Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Medieval Tour of Higham Ferrers

  Taking a brief diversion from tombs for a moment, my photograph sorting has brought up another little tour of a small but fascinating medieval place, Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire. There is a reason why we spent a few days there. It is a short drive from Heathrow airport. In 1998 it was the first time we had not had family to pick us up and cart us off immediately to Yorkshire. We were hiring a car, so I checked the map for the most interesting little place within a short and uncomplicated drive from the airport, but heading in the general direction of where we were going. Slight technical difficulty was that although it is a historic little town, it had no tourist bureau and no budget accommodation. Hey, in Yorkshire you can find a B & B in every village. Drove round in circles until we found some friendly digs just over the border in Bedfordshire.
  So here is a little Flickr tour of medieval Higham Ferrers, mediated by jet lag and the unfortunate discovery of a jiggered camera lens in the days of film, not digital imagery. (You only found out a couple of weeks later.) We retraced some steps later.



  It is to be fitted into the great Leland project, but he didn't have a lot to say about it. Our later travelling companions, Daniel Defoe and Celia Fiennes, don't seem to have gone there at all. Perhaps it has always been a little overlooked, at least since the Dukes of Lancaster departed.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 6

  This episode of the medieval tombs series will look at the effigy tombs of clerics. Those of the highest ranking churchmen are some of the earliest to be found, and show right from the start some of the distinctive iconographic conventions of effigial tombs.



  This effigy of Abbot Benedict of Peterborough (d.1193) was illustrated in the first blog posting of this series. The figure is somewhat low relief, but that may be a function of the thickness of the slab of Purbeck marble from which he was sculpted. He represents certain conventions that were already in place and persisted with clerical effigies. He wears his mass vestments accurately detailed. The precision of depiction of vestments, whether mass or processional, is as meticulous as the depiction of the latest fashions in armour on knightly tombs. Various grades of clergy had their symbols of status as well as priestly office. He is not wearing a mitre, as abbots were usually portrayed later, but he carries his crosier, which is broken. He is trampling a dragon or serpent and choking it with the end of his crosier.



  The Purbeck marble tomb of Bishop Hugh de Northwold, early 13th century, in Ely Cathedral has certain features which became more common in alabaster tombs of the late 14th and 15th centuries, small figures of weepers under canopies flanking the effigy. The architectural canopy is highly ornate and contains much foliate ornament. Does it need to be pointed out that he is lying down in what ought to be a vertical arrangement? If you have read the previous blog postings on this subject, you will have noted that already. The actual effigy is a bit the worse for wear, but the tomb has one unusual feature.



  At his feet is a sculpted scene of the martyrdom of St Edmund, along with a couple of wild looking beasties at the side. These tombs had some experimental features, but like those of other orders of society, clerical tombs became quite stereotyped, even at the higher orders. Neither of these tombs, or the other early ecclesiastical tombs in these cathedrals, appear to be in an original setting. The effigies are set out on plain plinths as a homage to the ancient history of the institutions.



  There is no reason to believe that the stark and simple aesthetic in which these tombs are currently presented represents their original state. The very battered 13th century Purbeck marble effigy of a bishop in Carlisle Cathedral has indents carved in his mitre for the insertion of jewels (or imitations thereof) and it can be presumed that the effect would have been rich and colourful.



  The significata of priestly function were also significata of rank within the church. Pope Urban V wears his triple deckered papal tiara where he lies, broken and decontexted, in the Petit Palais museum in Avignon, France.


   
  Brasses were also employed for high ranking prestigious tombs of the clergy. This is a rubbing from the tomb of Robert de Waldeby (1397) in Westminster Abbey. It sits on a table tomb in the chapel of St Edmund amongst the glorious jumble of royal, noble and generally high ranking tombs in the eastern end of the building. While he is lying on his back in reality, he is depicted as if standing and his hand is raised in benediction. He is still engaged in doing his job, even at this late stage of his departure from this life. His cross and various vestments are depicted meticulously, including those particular to his rank as archbishop. The monument is huge, about 3 metres long, so it is a grand memorial to an important man.



  Incised slabs could also form the monuments for important clergy, as in this one to Abbot Barwick of Selby who died in 1526, fairly late in the era for English abbots. It is quite hard to make out and it seems reasonable to assume it may have had something in the incised lines to make them stand out. Incised slabs are more readily damaged over time and it can be seen that this one has been cracked right across. It also has no other tomb setting but is set into the floor beside a couple of other slabs in even worse condition. It most likely only survives at all because Selby Abbey church was converted into a parish church at the Reformation and thereby saved from destruction. The demolition or damage to so many abbey churches has resulted in smaller rates of survival of monastic effigies, but as with the monarchs discussed in the previous blog, it seems that not many tombs or effigies were rescued and relocated. Some were, but it seems the majority were not. Was it fear of reprisal by nasty Henry on any families that tried such tricks, or had they essentially served their purpose by that time? Hold that thought along with all the others we are filing as we go along through this series.



  This abbot shaped puddle in the ruins of Byland Abbey in Yorkshire is perhaps the most stark reminder possible of what has been lost. It is the indent of a brass to a former abbot. These remote Cistercian sites have more extensive ruins than most monastic complexes (Yes, that's another BIG photography project in the offing.), but tomb remains are sparse.



    The tomb of Rahere in the remains of the Augustinian priory church of St Bartholomew in Smithfield, London seems to be a slightly different concept of commemoration. He was the founding prior in 1123 and evidently died in 1144, but this tomb appears to be much later, at least 13th, maybe early 14th century. As with the preservation of the tombs of the early bishops and abbots of Ely and Peterborough, the tomb has a strong historical association. The prior is shown in plain ecclesiastical attire, but the tomb has all the indicators of purgatory and liminality, as well as a heraldic display.



  His hands are praying. An angel with a heraldic shield stands at his feet ready to help him on his way and two little monks kneel with enormous books beside him, encouraging the onlookers to pray. This tomb survived the partial destruction of the church at the Reformation, not to mention the wartime disasters of the 20th century, although from the modern paintwork it has clearly been restored. Nevertheless, from the date of its construction it must have been conceived as a long term memorial.
  As with lay memorials, the use of effigial tombs travelled down the social scale, so that even ordinary parish priests had tomb monuments. Brasses, sometimes of very small size or even small half effigies, were popular for priestly monuments. Possibly for priests from modest families these may have been funded by the congregation. Who knows?



  This small effigy of a priest in the tiny village of Beeford in East Yorkshire is an example of the modest priestly brass. He is not wearing his mass vestments but a fancy embroidered cope.



  In the simplest form, the priest could be represented by his emblem of office, the chalice. The above shows a rubbing of a chalice brass with inscription to Peter Johnson, vicar of Bishop Burton in East Yorkshire. The chalice symbol appears on incised slabs with a cross, and full sized priestly effigies are also found holding them. In fact, the actual chalice seems to represent the only form of grave goods regularly encountered in medieval Christian burials, of priests of course: chalices, patens, bishops' rings, croziers. Make of that what you will.


  Fancy and elegant tombs do appear for ordinary parish priests, sometimes in modest little places. The above example, which also has the advantage of a surviving inscription, is in the church of Blyborough in Lincolnshire. Presumably wealthy families whose members had joined the clergy funded these as they did for the knightly tombs of their lay family members. This tomb has the standard motifs of angels (decapitated) by the pillow and praying hands (with fingers broken off), as well as the symbols of status in some conspicuous heraldry. His feet rest on a beastie, as do those of a knight.
  Conceptually, the tombs of the priestly caste are the same as those of the laity; the symbolism of purgatory and liminality, the significata of status and some intriguing anomalies in their preservation and display. 
  The next exciting episode will look at the tombs of those who were not of the knightly or clerical classes, and how they expressed their values.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 5

  In this ongoing and possibly endless series on medieval tombs we are now going to look at tombs at the very top of the social tree, those of royalty, and consider how the tombs relate to the funerary process. The tombs of reigning monarchs, their consorts, close relatives and major magnates of the realm were the artistic trendsetters and also the most individualised, both in terms of their construction and aesthetic qualities and their representation of the dead. While the tombs of lesser aristocratic folks were generic representations of significata of status, the tombs of the kings and queens could provide personal portraits of the dead.
  The first time I visited the royal tombs in Westminster Abbey the effect was overwhelming. First there was the fact that all those people known only from textbooks were represented right in front of me. I was from Australia, where kings and castles are rare. The second notable observation was that these tombs of the most mighty in the nation were jammed together in a most incredible jumble, with elaborate and glamorous structures cutting across each other, built over each other and piled in with increasingly competitive splendour until Henry VII trumped everyone with a gigantic wedding cake decorated chapel. Furthermore some tombs were damaged, some pillaged and some evidently unfinished. Some recent investigations suggest that there may be more tomb chambers in inaccessible places under the floor. See here.



  This picture of the south ambulatory gives a hint of the impression. Many of the pictures in this post come from old books, as I have never been in Westminster Abbey at a time when I was allowed, or had the right gear, to photograph the tombs. The above is from L.E. Tanner 1948 Unknown Westminster Abbey, Harmondsworth. (Strange to tell in 1973 they did let me rub two brasses, originals in situ, which was a unique experience. I have never had to explain brass rubbing to successive waves of busloads of tourists anywhere else. They were not royal brasses.)
  Medieval high status funerals were sumptuous and lengthy affairs. The body was washed and prepared and laid out, then left for some days in a room lit by candles, continuously watched while prayers were said for the soul. This is an intriguing mixture of practicalities (No ECGs then to ensure that the corpse was definitively dead), primitive cross-cultural fear of the newly departed (They get up to stuff if you don't watch them carefully), Christian piety (Let's get the purgatory winch winding with prayers) and more practicalities (Lots of ceremonial to organise). The body was treated with various oils and concoctions to help it last through the festivities. If the departed had died a long way from where they were to be buried, the heart and/or bowels might be removed for burial in one place, while the rest was transported to the final resting place. Medieval folks were not overly delicate about moving around the remains, or bits thereof, of the dead, as evinced by the translation of saints' relics. This is all part of death as a process, not an event. The departed was definitely in a liminal state during these activities.
  The funeral activities themselves comprised processions through the streets, feasting, including giving doles to the poor, as well as the funeral mass itself. The deceased might be placed in a temporary tomb while the grand and final one was was constructed, if it hadn't been done already in anticipation. In the early days the body of a monarch was supposedly carried through the streets on top of a coffin or stage where it could be seen by the masses, but, I suspect for highly practical reasons, this became replaced with the display of a funerary effigy wearing the ceremonial clothes of the deceased. Some of these temporary effigies survive in the Westminster Abbey museum. The practice survived the Reformation, changing its reference to earthly glory rather than as one of the many reminders to pray for the soul in purgatory.



  The tomb of the earliest king of all England in Westminster Abbey is that of Edward the Confessor, but it is not contemporary with his death. It is a high medieval shrine set up by King Henry III in honour of the founder of the abbey and, by then, saint. As a saint's shrine it was pulled down at the reformation, then later partly rebuilt, slightly wrong. It is adorned with Italian Cosmati work stone mosaic, as is the pavement around it and Henry III's tomb itself. It tells us nothing about pre-Conquest funerary commemoration. The above illustration is from the Complete Guide to Westminster Abbey of 1895.
  The tomb of William the Conqueror was in the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, an institution of his foundation, in Caen, Normandy. It was despoiled during the wars of religion in the 16th century.



  His son and successor, William II, aka William Rufus, was buried in Winchester Cathedral. His tomb, as shown above, is this simple chest, and no matter what ornamental work may have been lost from the body of the chest, it evidently carried no effigy. His brother and successor Henry I was buried in Reading Abbey and his tomb was destroyed along with the abbey in the general vandalism of the 16th century. I am intrigued that, even after the religious upheavals of the age, that nobody reburied, translated the remains of, or even newly commemorated a monarch of the realm. There is an effigy of a crosslegged knight in Gloucester cathedral attributed to the rumbunctious big brother of these two kings, Robert Duke of Normandy (d.1134), but the effigy is believed to date to the mid 13th century and it has also been subjected to a pretty drastic modern restoration.

  The remains of King Stephen were interred in Faversham Abbey, Kent, which he founded. The tombs of himself and wife Matilda were destroyed along with the abbey by Henry VIII's henchmen. When the church was excavated in 1964, their tombs were found to be empty. The unfortunate Empress Matilda was buried in the abbey church at Bec in Normandy, but no medieval tomb remains for her, although her remains are now in Rouen cathedral. Being royalty did not guarantee commemoration for eternity.



  The tombs in Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France of Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitane, their son Richard I and Isabella, the wife of King John represent the first tradition of English royal effigy tombs. The above is an old engraving of the tomb of Henry II, but if you google "Fontevraud tomb effigies" and go to the images you will see dozens of pictures. There are a few things to note. The effigies are not in situ, and in fact are only a fraction of what was known to have originally been there. They sit in stark emptiness in a restored church with none of their medieval context. There is still some colouring on the figures. They are all definitely lying down on a bier with their heads on pillows, the postures gently reposeful. Their eyes are closed. The effigy of Eleanor of Aquitane holds a book, but that is a later restoration and it is not clear if it is entirely accurate. Old drawings show her without hands. They do not show the enigmatic features of later tombs, but appear to be quietly dead. They do not have any strong individualising physical features.



  Richard I was doubly commemorated, as his heart was removed and buried in the cathedral of Rouen in Normandy. The full sized effigy has more of the enigmatic features of later tombs. His eyes are open and his drapery hangs down straight as if he is vertical, but he lies with his head on a pillow and his feet on some kind of supporter. He wears his crown and carries his sceptre as emblems of his office. What his original tomb arrangement was is not apparent.



  The early 13th century tomb of King John in Worcester Cathedral, as shown in an earlier blog posting, has many features which are prototypical for later high status tombs. The base is a large table tomb adorned with architectural motifs and heraldic shields in quatrefoils. The full sized effigy is of dark marble which has held its detail over the centuries, not requiring a coat of gesso to impress the fiddly details; a high status materials touch. His feet rest on a very dynamic lion. He has two bishops by his head, one swinging a censer, which would be very difficult to do in a horizontal position. Angels were more common in later tombs, but I guess they served the same purpose. He is lying down, yet his eyes are open and he has a hand on his sword. Whether he originally had any other architectural arrangements is not apparent. Leland indicated that the tomb had been newly renovated at the time of his travels in the early 16th century, so he fared better than some monarchs.



  As mentioned earlier, Henry III carried out major works in Westminster Abbey, rebuilding the entire church in Gothic style, building the shrine of Edward the Confessor, laying down the Cosmati work pavement which few people now get to see, and constructing his own tomb in the manner of a grand shrine with mosaic work of foreign manufacture. Henry III was highly competitive in the arts and piety arena, especially with his counterpart Louis IX of France, who incidentally gave him an elephant. That stretched his ingenuity. Louis IX built the Saint Chapelle to house his holy relic of the crown of thorns. Henry III glammed up Westminster Abbey for his English saint, then saw Louis with some blood of Jesus and raised him with the footprints from the Ascension. His own effigy is goldsmith's work on a grand scale, a bronze silver gilt effigy. While lavish, it is a standard high Gothic king with curly hair, a crown and somewhat effete hand gestures: a symbol of 13th century kingship, not a picture of an individual. Note that his hands are raised. He's not really dead yet. His heart was sent to Fontevraud to be with the family. The photograph above is from F.H. Crossley 1921 English Church Monuments AD.1150-1550, London.
  Now if it seems that royal funerary commemoration was getting a little competitive, what happened next got it quite out of hand. When Eleanor of Castile, the beloved wife of Edward I, died in 1290, the grieving widower set up a chain of memorials such as had never been seen. She died in Harby, Nottinghamshire. Her bowels were buried in a lavish tomb in Lincoln cathedral with a silver-gilt effigy which has since succumbed to later forces of violence. A procession then took what was left of her to London, and at every stop along the way a memorial cross was built. She was then deposited in a grand and decorative tomb in Westminster Abbey which bore an identical effigy to the one in Lincoln. Her heart was to be entombed in the Blackfriars' church in London.



  The effigy on her tomb depicts a beautiful young woman with flowing hair, lifelike hand gestures and a swaying posture like an early 14th century Madonna; idealised but individualised. She was, in fact, no young thing and had had a tribe of children. Her crowned head lies on a pillow and her lions sit at her feet, as if she is horizontal, but her head is under an architectural canopy and her drapery suggests verticality. Enough said. we've been here before. This picture is from E. Blore, 1826 The Monumental Remains of Noble and Eminent Persons, London.




  Only three of the original twelve Eleanor crosses survive. At left above is that in the small village of Geddington, Northampton. At right above is the cross at Hardingstone, near Northampton. Located in what was once a no doubt peaceful spot beside Delapre Abbey, it is now trapped between a golf course, an arterial road and the most horrendous roundabout in Britain. I nearly died getting this picture. Not shown is the one at Waltham Cross, but the battered lump on the left is a bit of carved masonry from the destroyed cross at Lincoln. A replica of the Charing Cross in London was made in the 19th century, the original having been pulled down in the 17th century. I have wondered what the good folks had against these beautiful memorials, but perhaps they did smack of popishness and proto-sainthood.




  With all this grandeur and lavishness, it is strange that the tomb of the mighty Edward I, which resides in Westminster Abbey, is an entirely plain tomb chest with no effigy and a simple, and much later, inscription. Perhaps the family felt that the old man had spent enough of the family budget on funerary commemoration already.



  Edward  II was brutally murdered in 1327 (or perhaps not, but that was the story), but that didn't stop them from fitting him up with an extravagant tomb in Gloucester Abbey. The elaborate openwork Gothic canopy is very impressive. The effigy is a very early example of the use of alabaster, a stone found in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire with qualities that made it eminently suitable for the purpose; attractive, shiny, translucent and easily carved in intricate details. Certain details on this tomb became standard on alabaster effigies of lesser mortals in the later 14th and 15th centuries; the lion at the feet gazing at the effigy, the upward looking angels by the pillow. The tomb has survived despite being in an abbey, as the abbey church was redeployed as a cathedral after the Reformation, suggesting that perhaps tombs were not specifically targetted for destruction. But if the building they were in was destroyed, nobody bothered to replace them.





The effigies of Edward III (d.1377) and his queen Philippa of Hainault (d.1369) in Westminster Abbey add a new element to effigial representation, unflattering realism. The tombs themselves are mighty and magnificent with canopies for weepers around the effigies and also on the sides of the chest, large canopies with heraldry and all the competitive grandeur of the 14th century. The effigy of Edward is gilt bronze, while that of Philippa is of alabaster. 








  In an earlier posting I indicated that bronze tombs were not really an English thing. The small selection of royal tombs in this material represent very high prestige and expensive monuments from the very top of the social tree.
  The depiction of Edward III is not the idealised Gothic king symbol, but an old man with a weary face and a long beard. The effigy that was carried in his funerary procession is preserved in the abbey museum, and has a slightly lopsided mouth, as if it was taken from a death mask after he died of a stroke. Phillippa, likewise, is depicted as a plump older woman, not an idealised queen symbol. This personalised depiction was not, on the whole, passed down even to the higher levels of aristocratic funerary depiction. The images come from E. Blore 1826 The Monumental Remains of Noble and Eminent Persons, London.



These two figures are weepers from the tomb chest of Edward III depicting two of his children; on the left Edward Prince of Wales and on the right Joan of Carlisle. The pictures come from F.H. Crossley 1921 English church Monuments AD 1150-1550, London. Such depictions of weepers became very common on later 14th and 15th century tombs. Sometimes they represented saints, sometimes the children of the departed, always shown as smaller in size than the main effigies, whatever the medium.








  A fascinating thing about these lavish tombs is the condition they got into. Many of the weeper figures on the tombs are missing, and these are figures of their children, not the saints which might have offended the reformers. The side of the tomb and canopy of Queen Philippa's tomb were also damaged, and her hand holding a sceptre has been broken off. Some of this damage occurred when the lavish tomb and chantry of Henry V was added in not so many reigns later, in order to fit it in. Later monarchs were not so respectful of their predecessors, but fear not, Henry V got his as well.


  Edward, Prince of Wales, known as the Black Prince, predeceased his father, dying in 1376. Famous as a warrior, his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral has all the trappings of the high status military tomb. The gilt bronze effigy sits on a table tomb adorned with heraldic shields. He wears the latest and toughest armour; his short surcoat or jupon bears his coat of arms and his head rests on a helm with a mighty crest. His feet rest on a rather strange animal. Above the tomb hang his achievements; a tunic, helmet, gauntlets and shield, which are still there, or at least were when I last looked. His is the very prototype for knightly effigies of the late 14th and 15th centuries. Whether this is just a generic type of the bold, knightly tomb, or whether every knight after that wanted to be depicted as the Black Prince, I leave you to decide for yourself. Furthermore, his tomb has not been kicked and battered like those in Westminster Abbey. It helps to have a large part of a grand cathedral to yourself.









  The effigies of Richard II (d.1400) and his queen Anne of Bohemia (d.1394) continue in similar royal tradition: grand tomb arrangements, expensive gilt bronze effigies which appear to have elements of portraiture about them, heraldic type symbolism engraved all over their clothing. They are also damaged as the arms are missing. Originally they were holding hands. I'm not sure who could have objected to that. The foot supporters and jewels from the queen's dress have also disappeared. The head of Anne of Bohemia's funeral effigy survives, but many of her bones were evidently extracted over the centuries through a hole in the tomb. The tomb was built in Richard's lifetime after the death of the queen, but his body was not put into it until 1413 at the order of Henry V, due to some unpleasant circumstances of his death. "Let us sit down upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings ..."



  Having usurped the throne from Richard II, Henry IV had the common decency to get himself buried somewhere else, in Canterbury Cathedral. The tomb is the usual, by now, grand arrangement. The effigies of himself (d.1412) and his queen Joan of Navarre (d.1437) are very finely made of alabaster, retaining sufficient colouring to indicate that they were once quite gaudy and gay. The king is portrayed as a fat, grumpy old bloke; not at all the idealised image of kingship or warriordom. The crowns get bigger. The sceptres and hands have disappeared, as in other royal tombs. What's with this? Were they actually made of valuable materials? Presumably Queen Joan had twenty years or so looking at her own mortuary effigy in the Cathedral before she actually died. That would be strange, but I guess it gave her a head start on purgatory. Her effigy may display all the traits of liminality, but she was well away from the threshold.



  Now some of the threads we have been following come together. Henry V (d.1422), battle hero, patriot king of England and all that jazz, was commemorated in Westminster Abbey with a huge, elaborate and lavish chantry chapel. There is no greater symbol of the necessity to pray for the rescue of the soul of the dead from purgatory. As mentioned earlier, the building of this structure cut into earlier royal tombs and caused elements to be removed. It is located close to the shrine of Edward the Confessor, and practically overtowers it. The competitive grandeur of royal tombs is getting a bit out of hand.
  However, I cannot show you an interesting old photograph of his effigy, because all that remained on the top of his tomb until relatively recently was a somewhat shapeless lump of wood. The effigy originally had a silver head and sceptre, while silver gilt plates covered the body. These were stolen in 1546. It was a great era for church despoliation, but this can only be considered pillage for gain, not religious indignation. The chantry, actual symbol of unapproved religious practice, remained. No prizes for pointing out that the destruction of religious property was about re-appropriating resources from the church to the crown, but reducing the monument to the hero king of England to a hunk of timber seems a bit extreme. In 1971 he was given a new crowned head and hands made of polyester resin to make him look a little less pathetic.
  Are we seeing a story here? In the crowded jumble of decayed magnificence which is the area of the royal tombs in Westminster Abbey there is a cycle of construction, partial destruction of other monuments in the process, and destruction or neglect. Each memorial represents a process of ceremonial which takes place over several time cycles. The funeral festivities themselves were public events of some splendour which took place over the shortest cycle, although that could be extended if the person had died at a distance from the burial place. The construction of the tomb and translation of the remains involved a longer cycle. Through all this process the deceased is in a state of liminality and requires the prayers of all to assist them through the process of purgatory. The decay and destruction of these monuments cannot simply be ascribed to an event called the Reformation. It is not clear just how long they were expected to survive. The building of these memorials was highly competitive, but showed no enormous respect for the works of predecessors.
  This is not the end of the story of royal burials, but it gives us the picture. Henry VI, Edward IV and Henry VIII are tucked away in St George's Chapel in Windsor castle. Richard III, as we know, was buried under a car park. That is to say, he was buried in the Dominican Friary at Leicester which was totally destroyed at the Reformation and they eventually built a carpark on top of him. His remains had evidently not been thrown in the river as rumour suggested. The huge decorative and pompous chapel of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey contains a grand Renaissance style tomb behind an intricate metal screen. The gilt bronze effigies on the tomb have their eyes open and their hands praying. Purgatory was still there. They were still in a state of medieval liminality. The grand Tudor tombs which later occupied Henry VII's chapel represent a changed form of commemoration; one of their earthly glory forever.
  So looking at the tombs of the elite of the elite, those who were buried in institutions that were destroyed tended to have their tombs lost forever. There seems to have been no attempt to destroy these royal tombs on religious grounds, although some were pillaged and damaged. Some were damaged by competition from the more recently deceased. The best chances for permanent commemoration were in buildings which survived the Reformation with a religious function intact, but where there was not so much competition.
  In later centuries, tombs changed their meaning. But how long was forever?

  Numerous factual details have been gleaned from the Westminster Abbey website, where there are also numerous modern photographs, if you can navigate your way around. There are also many images of the royal tombs online if you look for them, but it can be hard to get the total impression of these things just from an image. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 4

  Now I said in the last tomb posting that I would go into the social structure of tombs and funerary commemoration, but I realised that there is one particular kind of tomb that has to be investigated first. This is the problem with saving a project for thirty years before starting to write it up. You know what all the bits are and try to say everything at once. This is a work in progress.
  I have been making heavy duty points on the subject of liminality; the idea that the dead are commemorated at the threshold between life and death, and much of the purpose of that visible commemoration was to encourage people to pray for the souls of the departed to give them a boost out of purgatory. Depictions of the dead with enigmatic poses and symbolism coincide with the propagation of the doctrine of purgatory, which, of course, all turned to custard at the Reformation as puritanical minded people thought that folks were trying to cheat on the system. Everything breaks eventually.
  There is one type of tomb which takes the representation of liminality to its limit. This one.



  I discovered this in a hidden corner of the church at Hemingborough in East Yorkshire, lurking somewhere behind the organ. As you can see, the church cleaners clearly didn't fancy giving him a spruce up. For one horrible minute I thought I'd found somebody that they had forgotten to bury. This is what has been called a cadaver tomb, or a transi tomb. The latter name emphasises the liminal quality of the representation. The effigy of a corpse, liminal not in the sense of hovering between life and death, but between death and decomposition. Sometimes they are represented as a skeleton, but more usually as an emaciated corpse with blank eye sockets, hyperextended neck, sunken abdomen and muscles shrivelled to the bone. Not immediately dead, or in the early bloated phase, but pretty solidly through the process of consumption of the soft tissue, not yet reduced to bones. Sometimes worms and toads and the like have been added for extra emphasis. So much for the old myth that medieval folks didn't know about anatomical features or processes. They are shown usually partly exposed in their winding sheet which is knotted above the head.
  The example above might suggest that these effigies are feared and hidden, or represent something shameful, but that is a delicacy of modern sensibilities. These representations appeared in fine and significant tombs of important people.



  To give a non-English example just for a change, this is the transi effigy of Cardinal Jean de Lagrange in the museum of the Petit Palais in Avignon, France. It dates from the end of the 14th or early 15th century and was formerly in the church of Saint Martial in Avignon. It seems to have been part of an elegant and conspicuous construction, and the figure has the same characteristics as the English examples, with the winding sheet just preserving his modesty.



  This memorial arrangement in Fulbourn church, Cambridgeshire gives every impression of being coherent and reasonably original, unlike some tomb arrangements which appear to be cobbled together out of miscellaneous diverse pieces. That is another thought to hold for later. We are getting a few of these. Nevertheless, this is a proud tomb occupying pride of place in the chancel wall with architectural elements and a handsome openwork tomb chest of wood, in which resides, this.



  Why did they do them this way? It has been suggested that the horrors of the Black Death encouraged a morbid attitude, but that doesn't really fit the chronology. Most of these tombs date from the mid 15th century or later when the plague was a distant memory of earlier generations. Note this chap's early 15th century hairdo (and also the oddity that he should be depicted with a fashionable cut even in this state). This was also the period when the depiction of the three living and the three dead was common in wall paintings and manuscript painting. Mottos along the lines of "As you are, I was once, as I am, so you will be" go along with both forms of representation.
  These have been seen as a social statement, that the rich and mighty are brought down and levelled in death. I don't think so. There wasn't too much egalitarianism kicking around in the 15th century. They have also been interpreted as a sign of Christian humility, but I think the style and iconography of some of the tombs makes this unlikely. I think it is a reminder of the connection between liminality and purgatory. Death is a process which takes place over time. Purgatory is a process which takes place over time. Keep praying brothers and sisters, because one day you are going to need somebody to pray for you. A couple of quick Hail Marys after the funeral mass won't cut it. This is going to take some time and effort.



  Richard Fox, bishop of Winchester, died in 1528. His transi effigy in Winchester Cathedral lies under a fine architectural canopy. I hope they all got praying because the days of purgatory were running out. 




  In Exeter Cathedral the battered and mutilated transi effigy of Preceptor Syke (d.1508) lies on a highly decorative and grand tomb chest set into his highly decorative and grand chantry chapel. The purgatory linkage here is unequivocal. A priest was employed to say masses for the dead man in here, just in case others forgot. It is true that not every chantry chapel was adorned with a stone corpse, but it is part of the vocabulary of the process of death.



  The mid 15th century tomb of Archbishop Henry Chichele in Canterbury Cathedral takes the mixture of glamour and decay to its extreme. The whole construction has been recoloured to give it something of its gaudy medieval aesthetic. The canopy is thronged with angels, saints and weepers, not to mention heraldic devices. This is the tomb of a proud and glorious man in his pomp.



  This is how the man  was depicted on his tomb, twice. As far as representing humility goes, in the world of binary oppositional symbolism, top beats bottom every time. This man has not been brought down by death, he is triumphing over it. He has risen above that decomposing hunk of flesh beneath him. You can just make out a small praying figure by his feet, behind the metal bars, helping him to do it. The triumphant figure is not clothed in ethereal whiteness humbly waiting to meet Jesus, he wears all the elaborate paraphernalia of his religious office. That is not to say he isn't pious or virtuous, but he sure isn't humble.



  This type of depiction was not restricted to the clergy. A famous lay example is that of Alice, Duchess of Suffolk (d.1475) in Ewelme, Oxfordshire. The engraving of her beautiful effigy above comes from C.A.Stothard 1817 The Monumental Effigies of Great Britain, London. Try to ignore the library stamp. Evidently the engraver chose not to depict the emaciated cadaver beneath but you can see the whole tomb arrangement here. The cadaver is actually not very easy to see, but it is there.



  Cadaver tombs were also produced in brass. The above example is from Hildersham in Cambridgeshire and shows a skeleton rather than the partially decomposed corpse, but these were also depicted, complete with worms coming out of the eye sockets. As with other brass memorials, these depictions move down the social scale over time and quite modest little wall plaques were produced for those without the budgets of an archbishop or a duchess. They have the peculiarity noted already for tombs in general, the confusion between horizontality and verticality. Cadaver effigies on little wall brasses appear to be standing up in their shrouds; definitely a liminal state.



  An unusual commemoration appeared with these smaller brasses, that of children who had died in childbirth. These are referred to as chrysoms and are shown wrapped in their swaddling clothes. In the above example of a rubbing of a brass from Blickling in Norfolk, the mother and her twin infants, a boy and a girl, succumbed to the rigours of childbirth.


  In this example from Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire, just the chrysoms are shown. Perhaps it is arguable whether these are actually transi tombs as the swaddling clothes are those that would be used on a living baby, but they are meant to signify the particular situation of the infant's death. The convention of depiction of children on brasses was as miniature versions of adults. But that is another thought for another day.


  I have an unprovable hypothesis that these tombs may have once been more common, but that their unpalatability to church restorers may have caused them to quietly disappear. This example from Southwark Cathedral in London sits amongst a miscellany of broken bits of masonry. This is all part of the story of what has happened to medieval tombs over the centuries as their meanings have changed. But before we get to that, there is much to consider about what these tombs were really for. That, as I keep saying, is for another day.
  While these tombs represent the transitional state between life and the total oblivion of death in the most literal and unsubtle way, I feel that all tomb effigies are, in fact, transi tombs. They all have certain enigmas of representation that place the people represented somewhere between life and death. If you have started reading this series in the middle, you will have to go back to the beginning to find out why. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 3

  This ongoing series is threatening to ramble all over the place, but hopefully I will eventually be able to round up all the trailing threads and make it into a coherent argument about the changing nature of medieval funerary commemoration and the significance of what has happened to the tombs. Meanwhile, back to the primary evidence.
   Three dimensional effigy tombs are highly visible in churches because they are large, often were in elaborate settings, and were once brightly coloured and gilded. You couldn't miss them. Brasses are flat and can be less conspicuous, although some were also in elaborate settings, but others were of modest size. The ability to reproduce them by brass rubbing has made them well known and much reproduced in publications. While essentially monochrome, they could have some colourful details in the form of inlay, for example in heraldic shields or details on clothing.



  Lady Agnes Routh resides with her knightly husband under a double canopy in the tiny village of Routh in East Yorkshire. She is exquisitely attired in the latest fashions of the early 15th century in clothing and hairdo. Fashions were getting a wee bit extravagant by this time. The collar and cuffs of her gown are blank because they once contained some sort of inlay. In reference to previous discussions, her sleeves hang down as if she is vertical and her eyes are open, but she is lying flat on the floor. Yes, she is in a liminal state, preserved that way in a memorial which is both grand and longlasting, brass being durable stuff so long as nobody rips it up to make cannons or the like. We will get back to that as well.
  Perhaps less well known, as less conspicuous and more prone to destruction, are the grave covers which are incised with designs. These could include life sized effigies with very similar designs to those of brasses. 



  This 15th century slab in Harpham church, East Yorkshire, depicts a knight and lady under canopies with a marginal inscription around the edge in a very similar manner to a brass. It is also sitting on a table tomb under a canopy, so it is quite a conspicuous arrangement. In many cases these were on the floor and have become quite worn, and sometimes they have been moved and redeployed.


  This effigial slab in Boston, Lincolnshire shows a man in civilian dress and a woman. It is set into the floor. The faces, praying hands and marginal inscription are missing as they were obviously inlaid in another material, presumably brass. Once again hold the thought that this man is not a knight and the tomb slab, while having many standard elements, is not a standard shopwork variety, at least not for England.
  Far more common, and less regarded, are slabs which bear non-effigial motifs, of which the most common is probably that known as a floriated cross. These are also found on some brasses. They can be difficult to date as they don't have the intricate datable details like armour and fashion. They also seem to have been moved around a lot, perhaps used for repairs to stonework, and sometimes end up in peculiar places in the church.


  The floriated cross slab shown here lies in the floor of Eastrington church in East Yorkshire, overlooked because of the more conspicuous alabaster effigy tombs there. It has had the indignity of having holes bored through it for the installation of heating pipes. Like most slabs of this type, it has no inscription, so perhaps over the centuries there is less sense of this being something that pertains to the identity of an individual. The significata of liminality are not displayed although, in its day, it would still have had the function of reminding the congregation to pray for the soul of the deceased.


  In a slightly unusual example from Amotherby, North Yorkshire, a floriated cross slab has an inscription which reads "ICI GIT WILLIAM DE BOR(D)ESDEN PRIZ PUR LA ALME", which is significant because it is in Norman French, implying that it is aristocratic, and also because it specifically requests prayers for the soul, at least from the literate among the congregation. This slab was found in the churchyard in 1871.


  In Bakewell church, Derbyshire, great numbers of these types of monument had been stacked up against a wall in the south porch, redeployed and decontexted. Makes you wonder how many of these have been removed, destroyed or re-used in other places. When a devastating fire destroyed the interior of Brancepeth church in county Durham, large numbers of these types of tombstones were discovered hidden in the walls. Here is a newspaper article about it. These slabs also included another type of motif; the use of a tool of trade to indicate the profession of the deceased individual rather than an individual identifier. One explanation for this is that stone grave slabs were being deployed further down the social scale for those who could not afford the grander style of effigy memorial, and even if they could it might not have been tolerated in a still rigidly stratified society.


  One of the slabs from Bakewell, for example, displays shears and a key beside the cross motif.
  The imagery of these non-effigial tombs has some degree of standardisation, but also some variability. Possibly they were local productions which did not conform so strictly to the stereotypes of the grand shopwork tombs. The further you were up the social tree, the more stringent were the rules as to how you could depict yourself. 



  The procedure of removing the heart from the body of someone who had died away from their home  and bringing it back for burial is known; or alternately removing the innards and burying them somewhere while carting the exterior of the carcasse back to a home church. Slabs like the one above from Chichester cathedral, depicting two hands holding a heart, are often taken to be memorials to a heart burial. Alternatively, full sized effigy tombs are found with the figure holding a heart. Holding a heart could have some reference to purity of heart. It can be hard to be sure what is meant to be literal and what metaphorical in these depictions.
  So I guess the point is that there were various modes of memorialising the dead. They were all for the purpose of helping the departed over the threshold, through purgatory and to their final reward. Some also displayed strong messages about social status, not all of which were related to feudalism. More on that later. The ways that these tombs have been treated over time is a bit more complex than the oft announced view that they were unacceptable at the Reformation and were therefore deliberately damaged or destroyed. There are questions about just what these tombs were for in the first place.
  In the next episode I will look at the chronology and social spectrum of tomb commemoration and perhaps launch into something about funerals.
  And what does this all have to do with medieval writing? Well, there is more to imparting messages than just scratching black marks on paper, but the creators of the black marks controlled the rules of the game and the nature of the communication.