Stephen Eyre Jarvis.

A history of Ely Place : of its ancient sanctuary and of St. Etheldreda, its titular saint : a guide for visitors online

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Online LibraryStephen Eyre JarvisA history of Ely Place : of its ancient sanctuary and of St. Etheldreda, its titular saint : a guide for visitors → online text (page 2 of 3)
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and '.some documentary evidence, appears to have
been erected between 1290 and 1299, the internal
dimensions of the upper chapel being 80 feet 5 inches
by 29 feet 4 inches. St. Stephen's^ Westminster, is
said to have been erected in pious emulation of the
work of St. Louis. The foundation. was laid in 1292,
and the work was continued until 1298, the period of
the erection of St. Etheldreda's. The crypt of

St. Stephen's, happily preserved, is of this period.
The internal dimensions of the upper chapel were
about 80 feet in length by 32 feet. When first
erected it had proportions similar to those of St.
Etheldreda's. Later on, in Edward the Third's time,
it was gready aggrandized, how exactly it is not
certain, but Mackenzie, who carefully surveyed the

A 2



i8

structure after the fire, found what he considered to
be evidences of a clerestory above the original and
then existing walls. This upper portion, whatever it
may have been, was considered unsafe by Sir C.
Wren, and was taken down in 1692.

Of Ely Place, the chapel alone is left to us.
Westminster Hall stands with its noble roof, but St.
Stephen's was so damaged by the fire that the upper
chapel was cleared away, leaving us but the crypt and
cloisters. It is here we may note that the three
chapels I have cited were two-storied structures, not
with sunken crypts, but with superstructures sufficient
to raise the upper chapel well above the ground line.
The use of the crypt of the Sainte Chapelle and of
St. Stephen's was for worship, and, in that of Paris,
the canons were interred. The use of St. Ethel-
dreda's undercroft is doubtful. There was access to
it from the cloister, which, was on the lower level,
although it seems to have been blocked ofT when the
plan was taken. The doorway shown in the north
side, which might have served for externs, was
probably made after the desecration, and there was a
staircase leading upwards from the undercroft to the
north-west entrance of the upper chapel. In the
Harleian MSS. it is stated that even half of the
vault or burying-place under the chapel is made use
of as a public cellar, or was so very lately, to sell
drink in, there having frequently been revelling heard
during divine service. This was the state of things
in the early seventeenth century. When the floor of
the undercroft was lowered to its present level,
skeletons were found buried there.

The undercroft measures 78 feet 10 inches by



19

2 5 feet. It is a plain quadrangle in plan, divided
down the centre by a raw of wooden pillars, the lower
portions of which were removed at the recent
restoration, and stone pillars substituted. The lighting
is by windows of two lights with trefoiled heads.
The only structural evidence of usage is that in the
south wall, both the east and west ends, where there
are double aumbries of good dimensions and designs.
I may here note that aumbries for the service of the
altar are generally in the north side, opposite the
sedilia. There are no traces of sedilia or of piscinae
in the undercroft, although there is considerable
thickening of the wall beneath the sedilia of the upper
chapel, showing the clear intention from the com-
mencement of the work to provide for them. I have
already alluded to the entrances, and to the staircase
in the north-west angle. There are two such stair-
cases in the Paris Chapel.

The access to the upper chapel was by stairs
from the cloister which led up to the south doorway,
which is still the entrance. Access was also obtained
from the apartments which were formed over the
cloister, by the same doorway. Opposite to the south
doorway there is a doorway in the north wall of the
same dimensions, indicating, perhaps, a processional
path across the west end of the chapel, or an entrance
for externs. The present internal appearance of the
roof, intended as a restoration, is, of course, modern.
I need not further allude to it, except to note that in
one of the views of 1772 the greater portion of the roof
appeals to have been flattened, only a small portion
of the east end retaining the pitch of the gable.

" At this point," says Mr. Bernard Whelan, the



restorer of the ehurch, "it may be fitting for the pur-
poses of the present Edition to break off these extracts
from the Address of Mr. S. Nicholl- A.R.LB.A. As
what is said about the internal appearance of the exist-
ing roof of Saint Etheldreda s has been repeated in the
several previous editions of this little work, it may be
just to readers- that the opinion just expressed be
retained in order that it may be contradicted : ' The
present internal appearance of the roof intended as a
restoration, is, of course,' ;^(9/ ' modern.' Doctor John-
son had the grace to confess to ' sheer ignorance ' ;
Mr. S. Nicholl can have the opportunity of following
his good example. Never had the restorer of a dis-
mantled building more precise indications of its original
design than in the roof of Saint Etheldreda's. When
recovered from the Welsh Episcopalians the chapel
had a coved or segmental plaster ceiling ; this was
quickly removed amid inconceivable filth, living and
dead. The lath and plaster had been hung from the
old coupled rafters : these were all in their places : they
were of chestnut : they were eight inches by six inches,
laid flatways, so that the greater thickness should be
seen from below : a few of them were decayed : they
were replaced in oak, as chestnut was not obtainable :
many of the rafters were leaning towards one smother
and had to be made straight ; this was because the
somewhat primitive principle of the construction of the
ancient roof had been destroyed, in order to get the
snug-looking plaster ceiling. That was done by
cuttmg aweiy the tie beams which supported the king
post : this went up to the apex and carried the tidge
pole which ran irom end to end of the building,
supporting the topmost ends of the rafters : all these




Entrance to the Church, South Doorway,



21



perversely removed features were carefully replaced.
Immediately beneath the wall plate which received
the lower end of the rafters was found the rotting
wood of the tie beams, chopped off flush with the
wall : these beams proved to have been sixteen inches
by twelve, again laid flatways : for these restored
features Canadian oak was used as no other timber of
sufficient scantling- was available. There was no
guiding principle of design in the placing of the tie
beams : they range with no feature of the stonework
below : the whole roof is a framework of simple con-
struction and of sufficiently noble dimensions made
to protect walls of elaborate and original architecture :
all ornament stops at the wall plate : it is a roof
such as may be found above the groining in thirteenth
century cathedrals of the highest rank : externally
it provides the lofty line of ridge : while internally
it is content with the dignity of solidity and usefulness.
There is no continuity of design between the stone
and the timber work ; in a building of the end of the
thirteenth century this is a puzzle and a thing unique :
superimposition is the only bond between roof and
walls ; this fact may have deceived the critic when he
imagined that 'the internal appearance of the roof,
is, of course, modern.' The strange quality of Saint
Etheldreda's is that it is a reversion to a principle of
construction much earlier than its own period ; there
is no counterpoise : it is purely static : there is no
concentration of thrust on particular points ; hence
the walls of the crypt are an even eight and those
of the upper church an even six feet thick : on the
summit of these are laid wall plates to carry a roof
of evenly distributed weight : just below these were

A ^



22



inserted, in haphazard fashion, horizontal tie beams
merely as a matter of sound, though primitive, car-
pentry : the absence of buttresses throughout is, some-
what paradoxically, the outward and convincing mani-
festation of this static theory of construction. Apart
from all the details — in themselves sufficiently unusual
— the originality of Saint Etheldreda's rests upon the
fact that, on the verge of the fourteenth century, it was
deliberately designed on a structural principle not later
than the Romanesque. The grouping of the windows
of the upper church with the intervening crocketed
gablets was a novelty of well articulated design : the
tracery and its cuspings are each sui gene^Hs : the pro-
files of the mouldings have a bold delicacy, while the
thick walls, displayed in the deep reveals, give them
the desirable enhancement of plain surfaces. There
is elsewhere no work by the architect of Saint
Etheldreda's — not even at Ely."

The windows are, fortunately, ample, so that
though two of the side windows are blocked, and the
great west window dimmed by adjacent buildings, there
is little, if any, sense of gloominess. A remarkable
and beautiful feature of the interior of St. Etheldreda's
is the series of brackets and statues between the side
windows. A similar arrangement exists in St. Louis's
Chapel, the statues being of the twelve Apostles, each
statue holding one of the consecrated crosses. The
sedilia in St. Etheldreda's have long been destroyed,
but a fragment of one of the divisions remains to
mark the position ; and I have given to the Fathers
at St. Etheldreda's a copy of a sketch made by Mr.
Walt'ers of their remains as they existed before the
restoration of the chapel, when a portion of their



23

canopy had to be removed to make way for the
present entrance from the house adjoining. With
regard to the great east and west windows, I would
call attention particularly to the lowness of the cill
behind the altar, which is so marked as to have been
used as an argument in favour of the absurd theory
that the building was the hall and not the chapel.

But the architects of this period considered the
windows as paintings, just as appropriate as in a
sunnier clime is the great wall painting of the Sistine
Chapel. St. Etheldreda's is not a solitary example.
The small chapel of St. John, at Northampton, has
its east window^ similarly placed. The cill of the
altar-end window of Gilston Parish Church is only four
feet above the floor level. In the apsidal windows of
the Paris Chapel the lower panels were of clear glass,
so that when the king presented the relics to the view
of the people, they could be seen from the outside in
the court.

There are a few relics of the old days in the chapel
and precincts which are worthy of notice. Among
them a holy water stoup which has been let into
the wall near the crypt door, a large capitol of early
EnMish desiofn will be found in the centre of the
quadrangfe, and other loose stones, many of which
probably formed part of the sedilia, have been placed
in the cloister. Also the very ancient bowl apparently
of granite, which now serves as a holy water stoup at
the entrance of the church. It is of much earlier date
than any portion of the existing structure, and was found
buried in the centre of the undercroft. It is far too
small to have been a baptismal font of its period. As
it has been lined with lead since the restoration, we



24

cannot say whether it is pierced for a drain or not ;
if not pierced, it might have originally served its
present purpose ; if pierced, it might have been a
piscina. Sir Gilbert Scott, being asked his opinion of
this ancient relic, replied, " You may call the bowl
British or Roman, for it is older than the Saxon
period ; " from which it is thought that it may have
belonged to an ancient British Church, and as a
sacred vessel no longer in use, it was buried according
to Catholic custom, in order that it might not be
desecrated to common uses. Father Lockhart,
writing on this subject, makes the following con-
jecture : — " Here, then stood not improbably the
earliest Christian Church of London on this very spot,
which was then a wild and wooded hill, outside the
walls of the Roman City, like the British Church of
St. Martin, just outside the walls of Canterbury. If
so, it may have been here that the British Bishop of
London, who afterwards attended the Council of
Aries, received the news of the martyrdom of St.
Alban, at Verulam on the outbreak of the persecution
of Dioclesian, a.d. 303." In the porch there is a
well-carved escutcheon of the Royal Arms of
England, which in its day evidenced the Royal
supremacy. It is of the date of Charles I. When
the Fathers of Charity took possession of the chapel
it was found hanging over the Communion-table,
which took the place of the ancient altar. Of course
it was taken down, but being a beautiful piece of
oak carving, it was placed outside the church on the
wall facing the south entrance. Under it is the
following inscription, placed there by Father Lock-
hart, the first Rector of St. Etheldreda's : "This




Shrine of St. Elheldreda.



25

emblem of the Royal supremacy was removed from
the Church of St. Etheldreda when it was restored
to the Roman obedience." In the centre of the
cloister there is a carved capital of early form, of the
origin of which I feel rather doubtful. It is credited
as havino- belonoed to the cloisters.

Havino- culled the above remarks, with a few
exceptions suggested to me by the narrative, from
Mr. Nicholl's excellent paper, although not always so
exactly as to warrant my using inverted" commas, I now
turn to consider the more modern aspect of St.
Etheldreda's, as we see it since its restoration to
Catholic worship, and now converted into a parish
church.

In the crypt Mass is said daily, in wintertime, the
Blessed Sacrament being also reserved there, as well
as in the upper church. The crypt is a favourite resort
for numbers of Catholics from far and near. Some
declare that they can say their prayers here better
than anywhere they know. It is very unlike any
other place of worship in London. You may kneel
there and not hear a sound of the Holborn traffic.
The walls are eight feet thick. The light admitted
through the deep embrasures of the windows is
tempered by the stained glass, which looks as if it
were as old as the church, with its sea-^reen tints
and medallions of saints, contemporaries of St.
Etheldreda the Saxon Princess. The little lancet
windows are painted mostly in grezaille, lighted up
with enough of ruby, gold and blue to save them
from monotony. Overhead are massive beams and
rafters of oak wood, black with age. A centre
row of dwarf pillars supports the struttings of the roof,



26

on which rests the floor of the upper church. The
crypt is divided into two aisles. At the end of each
is a stone altar. The Confessionals occupy the deep
embrasures of the windows on the north side, beino-
separated off by heavy cedar screens. Against a pillar
in the sanctuary, between the two altars, is a striking-
figure of St. Bridget, brought hither when the old
chapel in Baldwin's Gardens, was pulled down. On
either side of the Sanctuary are the statues of Our
Blessed Lady and St. Joseph. One of the altars is
dedicated to the Sacred Heart, the confraternity of
which has been erected at St. Etheldreda's. The
canopy over the statue of Our Lord was recently erected
in memory of Father Richard Bone, who succeeded
Father Lockhart as Rector of the church, and died in
1898. There is also a good organ in the crypt, and
the evening services of the Confraternities of the Sacred
Heart and of St. Joseph are held there. The first
Mass on the restoration of this place to Catholic wor-
ship was said in the crypt by His Eminence Cardinal
Manning, June 23rd, 1876.

Entering the upper church by the south door,
the graceful proportions of the architecture completely
satisfy the eye of the soul and fill it with delight.
The first object that attracts attention is the beautiful
Gothic screen at the west end of the church, the work
of Mr. Bentley. The screen lightly sustains a choir
gallery, where a new organ was recently built by
Mr. Lewis, of Brixton. Both the screen and ororan
are the gift of Mr. Edward Bellasis, Lancaster
Herald, of the College of Arms. Along the west side
of the screen are emblazoned the shields of the
donor's family ; on the east side there are the arms



of the reigning Pontift, the arms of England, of
Cardinal Vaughan, of the first Bishops of the Sees of
London and Ely, as also the arms of Father Lockhart,
the restorer of the church, and of Rosmini, the Founder
of the Institute of Charity. The eastern window is
said to be one of the most beautiful in England, and is
larger than any in London. The glass of the window
is very fine, with its gem-like mosaic character, its
canopies and enrichments. The upper part of the
tracery is filled with imagery of angels with their
instruments of music clustered round the figure of
the Archangel Michael, who is hurling the great red
dragon from his place of pride. The principal figure
filling the central space over the altar is that of Our
Lord, crowned and robed as our High Priest and
King, His right hand raised in the act of blessing. To
the right hand of Our Lord stands His Blessed Viroin
Mother, on the left St. Joseph. The two outer lights
of the window on either side are occupied by figures
of St. Etheldreda and St, Bridget. This window
is the gift of His Grace the Duke of Norfolk, in
memory of his sister Etheldreda. The selection of
the figures in the window is to commemorate the
two well-beloved old Catholic Chapels of the Missions
of the Holy Family in Saffron Hill, and of St.
Bridget in Baldwin's Gardens, and which are now
united in the parish of Ely Place. The stained glass
window was the work of Messrs. Saunders & Co.
Before we quit the eastern window, we must glance
at the altar and the exquisite spire of its throne, all in
alabaster. Beneath the altar is a gilded and jewelled
reliquary, containing many relics of saints, but
especially a portion of the incorrupt hand of St.



28

Etheldreda. This relic has a history. About a
century ago, in pulling- down an old farmhouse in
Sussex, on the estate of the Duke of Norfolk, the
workmen came upon a hollow place behind a wall
which led to a small cell, evidently a priest's hiding-
place in the days of persecution. In a niche in the
wall of the cell they discovered a quantity of things
which had evidently belonged to a priest. Among
them was found, carefully wrapped around with
linen cloths, what seemed to be a model of a beau-
tiful female hand carved in ivory. Around the
wrist was a cuff in silver gilt, and on it an inscription
in characters of the ninth century — ReliquicE S,
Etheldredce RegincB et Virgmis. These relics were
taken to the Duke of Norfolk, who made them a
present to his agent, Mr. Harting. When his daughter
took the veil as a nun in the Dominican Convent,
at Stone, in Staffordshire, Mr. Harding presented the
relic to the convent. When St. Etheldreda's Church
was restored to Catholic worship. Bishop Ullathorne,
of Birminoham, in whose diocese the convent is
situated, detached with his own hands a portion
of the relic, which was duly attested and sealed
with the episcopal seal. Father Lockhart went to
Stone to receive it, and it was then placed in the
reliquary here under the high altar, where it is still
preserved.

The shrine of Saint Etheldreda will be found on
the north side of the Sanctuary.

An altar of oak, carved and painted, is set beneath
the statue of the vSaint. She stands, clothed in
garments showing her double dignity of Queen and
Abbess, and holding in her hand her miraculous staff ;



29

Foundress of Ely, there rests on her left arm, the
model of her religious house.

The west window, the tracery of which is also
very beautiful, is even larger than that at the east
end of the church. The stained glass is by John
Hardman, and represents the martyrs who suffered
under the tyranny of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth.
The Carthusian Fathers of Parkminster and Mr.
Middlemore have been generous contributors. Fore-
most among the martyrs are the figures of Blessed
John Fisher and Blessed Thomas More filling the
centre light. Our Lady Queen of Martyrs at the foot
of the Cross supporting the dead body of her
crucified Son is represented immediately above them.
On either side are depicted the Carthusian
martyrs from the Charterhouse, in our near neigh-
bourhood, who were executed at Tyburn, as also
their brethren of the York Charterhouse, executed in
that city, the former being the first victims of Henry
VIII. The window yet remains incomplete from want
of funds. The complete design is in the hands of
Messrs. Hardman of Birmingham: Coming now to the
side windows, all of which are filled in with stained glass,
in part the work of Mr. Worrall, five of them were the
gift of Mr. Edward Bellasis, one was presented by Mr.
Edwin de Lisle, and another by the Rev. G. Dunn,
as may be seen from the inscriptions under each of
the windows. The subjects of the eight side windows
may be summarised as follows : — ist. The creation
and fall of the angels. 2nd. The creation, fall and
banishment of Adam and Eve. 3rd. The sacrifice of
Abel, the death of Abel, flio^ht of Cain, the flood, and
Noah's sacrifice. 4th. The Tower of Babel, call of



30

Abraham, his offering to Melchisedeck, and sacrifice
of Isaac. 5th. Jacob's ladder, the sale of Joseph,
the Paschal Lamb in Egypt, and passage of the Red
Sea. 6th. The law given on Mount Sinai, the
Manna, Brazen Serpent, and the crossing of the
Jordan. 7th. The promise to David, the Temple of
Solomon, the Captivity and the Return. 8th. The
Birth of Our Lord and the Christian Sacrifice of
Calvary and of the Altar seen in vision by the
prophet.

In the sanctuary, near the south entrance, there
is a beautiful brass commemorative tablet dedicated
to the memory of Father Lockhart, by whom this
beautiful monument of antiquity was acquired. The
inscription runs thus : —

311 flDemoriaiiL

William Lockhart, B.A. Oxon., Priest of the
Order of Charity, founded by Rosmini, Rector of this
Mission, a man of great kindliness of judgment, and
loyalty to truth. Friend and disciple of Manning and
Newman, he preceded both in the great act of their
lives. By his instrumentality this ancient chapel of
the Bishops of Ely, wherein later in times of persecu-
tion, as a Catholic embassy chapel, the Holy Mass
found for a while an inviolable sanctuary, was in
(a.d.) 1876 restored to the old religion of an undivided
Christendom. Born 22 August, 1819 ; died May,
1892.

On whose Soul Sweet Jesus have Mercy.



31
III.

St ietbel5ret)a.^

St. Etheldreda or Audrey was born in the middle
of the seventh century, about the year 630, at Exning
in Suffolk, a villaore which is now almost a suburb of
Newmarket. She was a daughter of Anna, the
Christian king of East Anglia. In a green shady
meadow just outside the village, surrounded by giant
elms, are still to be seen the five springs and the clear
purling brook in which the future Queen and Saint
was baptised by St. Felix, the First Bishop of Dun-
wich. When she grew up she was, with much reluct-
ance on her part, married to Tonbert, a prince of East
Anglia, who bestowed upon her the Isle of Elge, or
Ely, as her dowry. However, the pious princess, who
was greatly honoured and reverenced by her husband
for her singular sanctity, obtained from him after the
marriage his formal consent to her taking a vow of
virginity during their union. Two years later, in 654,
her father Anna was killed in battle with Penda, the
powerful King of Mercia. A year later her husband
Tonbert died, and the widowed princess retired to her
demesne at Ely, evidently intending to devote the
remainder of her life solely to religion. Her pious
mother, St. Hereswyda, had already retired to the
convent of Chelles, near Paris. Her three sisters also,
St. Sexburga, St. Ethelburga, and St. Withburga, all at
different periods withdrew from the world, and even-
tually, like their mother St. Hereswyda and St. Ethel-

* In compiling this sketch of St. Etheldreda"s life the author has availed
himself greatly of Dean Stubb's " Historical Memorials of Ely Cathedral," 1897.



32

dreda, were recognised by the Church amongst the
number of Her canonised Saints. Etheldreda's widow-
hood lasted five years. Then her father's ancient
enemy, Penda, the Mercian king, was conquered and
slain at Wynwred, near Leeds, by Oswy, of North-
umberland, and the supremacy of the great heathen
kingdom of central England was thus broken. With
the ruin of Mercia the two Christian kingdoms of
Northumbria and East Anglia drew together. The


2

Online LibraryStephen Eyre JarvisA history of Ely Place : of its ancient sanctuary and of St. Etheldreda, its titular saint : a guide for visitors → online text (page 2 of 3)