commissioned from the Netherlands, a German man was drafted to complete a screen around a royal tomb, and workmen from Italy who worked to build and sculpt this phase.60 The architecture that was accomplished during this time frame was considered to be the miraculum orbis by contemporaries.61 In regards to style, the Chapel of Henry VII contrasts and compliments the 13th century version of Westminster. This part of the church had actually worked to
showcase the specific style called English Perpendicular. It had a polygonal apse and five radiating chapels that clearly echoed the main structure while also containing a nave with aisles and a west rose window. Referring to the stained glass of the chapel, the windows were magnificent examples of stained glass art. Because Westminster is a Gothic style church, in which the concept of light represents God’s love, the Abbey had an abundant amount of stained glass windows.62 Unfortunately today, most of the windows are now clear but still fill the church with God’s love. During the civil war of the mid 17th century, Puritan iconoclasts broke the beautiful and vibrant windows by throwing rocks and shattering the stained glass images, which is why a lot of the windows are clear at Westminster Abbey. 63 Considered to be a stupendous spectacle, the ceiling, from the architect William Vertue, creates an interesting and unique perspective as it successfully combines a fan vault and a pendant vault. (Image XI) This roof is thought to be a structure of illusion, working to fool the observer. Jenkyns proposes a most intriguing analogy of the ceiling resembling a fairy cave in his Westminster Abbey. Within the roof of the Henry VII’s Chapel, the fans present in the apsidal east end flower to create the illusion of a ring of circles interconnected amongst themselves while pendants suspended from the circles hang below almost like a sea creature of some sort. These pendants, which are actually known to be monoliths, serve as the illusion of stalactites while the ceiling above has almost a mystical pattern, almost resonant of a Celtic motif, with the circular pattern. The ceiling contains a vault that consisted of molded
rock rather than the usual method of vaulting that is normally ribbed and comprised of infill. Because of this difficult technique utilized in the vaulting, it allows the architect and his team to work on the details resembling “coralline encrustation.” 64 According to Henry VII’s will, he made a request for the prayers of ten thousand masses to call upon God for the salvation of his soul. The number was ten thousand in honour of this list: the Trinity, the Five Wounds of Christ, the Five Joys of the Virgin, the Nine Orders of Angels, the Patriarchs, the Twelve Apostles, and for All Saints. 65 What is interesting about this concept is that his wish is actually reflected within the church in an iconographical sense, primarily through the statues. A key aspect about the statues of this time that needs to be mentioned is that there were almost a hundred present in this phase of the church building and they all reflected one thing; the Gothic belief of Realism. This was demonstrated through the statues expressions, clothing, accessories, and even to the deep carving of their draperies, again accentuating the Gothic notion of the emphasis of light versus shade. By 1745, Henry VII’s Chapel became the Chapel of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.66 The chapel came to represent the memorial of Henry VII who lies beside his wife, Elizabeth of York (Image XII). In regards to the most monumental effigies within the Abbey, both tombs, especially the tomb of Lady Margaret Beaufort, created by Pietro Torrigiano, lie within their own shrine. But as the editors Weidenfeld and Nicolson state, “The tomb itself bespeaks the close of the mediaeval world, the foreshadowing of another; for where the idiom of the Chapel is Gothic, vernacular
English Perpendicular, the tomb is Renaissance.”67 Henceforth, the Abbey continues to live on into another era, an era of rebirth.
“And what the dead had no speech for, when living, They can tell you, being dead: the communication Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.”
-T. S. Eliot68
Over a span of roughly 500 years, Westminster has grown and developed a
history that no other church can boast. Being the coronation site for the English monarchy, starting with William the Confessor to present, and the royal burial site of seventeen monarchs, ranging from Edward the Confessor and Edith to George II and Caroline, the church has attained the reputation of being synonymous with royalty, prestige, and honour. But let us not forget that there are other critical individuals to England’s history present at the Abbey. Irony lies within the cathedral because Chaucer, one of the most famous medieval authors of English history, was not buried in Westminster Abbey for his literary accomplishments but instead because he served as a civil servant. He was later moved to the Poet’s Corner, which became established when he was buried alongside Edmund Spenser in 1599. Some other prominent individuals in the literary world whose remains join the father of English literature are Charles Dickens, Tennyson, Robert Browning, and Rudyard Kipling.69 Each of these
notable members contributed to the decadent history of England not only their knowledge but also their souls. Every square inch of this building is filled with the history and pride of the British people. In a way, it represents the courage and fortitude these people have demonstrated throughout history. To paraphrase Shakespeare, all the world is a stage, and all the men merely players. The cast consists of workers and kings, molding stone, raising money, consolidating power, and ultimately constructing a stage to stand long after they are gone. A phrase or a lifetime is but a moment’s movement of the heart, but this structure represents an eternity. Men must have monuments to form the center of their world to say that their history has meaning, and this is evidence of that truth. From Edward the Confessor to St. Peter’s ears, welcome to Westminster Abbey.
Angela Partington, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 4th ed., (New York: Oxford University Press Inc, 1992), 273. 2 Partington, 41. 3 Emma Mason, Westminster Abbey and Its People c. 1050-c. 1216, (Danbury: Boydell & Brewer, Inc., 1996), 1-3. 4 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, eds., Westminster Abbey, (Radnor, PA.: The Annenberg School of Communications, 1972), 39. 5 Mason, 2-4. 6 Lawrence E. Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, (London: First Impression, 1953), 9. 7 Partington, 60. 8 Benjamin Hudson, “Edward the Confessor” (weekly lecture, Medieval Britain, University Park, PA, October 21, 2008). 9 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 39. 10 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 40. 11 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 10. 12 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 9. 13 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 9. 14 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 10-11. 15 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 12-14. 16 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 47. 17 Benjamin Hudson, “Norman Beginnings” (Twice-weekly lecture, Medieval Britain, University Park, PA, October 23, 2008). 18 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 40. 19 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 40. 20 Bergen Evans, Dictionary of Quotations, ( New York: Delacorte Press, 1968), 32. 21 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 45. 22 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 45-46. 23 Lawrence E.Tanner, Unknown Westminster Abbey, (Melbourne: Penguin Books, 1948), 5-7. 24 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 47. 25 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 28-34. 26 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 199. 27 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 198-199. 28 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 47. 29 Benjamin Hudson, “Edward I” (Twice-weekly lecture, Medieval Britain, University Park, PA, November 20, 2008). 30 Tanner, Unknown Westminster Abbey, 6-9. 31 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 19-20. 32 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 20-22.
Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 20. Robert Branner, Gothic Architecture, (New York: George Brailler, Inc., 1967), 34. 35 Tanner, Unknown Westminster Abbey, 9. 36 Richard Jenkyns, Westminster Abbey, (New York : Harvard University Press, 2005), 23-24. 37 Tanner, Unknown Westminster Abbey, 10-11. 38 Tanner, Unknown Westminster Abbey, 11-12. 39 Tanner, Unknown Westminster Abbey, 11-14. 40 Tanner, Unknown Westminster Abbey, 14-16. 41 Tanner, Unknown Westminster Abbey, 17-20. 42 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 22. 43 Tanner, Unknown Westminster Abbey, 9-11. 44 Tanner ,Unknown Westminster Abbey, 11-12. 45 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 169, 293. 46 Tanner ,History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 23, 29-30. 47 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 46. 48 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 23, 30-32. 49 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 25, 32. 50 Jenkyns, 47. 51 Branner, 34. 52 Partington, 585. 53 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 47. 54 Edward Carpenter, A House of Kings, (New York: The John Day Company, 1966), 412. 55 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 195. 56 Tanner, Unknown Westminster Abbey, 26-27. 57 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 195. 58 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 50-52. 59 Jenkyns, 50-51. 60 Jenkyns, 48-53. 61 Jenkyns, 3. 62 Benjamin Hudson, “Art and Architecture of Middle Ages” (Twice-weekly lecture, Medieval Britain, April 8, 2008). 63 Jenkyns, 53. 64 Jenkyns, 51-52. 65 Weidenfeld and Nicolson ,195. 66 Tanner , History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 88. 67 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 70. 68 Partington, 271. 68 Tanner, History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey, 66-67.
Bibliography Branner, Robert. Gothic Architecture. New York: George Brailler, Inc., 1967. Carpenter, Edward. A House of Kings. New York: The John Day Company, 1966. Evans, Bergen. Dictionary of Quotations. New York: Delacorte Press, 1968. Hudson, Benjamin. "Art and Architecture of Middle Ages." MEDVL 108. Wartik Lab, University Park. 8 Apr. 2008. -------. "Edward I." Medieval Britain. Fenske Lab, University Park. November 20, 2008. -------. "Edward the Confessor." Medieval Britain. Fenske Lab, University Park. October 21, 2008.
-------. "Norman Beginnings." Medieval Britain. Fenske Lab, University Park. October 23, 2008. Jenkyns, Richard. Westminster Abbey. New York: Harvard UP, 2005. Mason, Emma. Westminster Abbey and Its People c. 1050-c. 1216. Danbury: Boydell & Brewer, Inc., 1996. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Angela Partington, ed., 4th ed., New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1992. Tanner, Lawrence E. The History and Treasures of Westminster Abbey. London: First Impression, 1953. ------. Unknown Westminster Abbey. Melbourne: Penguin Books, 1948. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, eds. Westminster Abbey. Radnor, PA: The Annenberg School, 1972.
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