Francis Bond.

An introduction to English church architecture from the eleventh to the sixteenth century online

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sitting at dinner with the missioner Aidan, and a silver dish of dainties was before him. And as they were
about to bless the bread, his servant came and said that a great multitude of poor was without. Where-
upon the king sent out the meat to the poor, and the silver dish to be broken in pieces and given unto
them. And Aidan laid hold of the king's right hand and said " May this hand never perish." And, says
Bede, the arm remained entire and uncorrupted to this day, kept in a silver case among the treasures of
Peterborough abbey.



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78 ENGLISH CHURCH ARCHITECTURE

and were the resort of pilgrims ; e,g.y of the cathedrals served by Secular canons
there was Chichester, with the relics of St. Richard ; Hereford, with those of
St. Ethelbert and St. Thomas ; Lichfield, with those of St. Chad ; Lincoln, with
those of St. Hugh ; St. PauFs, London, with those of St. Erkenwald ; St. David's,
with those of St. David ; Salisbury, with those of St. Osmund ; York, with those
of St. William of York ; and among the collegiate churches Beverley minster, with
those of St. John of Beverley. Of churches of the Regular canons there was
Waltham, with the cross that had been drawn by oxen across from the west of
England till it took root at Waltham ; Walsingham, which was reputed, like Loreto,



('• G. B. Shrine of St. Thomas of Hereford

to possess a reproduction or model of the little cottage wherein the Blessed
Virgin had dwelt at Nazareth ; and others. All the above possessed a host of relics
besides those mentioned above. In such churches as those mentioned previously
which had the good fortune to possess the body of some one great local saint,
such as St. Cuthbert at Durham or St. Hugh at Lincoln, it became necessary in
the end, as we shall see later, to make special architectural arrangements for the
reception of great crowds of pilgrims. Churches, on the other hand, which had
fewer attractions for pilgrims, might retain their original plan unaltered, or but little
altered, to the end ; e,g.y the cathedrals of Norwich and Gloucester ; Peterborough



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REQUIREMENTS OF A GREAT MEDI/EVAL CHURCH 79

itself was not remodelled till the end of the fifteenth century, and then only to a
comparatively slight extent. But even these churches also had to be planned to
a large extent with a view to the safe custody and the exposition of relics and the



p- K. T. Westminster : Shrine of the Confessor



jewelled caskets plated with gold and silver in which they were preserved. For
the exposition of the very numerous relics to pilgrims numerous chapels were
required with aumbries in the wall in which smaller relics might be kept when



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8o ENGLISH CHURCH ARCHITECTURE



^' f • Oxford Cathedral : St. Fridesvvidc's Shrine



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H- B- Oxford Cathedral : Latin Chapel

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S2 ENGLISH CHURCH ARCHITECTURE

not being shewn. At Westminster the chief relics were originally kept in a great
relic-cupboard which stood in the chapel of the Confessor ; afterwards they were
kept in the elevated chapel of the Annunciation which Henry V. built as his
chantry chapel.^ At St. Albans there is preserved the great oaken relic cupboard
{77); that at Selby perished recently by fire. At Oxford (81) the monument

-under the last arch on the right
has above it a chamber of oak ;
this was probably at once the
chantry chapel of the deceased
and the watching loft of the
neighbouring shrine of St. Frides-
wide (80). Small reliquaries
might be exposed on a beam
above an altar. A valuable illus-
tration*^ in a MS. written c.
1 414, now in the possession of
Trinity Hall, Cambridge, shews
the position of several of the
reliquaries in St. Augustine's
abbey church at Canterbury.
On a low shelf above the altar
were relics of King Ethelbert of
Kent, flanked by the books sent
from Rome to St. Augustine by
Gregory the Great ; and on a
beam higher up are two reli-
quaries, one of them containing
relics of St. Letard. The crypt
of the church has lately been
disinterred, and shews a semi-
circular aisle from which radiate
three apsidal chapels (122). In
F. H. c. Lastingham Crypt, Yorkshire the eastern chapel on the

ground floor the drawing shews
the shrine of St. Augustine himself, with two minor shrines ; in the north-east
chapel is the shrine of St. Mildred ; in the south-east chapel that of St. Adrian ;
eight minor shrines or reliquaries stood between the chapels. Similar no doubt
were the arrangements elsewhere.

^ See the writer's Westminster Abbey^ 148, 180, 192, 238; and for a list of the Westminster relics see
Flete's History of Westminster Abbey, edited by Dean Robinson.
2 Reproduced in Wall's Shrines of British Saints, 20.



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REQUIREMENTS OF A GREAT MEDIAEVAL CHURCH 83

Many of these relics were esteemed of miraculous efficacy, and were visited
by crowds of pilgrims, such as nowadays flock to Paray-le-Monial and Lourdes.
In Gloucester abbey, where miracles were reported at the tomb of the murdered
king, Edward II., buried there in 1327, such was the concourse of pilgrims and
so liberal their offerings, that they sufficed to pay for the vault and stalls of the
chancel and crossing, finished before 1377 ; and the chronicler reports that the
money was enough to have rebuilt the whole church if the monks had wished.^ For



c. F. N. Oxford : Crypt of St. Peter-in-the-East, looking East

these crowds there was needed a great nave, where they might assemble and find
shelter, and where addresses might be given to them. And as the greater part
of the relics were kept in the chancel and its chapel, an aisle was needed round
the chancel, by which the pilgrims might pass along, seeing each chapel with its
relics in turn, but without trespassing on the sanauary or choir. Till such a pilgrims'

^ The south doorway of the south transept of Gloucester is still known as the Pilgrim's doorway ;
similar doorways occur elsewhere in the transept which is on the opposite side of the nave to the cloister :
^'g'^ Peterborough, Ely, and Winchester.



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84 ENGLISH CHURCH ARCHITECTURE

route was arranged, loss of life and limb might and sometimes did occur when
currents of pilgrims met, struggling to pass each other.

THE CRYPT AND THE CHARNEL HOUSE

Beneath the chancel of many of the Greater churches crypts were built.
This usage goes back to the earliest days of the Church in Rome, when Pagan
and Christian alike were buried in the galleries of the catacombs outside the

city. After the Peace of the Church,
basilicas were erected over the tombs
of some of the more famous martyrs ;
in a few cases, e,g,, the basilica of S.
Petronilla, all the soil above the gal-
lery was cleared away till the site of
the church was thrown open to the
sky, and an underground church was
formed, which was then roofed over.
These Memorial Churches, whether
above ground or below, were visited
by the faithful from all over Europe ;
and every country became familiarised
with the idea of a church's High
altar resting on an undercroft wherein
was interred the church's patron saint.
These undercrofts were of two sorts.
The humbler, the Confessio or Mar-
tyrium, was but a cavity of moderate
dimensions beneath the High altar,
containing the holy relics.^ Some-
times, perhaps usually, the front of
the altar was grated or perforated,
R- P- Hythe : South Chancel that the relics might be viewed from

the floor of the church.
The crypt proper, however, was of large dimensions, occupying the whole of
the space beneath the chancel and its chapels, as at Gloucester ; sometimes it was
so vast as practically to be an underground church, as in Canterbury cathedral ; in
Old St. Paul's, London, it went indeed by the name of St. Faith's church (5).
Bishop Wilfrid brought this Italian usage to his northern diocese in the seventh
century, and his two crypts at Hexham and Ripon both survive ; other pre-Conquest
crypts may be seen at Repton, Derbyshire ; Sidbury, Devon ; and Wing, Bucks.
^ Of this character is the Gloucester Feretory, described in p. 93.



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86 ENGLISH CHURCH ARCHITECTURE

Norman crypts remain in Canterbury cathedral (of three dates), Rochester cathedral,
Lastingham church in the North Riding of Yorkshire (82), and the cathedrals of
Winchester, Worcester, Gloucester, and York ^ minster : some of these are known
to have replaced Anglo-Saxon crypts ; it may have been so in every instance.^
Beneath the church of St. Peter in the East, Oxford (85, 83), is a fine Norman vaulted
crypt ; it is divided by two ranges of columns into three aisles, and at the west
end is a small barrel-vaulted chamber, in which lay the body of a saint, whose
very name is now forgotten ; there are the original doorways of four staircases,
two of which led north and south into the churchyard, and two into the church,
emerging on either side of the chancel arch, as at Wing.^ Other important
' parochial crypts of the twelfth century

remain at Newark and St. Mary's,
Warwick. At Berkswell, Warwick, is
a remarkable crypt entered from the
nave ; with two rectangular bays be-
neath the chancel and one octagonal
bay beneath the eastern portion of the
nave.*

Sometimes the substructure was
not a crypt proper, but merely built
to support the east wall of the church,,
when it was extended on to ground
sloping steeply to the east, as is the
case in Madley church, Hereford.

Frequently the substructure was a

charnel house or bone house. The

great eastern extensions of Worcester

cathedral had to be built over part of

w. M. Hythe Charnel House the Monks' Cemetery ; Bishop William

de Blois therefore had the bones taken
up and removed to a charnel house, which he built for them on the north side of the
nave; it still remains under the turf; the chapel above it was demolished in 1677
(133). So also at Dorchester priory the fourteenth-century parochial aisle could
only be built by taking in a part of the graveyard ; a low crypt therefore was built

^ At Rochester the greater part of the crypt is thirteenth-century work ; the York crypt has been
much altered and enlarged at later dates. There is a magnificent crypt beneath Glasgow cathedral ; the
earlier portions are c. \i 80.

2 See Baldwin Brown's Arts in Early England^ ii. 263.

* This crypt, and that in Oxford castle, are described and illustrated by Mr Charles Lynam in^
Archctolagical Journal^ Ixviii. 203.

* For the plan and particulars of this cr)'pt I am indebted to Mr F. T. S. Houghton.



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REQUIREMENTS OF A GREAT MEDIEVAL CHURCH 87

beneath, and in this the bones were cast ; the hole through which they were shovelled
may still be seen here and at Mildenhall. The crypt of Hereford cathedral is styled
**domus carnaria*' in the epitaph of Andrew Jones (87). The charnel house of
Norwich cathedral still remains, and contained an altar ; there is also a chapel
above ; it is situated a little to the west of the cathedral. Great quantities of bones
still remain in the crypt of Hythe church, Kent ; of course they are reputed to be
those of warriors who fell in some bygone fray. At Grantham till i860 there



c. G. Hereford from North-east

was a vast accumulation of bones in the crypt ; it retains its altar.^ There is a
multitude of bones in the crypt of Rothwell church, Northants.

Other bone houses exist at Bosham, Sussex ; Heckington, Lincolnshire ; Northborough,
Oundle, and Higham Ferrers, Northants ; Bridgwater, Somerset ; Hallaton and Edmondthorpe,
Leicestershire ; Burford and Witney, Oxon. ; Brisley, Norfolk ; St. Michael's, Oxford ; Marldon,

^ At Grantham the crypt was double, the western part forming a bone house, the eastern a chapel
in which might be sung masses for the dead ; probably this arrangement was normal.



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88 ENGLISH CHURCH ARCHITECTURE

Devon ; Norwich, St. Gregory ; Tamworth, Stafford ; Waltham abbey, Essex ; Sandwich,
St. Peter's, and Folkestone, Kent ; Pakefield and Lowestoft, Suffolk ; Stratford-on-Avon ;
and the destroyed church of St. Martin, adjoining the nave of Beverley minster. Very fine
examples of ossuaries, usually above ground, are common in Brittany.^

Sometimes the crypt served also to provide a subterranean procession path,
e.g.y at Hythe (86), where there are large and richly molded northern and southern
doorways (84). At St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich, there is a flight of many steps
between the stalls and the altar platform, which platform fills the easternmost bay.
The steps are due to the existence beneath the altar platform of an archway or
passage leading from one side of the church to the other. This passage was made
to provide a way for the Palm Sunday and other processions which usually made a
circuit of the church and cemetery ; because the way round the old church had
been blocked through the extension of the new church to the eastern limit of the
churchyard.*-^ In Wimborne minster there was originally a small chancel with a
Lady chapel to the east of it. The church could not be extended eastward, as
there is a high road to the east ; so the Lady chapel was thrown into the chancel,
and a crypt was constructed beneath, which both served as Lady Chapel and
contained a procession path."^

THE FERETORY

In many of the Greater Gothic churches one bay of the chancel was appro-
priated as a Feretory or Saint's chapel. The usage grew up slowly but inevitably,
and was of foreign derivation. Originally, beneath the larger Roman basilicas
there lay in the catacomb the body of the saint to whom the church was dedicated.
The same would be the case elsewhere where a crypt had been built in imitation
of Italian usage. In France, more venerable than any churches above ground
are the crypts of Jouarre, St. Germain, Auxerre, St. Victor, Marseilles, and
Chartres cathedrals; nor in England have we any church older than the crypts
of Hexham and Ripon. But it must have been found very early that a low,
damp, noisome, badly lighted crypt was very inconvenient for the great pilgrim
concourses which visited the remains of the more famous saints. Of these few
enjoyed greater popularity than St. Martin of Tours. In conformity with Italian
usage he had been buried in the crypt of the abbey church of Tours ; but in the
second half of the fifth century we are told by Gregory of Tours, ** Hie submota
basilica, quam prius Briccius cpiscopus aedificaverat super sanctum Martinum,
aedificavit aliam ampliorem miro opere, in cujus absida beatum corpus venerabilis

^ On Bone houses see Bloxam's Gothic Architecture ^ ii. 185.
- Norfolk and Norwich Arch. Soc, xiv. 155.

^ On the whole history of the Crypt and Confessio see Fleury's La Messe, Vol. ii. 79-146, and
Plates cxxiii. to cxliv.



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REQUIREMENTS OF A GREAT MEDIAEVAL CHURCH 89

sancti transtulit ; " ^ i,e,, ** Bishop Perpetuus built a new church, to which he
transferred (from the crypt) the body of St. Martin, placing it in the apse (on the
ground floor)." In the Anglo-Saxon cathedral of Canterbury also, c, 950, there
was an altar against the eastern wall of the apse, and this altar was dedicated to
and was alleged by the Canterbury monks to contain the body of St. Wilfrid ;
this arrangement made it necessary for the High altar to be placed somewhat
further to the west, instead of occupying its normal position on the chord or in
the centre of the apse (30). These then are early examples of a Saint's chapel
or Feretory above ground.^ In both, however, the Feretory does not occupy what



f- R- P- S. St. Albans : Retro-choir, looking West

was to be afterwards its normal position ; it was formed simply by appropriating
the eastern apse of the church. In England the first existing Feretory is to be
found at Canterbury. The Archbishop, Thomas Becket, had been murdered in

^ On St. Martin de Tours see Comtc Robert de Lasteyrie's paper in the Metnoires de Pacademie des
inscriptions et belles lettres\ tome xxxiv., part i.

2 A good instance of the transference of relics from a crypt to a site behind the High altar is the
abbey church of St. Matthias in the western suburb of Trier, where the Romanesque crypt remains,
but the relics of St. Matthias are in a shrine immediately above and at the back of the High altar.
—A. H. T.



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90 ENGLISH CHURCH ARCHITECTURE

1 1 70, and was buried in the Norman crypt. In 11 74 there was a great fire,
and when the chancel was rebuilt by William of Sens, he lengthened it considerably
to the east, inserting east of the sanctuary a new chapel, what is now incorrectly
called the Trinity chapel. The work was completed in 1184; and in 1220 the
body of St. Thomas was removed from the crypt to the new chapel, in the centre
of which his new shrine arose, and the chapel was known as St. Thomas chapel.
Next Winchester built a Feretory for its great local saint, St. Swithun, c. 1 207 ;
and the example of Canterbury and Winchester was soon largely followed. Ely
built a Feretory for St. Etheldreda, 1235-1252 ; Durham for St. Cuthbert, 1242;
Westminster for St. Edward, 1245 » Lincoln (137) for St. Hugh, 1255-1280; Hayles
abbey for the Holy Blood, 1270; St. Albans (123), probably two chapels, one for
St. Alban, one for St. Amphibalus, 1302- 1308; and a few years later Lichfield
for St. Chad, and Chester for St. Werburgh. At Lincoln the head of St.
Hugh, detached from the body, was preserved in a separate case or reliquary,
which stood upon a pedestal at the back of the High altar, probably that
illustrated on p. 76. In 1364 the head-shrine was stolen by thieves, who
carried away the precious case, but threw away the head in a field, where it
was guarded by a crow till morning, when it was restored to the minster. The
thieves were afterwards captured and hanged at Lincoln. At St. Albans (89)
the shrine of St. Alban stood on the other side of the low arcaded wall, and
that of St. Amphibalus probably in front of it. At Hereford the pedestal of the
shrine of Bishop Cantelupe is now placed in the eastern aisle of the north
transept ; originally it would probably stand in the centre of the eastern transept
(7S). The bishop died in 1282 and was canonised in 1320; the pedestal of the
shrine seems to be c. 1290. The great local saint at York was Archbishop
William, and for him was set out, c. 1361, a Feretory occupying the next bay
east of the presbytery.^ Vast structural changes were rendered necessary by
the addition of these Feretories.

As to the position which the Feretory of the great local saint should occupy,
there could be little doubt. Of the whole church the vicinity of the High altar
was the most sacred, and it was near this that the Saint's chapel was built ;
not in front of it, but behind. It is probable that at first the shrine in the Saint's
chapel was built immediately against the back of the High altar, so that its own
altar had to be east of the shrine, the celebrant thus facing west ; this was certainly
the position of the shrine of St. Erkenwald, fourth bishop of London, whose body
was translated from the crypt of Old St. Paul's in 1148 and placed in a new-
shrine in 1314^. At St. Albans also the old shrine set up by Abbot Symeon

^ It is shewn in the plan of York rainster in Vol. i. of Browne Willis' Survey (1727), in which it is
styled "A chapel behind the High altar called the Sanctum Sanctorum^
2 It is shewn in the drawing of Hollar, reproduced on p. 54.



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REQUIREMENTS OF A GREAT MEDIAEVAL CHURCH 91

(1167-1183) was joined on to the High altar.^ Old prints shew that the shrine
of St. Richard at Chichester was so situated. Such a position, however, must have
been ritualistically objectionable ; especially as it would not be possible to pass
round the shrine. So we find in 1346- 1349 Thomas d^ la Mare, prior of Tyne-
mouth, removing the shrine of St. Oswin, which up to then had been attached
to the High altar, **altari majori connexum," and putting it in a chapel to the



J- B- Wells : Procession Path, Feretory, and Lady Chapel

east ** in the place where it now stands, so that pilgrims could walk all round
it and more easily and freely pay their devotions thereat." ^ It was natural therefore
that it should become usual to place the shrine in the centre of the chapel, and
detached, as may be seen at Westminster and St. Albans. The introduction of such

^ See Matthew Paris in Rock's Church of Our Fathers^ iii. 314.

^ See paper on the ** History^ of the Christian Altar" by Mr Edmund Bishop in the Downside Reviiw^
July 1905.



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92 ENGLISH CHURCH ARCHITECTURE

a chapel was of course impossible without a most extensive remodelling and
rebuilding of the eastern portion of the church ; and was indeed one of the chief
motives which prompted the demolition and reconstruction of the chancels of so
many of the Greater churches. It is significant that churches, which never pos-
sessed the relics of a great local saint, and consequently needed no Feretory,
more often retained the original planning of their chancels
more or less unaltered ; e.g., Gloucester cathedral. To a
church which had the good fortune to possess such relics the
generous offerings of pilgrims brought a great accession of
wealth, and much of it was naturally spent in increasing the
splendour and dignity of the ^hrine of the great saint. And
that its magnificence might not be thrown away, the shrine
was placed on a lofty pedestal, and the reredos of the High
altar was kept low ; it was only in loiter days that lofty stone
reredoses were erected at Christchurcli, Durham, York, West-
minster, Winchester, St. Albans, Milton abbey, and elsewhere,
shutting out of sight the great shrine. Originally the view
eastward in such a church, on passing through the choir
screen, must have been exceedingly effective ; with first the
choir altar giving scale to the High altar, and then the High
altar giving scale to the lofty shrine ; such a view may still
be had in the Cistercian church of Pontigny, near Auxerre,
where are enshrined on high the relics of St. Edm^, t.e.y
Edmund Rich, Archbishop of Canterbury.^ It was not every
church, however, that could afford to build a Feretory east of
the High altar ; sometimes, indeed, the church could not be
lengthened eastward, cg.y Oxford cathedral, owing to the city
wall being close. In such cases room had to be found else-
where ; the Feretory of St. William of Perth was in the north
choir transept at Rochester ; that of St. Frideswide was prob-
ably in a northern aisle of the chancel of Oxford cathedral (80).
It may be hoted that the spacing of the piers of the bay
east of the High altar so that the vault above forms a kind
J.JD- Bamby, Suffolk of glorified canopy or tabernacle may be indicative of an in-
tention, carried out or not, to employ this bay as a Feretory.
This is so in the beautiful crypt of Glasgow cathedral: at Wells (91) the
vaulting of the bay east of the High altar seems to have been designed with
similar intent to contain a shrine of Bishop William de Marchia; unfortunately
two attempts to secure his canonisation were unsuccessful.

^ Illustrated in Gothic Architecture in England, 187. See Wall's Shrines of British Saints, 172;
and Gough's Sepulchral Monuments, ii. i, Ixvi.



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REQUIREMENTS OF A GREAT MEDIAEVAL CHURCH 93

At Winchester and Gloucester are Feretories of a different character and of
minor importance, each at the back of the High altar. In both the Feretory ^ is but
a narrow walled space, originally containing cupboards in which were kept some
of the more important treasures of the church ; in fact it was the Treasury. At
Gloucester there are also two large recesses extending westward under the High
altar, in which no doubt relics were
deposited.

PROCESSIONS

From the earliest days, even from
the time of St. Cyril of Jerusalem,^
who is credited with the invention of
processional ritual, it was customary
for the faithful to resort to places of
pilgrimage, singing hymns ; the pro-
cession being accompanied by a sub-
deacon carrying a cross. A beautiful
example of these crosses, probably of
the fifth century, remains in the
Brescia library.*^ Another of the
sixth century, still more famous,
stands on the epistle side of the
High altar of Ravenna cathedral.
The gospels of St. Chad, written
about 700 A.D., and preserved in



Online LibraryFrancis BondAn introduction to English church architecture from the eleventh to the sixteenth century → online text (page 9 of 37)