William Henry Parr Greswell.

The monastery of Saint Werburgh: a poem, with illustrative notes online

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Online LibraryWilliam Henry Parr GreswellThe monastery of Saint Werburgh: a poem, with illustrative notes → online text (page 1 of 3)
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Let my dne feet never fail
To walk the studious cloysters pale,
And love the high embowed roof,
With antic pillars massy proof,
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light.

Milton's II Plnseroso.


Printed by Henry Smith, Si. Aon'i-Sqnsrc.



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Lo ! where triumphant o'er the wreck of years

The time-worn Fabrick lifts its awful form :
Scath'd with the blast its sculptur'd front appears,

Yet frowns defiance on the impetuous storm.
What Pow'rs — to more than giant bulk ally'd,

Thy firm-compacted mass conspir'd to raise !

Then bade thee stand secure to latest days,
Wonder of after times, — of Cestria's sires the


arue jnoitaftters of


Avail not now to make their Founder known

Those walls — with hieroglyphic marks imprest,
That speak some record in each mouldering stone,

To awake conjecture in the pensive breast.
For ah ! v\ hat Artist in thy form aspires

To exist immortal in the rolls of Fame ;

What mystic moral was the Sculptor's aim ;
Lost in oblivious maze — in vain the Muse inquires.


So vain is Pride — so faithless to her trust

Fame's hoastful clarion — that with bold emprize
Would eternize the Monareh's sleeping dust,

Or give to Ambition's hopes what Time denies :
He envies Genius too his well-earn'd praise,

By Truth consign'd to Memory's brazen page ;

Cancels the scroll with all-corroding age,
And prompts the faithless gloss, that Fiction's hand

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While tlius around thy batter'd precincts dwell

Oblivion's shades, and hovering damps impure,
How shall my Muse the invidious charm dispel,

Or trace the Monastery's bounds obscure.
Yet — venerable Mansion ! long the seat

Of Superstition gaunt, and harrowing Fear !

I — solitary — love to linger here, —
And in thy cloister'd haunts indulge the calm retreat.


Oft through thy spacious aisles I love to stray,

Where Heaven's translucent splendours stream no
Through rainbow-tinted panes ; — with bright display

Though blaz'd each crystall'd arch in days of yore;
Or seek thy Choir — the graver's art to trace

In carvings richly wrought, or sculptur'd shrines ;

Or secret Hall of conclave — that combines

With Symmetry's chaste form each lighter gothick



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And — as on dangerous enterprise intent,

Oft from these cheerful scenes my steps I bend.

To explore the time-elos'd Crypt's obscure descent,
Or mark where Ruins scarce their fall suspend;

And less cnamour'd of the effulgence bright,
That gilds the aspiring Temple's visto'd walls, -
To tread on fragments where the reptile crawls,

And spy what age conceals, — forego the garish light.


Midst cheerless days — in this sequester'd cell
Where never piere'd the mist-dispelling beam,

Some Anchoret perchance, his beads would tell,
Or musing, contemplate the taper's gleam.

1 mark his pallid form, — his frenzied air ;
Fell discontent sits brooding on his brow :
He starts ! in solitude to curse the vow

That tore him from his kind, — and doom'd him to

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Lost to the dearest charities of life,

Some Vestal wasted here her blooming years;
Sigh'd o'er the names of mother and of wife,

And pour'd in secret unavailing tears :
Absorb'd — a clay-cold form — in silent woe,

She sits unconscious, — till the vesper bell

Wafts on her startled ear its solemn knell,
And wakes her perjur'd lips to ill-dissembled show.


Yet shuddering Fancy starts, as here she strays
Near humid Vaults, impervious to the view,

Where labyrinthine tracks, and devious ways
Confirm the tale, — and speak Tradition true ;

That hence, — conductive to the distant Fane,
Winds the lone passage, — intricate and drear,
Dark — subterranean haunt ! where haggard Fear

Conceals from days remote his undiscover'd reign.

Or ittonautm* of


Here — many a postern in the dim recess,
Still yawns suspicious on the aching Bight ; —

While sinnons gulphs above — the toot repress,
And wind to depths profound their downward

Nor — Stranger ! trust the air- suspended stone,
Nor brave the steep, — by fond inquiry led, —
Lest ruin'd heaps betray thy incautious tread,

And hurl thee headlong down to mysteries unknown.


Yet — once perchance, through those recluse abodes,
Sequcsler'd Melancholy lov'd to stray :

Infuriate Treason — that iu secret broods ;
Or Avarice — that shuns the hated day :

There Guilt — that seeks in darkest shade to hide
His baleful head ; — there secret Lust retir'd :
Or Murder — with mistaken haste iuspir'd,

In vain the asylum sought, by Conscience still deny'd.

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For Innocence — no devious covert needs :

Whilst ill-Intent affects the shades of night,
She gives to public view her brighter deeds,

And gains new lustre from the cheerful light.
To wayward Men a living Precept given,

Her lair example with instruction teems ;

Till emulous, they hail its useful beams,
And bless the friendly ray, that guides their feet to


Thus — sang a youthful Minstrel: — when the Pile

No longer echoed to the Vesper song,
And pealing Organ ; — but each desart aisle

Rang to bis startling footsteps, lone and long.
Now Twilight dimly glimmering hastes to pour

Athwart the western Arch his chequer'd ray ;

Yet still — the unwary Boy prolongs his stay,
As bound by potent spell of legendary lore.

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What! sleeps be now? — or Bchool'd in tales of old, —
Cliiv alric scenes of torror and surprize,

Enthusiast strange ! do wildering fancies mould
His soul to frenzy, and delude his eyes ?

Certes — some Sylph of more than mortal grace —
Nor less than angel's bright, her beauties beam, —
Arrests his view, — in deep, extatic dream : —

Tis She — Werburgha fair — the Genius of the


" Range Thou Conjecture's labyrinth no more ;

My favour to thy view " — she said, serene,
" Recals the fleeting pageant, — as of yore

It pass'd successive o'er this changeful scene.
Who trod this holy ground from age to age,

Since Wulphere's pious zeal the Fane design'd,

Stupendous effort of his princely mind,
Mark now; — and let the sight thy wondering
thoughts engage."

&t, QMt rlmi glj.


The angelic Vision spoke ;— and for a time
Varied the Mansion to his prospect lay ;

Haunted it seem'd with Guests of other clime,
That stranger were than Fancy can portray !

Yet — for seclusion forin'd, the tranquil dome
With many a hallowed sign its use confess'd,
By Saxon Maids — a sister-train, possess'd : —

The virgin-Saint they hail, — and hail their ancient


Each in her hand a flickering taper hore,

That shed faint lustre through the dim abode :

Sable, their robes descending swept the floor;
A snowy veil adown each bosom flow'd.

"Blest Guide!" the youth exclaim'd "oh! deign
to say
Who that bright Pair, conspicuous in the throng?" —
" Milburg and Mildred lov'd — of Woden sprung,"

Indulgent she replied — " my kindred vestals they. '


io m)t ittomtttvv of

" But lo ! the.) vanish : — torn tliy curious gaze

On yon succeeding Group, whose aspect Bage,
And habit strange, beseeming ancient days,

Denote them Pastors of another age.
Less from tli • world apart ; less strict their vow ;

Observe the tonsure on each head imprest,

The beard prolix; the candid, (lowing vest,
And hence their manly sex, — and priestly order


"Mark now a Chii:i immortal in renown:

\\ hat other hand that ponderous sword can wield ?"

His brow encircled with a princely crown !

A gaunt Wolf threatens on his painted shield !

See at his call the ascetick train appear :
Vacant (for so he will'd) the ample dome
They fill; — and wide through this our vestal home

Extend their Order's sway: and con their Rule

*t. mietfmvqti. 11


" Earl Hugo ! — thou (said she) hast heard that name,
To Cestria's sons in distant ages known :

For none more favour'd with the Norman came
To win hy conquest sea-girt Britain's throne.

Nor mean the guerdon that his toils repaid :

Cestria's wide plains! to hold by martial might,
As the proud Donor by imperial right

His regal state maintain'd, and Britain's sceptre


" His strong hold once, that tow'r-flank'd Citadel
Conspicuous yet, mid old Caer-legion's walls:

There he his state upheld, as legends tell,
With war-provided bands, in trophied halls ;

And thence at will, his hardy vassals led

To drench with carnage dire the subject plain, —
Oft — as rapacious — o'er his fair domain,

Cambria her countless tribes from distant mountains

c 2

12 GTfjf ffiottA0terfi of

" In happier tiim s his haunt that fairy-ground

"Where — pristine lustre beaming — Dkya strays,
Ami dow, an ample .Mansion turret-crown'd,

Rivals ihe grandeur of primeval day-.
Bright emblems there by Herald's skill design'd,

Of Rollo's kindred line, the eschutcheon grace,

And Nenstrian sires record — a martial race,
With Albion's gentlest dames in nuptial union joiu'd.


" See ! to these gates what subject Lords attend
Their Prince — so near to Royalty allied !

Hark ! paeans (ill the Dome— and organs lend
Their powers, — to hail the pageantry of pride.

Reverse the scene — ah ! whither art thou tied

\ ain dream of Greatness? — Lo! with cares opprest,
Weak, old, dejected, — here be asks for rest, —

His borne the narrow cell ; the pallet cold his hed.

*t. &23er*urgf). 13


" See of his state the Chieftain disarray'd ;

Eas'd of its golden weight he bends his brow :
Shorn are the honours of his hoary head :

His lips pronounce the irrevocable vow.
Thy weeds — O Benedict! his limbs invest:

His tottering step a pilgrim's staff sustains : —

Pleas'd, by the grant of lands and rich demesnes,
From Guilt's tormenting sting to free his troubled

" But what these shadows of the illustrious dead,

Whose gorgeous state bespeaks their high degree V
" These Cestria's Earls, that in succession tread

Our courts, with prayer and choral minstrelsy :
Abbots, whose fronts the mitred honours grace,

Whose hands the crozier ; — wont erewhile to hold

With Cestria's princely Chief and Barons bold
High conference, — and assert hereditary place."

14 3T()f fHottaetrrp of


'J'hls — to her favour'd Minstrel's wondering gaze
Visions long past his sainted Guide recall,

And all the Minster's earliest pomp displays,
Its vaulted roofs, long aisles, and sculptur'd w alls.

Now, from the Nave and Transept — towering high
Leads to the Refectory's distant site, —
Or Prior's devious home, or Abbot's, — hright

With rafters gilt, and sheen of solemn blazonry.


Nor deigns she not to tell, how once his state
The Abbey's mitred Ruler here maintained ;

What trains his hall, — what menials fill'd his gate ;
And at his 'hoard profuse what splendour reign'd :

And how those portals — hospitably wide —
Heceiv'd each nobler stranger; — nor repell'd
The abject and the poor: — for sacred held,

Each Pilgrim's simpler claims a ready dole supplied.

St. zmtrbuvqt). 15


And— how the Prior grave and courteous Guest

The social hour till evening dirge prolong ; —
Then part in peace, and seek the haunts of rest ;

And early wake, to join the Matin song.
For lo ! — e'er Darkness take her drowsy flight,

Some hand hath trimm'd yon taper's smothering

That through the Dormitory's length its gleam
Threw feeble, glimmering faint, with scarce distin-
guish'd light.


Each Cenobite erewhile his pallet there

In silent muse possess'd, or sleep profound : —

But hark ! a Bell athwart the misty air

Pours on the ear of Night its wonted sound.

No toilet him expects, — since girt his loins
In slumber, — nor abandon'd e'er his vest :
With downcast eye, and footstep half supprest,

Gliding through charnell'd ways, the choral band he

io srijc Atonaftttrs oc

For who — that on thy legend bends to pore
Sage Benedict! and holy discipline —
Kens not these nightly orisons ? — nay more,

Prime, Third, Sixth, None, and Vespers, and
" Seven times the sceptred Prophet wont to raise
Through night's dark watches, and the cheerful

His voice to God : — as He— my children, Ye
Seven times shall pour the prayer, or chaunt the
hymn of praise.


" And Thou that would'st our holy warfare wage,
And win o'er self and sin the palm divine,

Know first — to teach is Wisdom's province sage,
To hear in silence — and obey — is thine.

To Thee — my Son — a father's counsels given
Shall prove as Jacob's ladder; whilom trod
By Angels -fleetest messengers of God, —

Who taught the Patriarch's gaze bright intercourse
with heaven.

«.t. mievMrgl). 17


" Fear God : be this Humility's first law. —
Let strong subjection curb thy recreant will. —

For God's love thy superiours hold in awe. —
Resign'd and patient, learn to suffer ill. —

From sage Confessor's ear, no secret guile
Of thought or act let faithless accents hide. —
Degraded and abas'd, thy penance bide

In meekness. — Deem thyself the vilest of the vile.


" Honour thy Rule ; by this thy conduct square. —
Speak seldom, — yet if question'd, mild reply. —

The lightsome thought, the wanton laugh beware. —
Season thy words with gentlest gravity. —

With eyes that court the ground, but thoughts above;
Sitting or standing, if thou work or pray,
In choir and convent, garden, field, or way, •

Let every varied act thy meek demeanour prove."

is 3rt)f Worawtetp of


"And — was it thus" — the admiring youth replied,

"'Each blest RECLUSE who hade the world adieu,
Victim no more of Envy, Ire, and Pride,—

Could calmly pay to God allegiance true !
Pow'rml though counsels arc to sway the mind

To Virtue ; — sweet the thoughts of doing well ;

Yet Nature's froward children will rebel,
Their judgment prone to good, — their llesh to ill


His bright Conductress smii'd : " Seest thou" said she,
" Yon Monk perverse, whose bosom's turbid flame

Lists to no soothing words of courtesy,

Nor grace can humble him, nor penance shame.

Yields he? 'tis hut in semblance; — mark the scorn
Through hypocritic mask that lights his eye : —
Some fiend accurs'd impels his soul awry,

And bursts his labouring breast, by jarring passions

&t. mttbuvgti. 19


" But will the wretch unmov'd, with hunger pine,
A mark of scorn to every Brother's view ;

Nor crouch beneath the smarting discipline ?

Then Heaven's own thunders shall his soul subdue.

Behold him prostrate on tbe sacred floor
Day after day — forlorn, unheeded, lie,
Till Pity can no more the boon deny : —

" Enough : — thy pardon seal'd — depart, and sin no


With meditative gaze, the Minstrel view'd

Each passing scene ; and question'd much his
mind; —

Fulfils Man Heaven's behests in solitude,

More dear to God, as more he shuns his kind?

Not so the Saviour deem'd ! — In every place
Where Man resorted, there his presence found
Its happiest sphere ; diffusing widely round

Example's brightest light, and Virtue's loveliest grace.


20 arijc monastery of


More had he said : — hut now his startled eye
Beholds new sights : — Processions, Pilgrimages,

Mix'd shows of " Holy Mummeries," — antic Joy,
And rabble-Rout; — and Interludes and Stages.

Strange sounds his ear assail of wild commotion,
As though hy eddying storms of Limbo tost,
In the " Fool's Paradise" his thoughts were lost;—

And more his Fancy dreams of Riot than Devotion.

But soon, a Form majestic sprang to view

Of frowning mien; — a diadem he wore : —
" Depart" he sternly said, " licentious crew,

And dare profane these hallow'd walls no more."
Instant a Seraph, rob'd in purest light,

Shot like a falling star, athwart the shade : —

Twas heavenly Truth ! — she came, resplendent
To dissipate the gloom of intellectual night.

£t. 3£3trititrgf). 21


" Blest be the dawn of this auspicious day,"

The Virgin cried : — " Delusion ! cease thy reign :
Error ! no longer cloud the mental ray :

Fell Bigotry ! resign thy torch and chain.
Here — let Religion — more serenely bright

From mists emerging — with full splendour shine ;

And Learning haste to build her favourite shrine/'
The Vision spake, — and straight evanish'd from his



Cfje fflona&tery of $t eftteimrgf).



Note I. — Stanza 1.

Scath'd with the blast its sculptural front appears.

More than thirty years have elapsed, since the Author
first sketched the rude outline of the Poem which after
various corrections and additions is now submitted to
the Public. The venerable Cathedral of Chester
which constitutes a comparatively limited portion of the
ancient Monastic Buildings — by the assaults of time
and weather on peculiarly perishable materials, has long-
been deprived of almost all its exterior grace, and origi-
nal beauty of decoration. The heavy central tower,
and various other parts of this ponderous and muti-
lated Edifice, had at length become so ruinous as to
require speedy measures to arrest, (at least in some de-
gree,) the rapid progress of dilapidation. Very recently-
several parts of the exterior have been restored by a new
casing — and others are now undergoing a like process.
At present therefore, the sacred Pile no longer wears
its late uniform aspect of decay ; but the eye is some-
what offended by an incongruous mixture of recent and
antique. In the interior of the Cathedral the ravages of
time are much less apparent — and there also recent
changes have beeu made. Several ancient beauties and



decorations long concealed have been brought to light.
Various appendages of the ancient Monastery have been
newly laid open to view. — Others perhaps to the regret
of the antiquary, have been removed, either for want of
funds for their reparation, or incompliance with sugges-
tions, of modern convenience. Such has been the gene-
ral effect of the alterations (which arc yet in progress,)
that the Author after an absence of several years has
found it difficult to recognize some of those scenes and
objects which early acquaintance had endeared to his re-

Willi respect to the History of this Monastic Institu-
tion, the Poem proceeds upon the most ancient Tradi-
tions — regardless of the scepticism of some modern
writers, who with an affectation of very superior saga-
city, have gravely called in question the accounts of
early historians, without substituting any which
either more certain or more probable.

Note II. — Stanza 5.

With bright display
Though blaz'd each crystedVd arch in days of yon .

As many of the ancient Churches of Cheshire wen
a remote period richly decorated with painted glass j it
cannot be supposed that the Cathedral of the Dioce e
was always destitute of such ornaments. When Chester
was surrendered to the Parliamentary forces, A. 1).
[645—6; it was expressly stipulated by the 10th Article
of capitulation, " That no Church within the city
should be dcfa.r.'.-' See Ortnerod's History of Cheshire,
Vol. 1. p. ii)!).— "But A. 1). 1683, says the Bame autho-
rity, "James, Duke of Monmouth came to ( 'In -ter,
greatly affecting popularity, and giving countenance to
riotous assemblies, and tumultuous mobs, whose violence
was such, as to pelt with stones the v.indows of several


gentlemen's houses in the city, and otherwise to damage
the same. They likewise furiously forced the doors of
the Cathedral Church, and destroyed most of the painted
glass." Thus Mr. Ormerod, Hist, ut supra, p. 210, and
Camper's Mss.

Note III. — Stanza 5.

Or seek thy Choir — the graver's art to trace.

The Choir of Chester Cathedral is perhaps inferior
in the lightness and beauty of its tabernacle-work to
few or none in the kingdom. The stalls — twenty-four
on each side, are also very neat, and finely decorated
with carving. Amongst its profusion of ornaments the
Shrine of St. Werburgh is most conspicuous. See
Pennant's Tours in Wales, Vol. 1, p. 240, Sco.

Xote IV. — Stanza 5.

Or secret Hall of conclave —

The Chapter House — which — says Willis, opens
into the North Transept by a passage cut through :
(History of Chester Cathedral,) but such has notbeen .
the entrance in our days. The Chapter house itself,
and its remarkable vestibule, (which also Willis recog-
nizes as the old grand entrance from the East Cloister,)
has been sufficiently described by Mr. Pennant {Tours
above-mentioned, p. 240,) and others who have treated
of the antiquities of this Cathedral.

Note V. — Stanza 9.

TJiat hence, — conductive to the distant Fane,
Winds the lone passage, — intricate and drear.

Ralph Higden a Monk of Chester composed in the
XIV. century the History intitled " Polychronicon"

e 2


— which was translated from the original Latin, by
Johan Trevysa, at the request of Syr Thomas Lord of

Barkklev." — In tliis curious work the author lias intro-
duced a particular description of Chester, in which are
these remarkable words : " In tliis Cyte ben waves
under erthc with vowtes and stone wi ike wonderly
wrought thre chambred werkes." — Tims it appears that
Trevysa lias rendered the words of the Latin original,
" lapides opere mirabiliter testudinati, triclinia concame-
rata." See Ly sons, p, Y2~ . The context probably leads
to the supposition that Higdcn alludes to subterraneous
structures of Roman origin — but popular tradition doubt-
less first drew from this source a story which it after-
wards connected with the ancient abbey of S. Werburgh.
— In the memory of persons now living, a rumour pre-
vailed of a subterraneous communication between this
Monastery and the Collegiate Church of St. John, or
some other of the ancient religious Houses of the City :
— and as various door-ways, either from remote times
intirely blocked up, or partially filled with rubbish, were
observed in the cloisters of the Cathedral, and solitan
places adjoining them, it was imagined that some of
them were the ancient entrances into those " Souter-
reins" — .Air. Pennant acknowledges that the report of
such vaults has at different times powerfully stimulated
the curiosity and researches of antiquaries, but hitherto
without any satisfactory result. Tour in Wales, Vol. 1 ui
SUpra. — Some of the " arcana" connected with 1 1 it- clois-
ters of the Cathedral have (as before observed) recently
been explored, cleared of their rubbish — and ascertained
to lie ancient offices of the Monastery, or long disused
ways of communication between the several Conventual
residences. — " There are vaults partly yet closed, and
partly used as cellars, under the site of the ancient
abbey, which appear to lie of very remote antiquity.
See Lijsons, p. 436. Mr. Ormerod has noticed others


found in more distant parts of the city — some of which
he says, " exhibit specimens of vaulting equal to the
Cloisters of a Cathedral." Hist, of Chester, p. 290.

Note VI. — Stanza 10.

While sinuous gulp/is above — the foot repress.

The allusion in this passage is to the several spiral
flights of stone steps communicating with the ambula-
tories above the arches, which surround the nave and
transept of the Cathedral. Such descending flights
(technically called newel-staircases) are found in various
angles of the edifice, as well as in every corner of the
great Tower. Some of them were long since in so ruin-
ous a state, as not only to render the descent by them
dangerous, but the appearance very alarming.

Note VII. — Stanza 15.

Since Wulphere'' s pious zeal the Fane design'd.

Popular opinion, on the authority of some of the old
writers, considers Wulphere or Wulfere King of
Mercia as the original founder of this Monastery, for

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Online LibraryWilliam Henry Parr GreswellThe monastery of Saint Werburgh: a poem, with illustrative notes → online text (page 1 of 3)