Tag Archives: medieval cathedral

Cemetery of the Week #71: Salisbury Cathedral

Exterior of Salisbury Cathedral and its very tall spire.

Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Salisbury, called Salisbury Cathedral
The Close, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP1 2EJ, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 01722 555120
Founded: 1220
Number of interments: at least 22 (57 on Findagrave)
Open: Monday through Saturday, the cathedral is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sundays, it’s open from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., but visitor access is restricted during services. Opening hours can change over holidays and for special events. You can find up-to-date closure information here.
Requested voluntary donation: Adults £6.50, Seniors/Students £5.50, Children (5-17) £3. Family admission is £15.

Of all the medieval cathedrals built in England, Salisbury Cathedral is unique because it was completed in just 38 years (1220 – 1258) in a single architectural style: early English Gothic. Like a beacon to heaven, the tower and spire (Britain’s tallest) were added about 50 years later. The building itself stands as a testimony to the faith of its parishioners and builders.

Inside Salisbury Cathedral, the bishop’s throne with its tall canopy sits at the eastern end of the quire stalls. The Greek name for this seat was kathedra and its presence — not the size of the building — elevates a church to a cathedral.

Among the cathedral’s treasures is a scrap of fabric believed to be a remnant of the Virgin Mary’s cloak.  It also has the world’s oldest working clock, which dates to 1386.

Salisbury Cathedral also owns the best of the four existing copies of the Magna Carta. Elias of Dereham, who later supervised the building of the cathedral, was present at Runnymede in 1215 when King John was forced by his rebellious barons to sign a rudimentary bill of rights. Although king, John couldn’t read the Latin document, which guaranteed the right to a jury of peers, among other things. Elias of Dereham was charged with distributing copies of the “Great Charter.” Salisbury has had this one for almost 800 years. It’s on display in its Chapter House.

The oldest tomb in the cathedral belongs to Osmund, who had been bishop of the previous cathedral, which stood at Old Sarum. (Only its foundation survives.) In 1092, Osmund consecrated that building. He collected a library of scholarly works and recruited local boys to sing in the choir. When the “new” cathedral was completed in 1258, Osmund’s tomb was brought along. His effigy now stands in the nave (the central part) of Salisbury Cathedral. The Norman-era tomb shows a bearded man with eyes closed, his body wrapped in a stone cloak that doesn’t contour to his body.

Osmund was canonized as a saint in 1457. During the late Middle Ages, the cathedral’s Trinity Chapel was the site of a richly decorated shrine to him. Pilgrims came in “great numbers,” according to the cathedral’s tourist guidebook. The shrine was destroyed during the Reformation on the orders of Henry VIII.

Crusader Sir William II Longespée (from the French for long sword — he was tall) may have been among the first buried in the cathedral, although he may have been buried at Acre before coming home to England, if in fact he did come home at all. (Accounts vary and Longespée’s name is sometimes written as Longpre. He was an illegitimate son of King Henry II, which made him a half-brother to Richard the Lionheart and the King John who signed the Magna Carta.)

Be that as it may, Longespée died in 1250 at the Battle of Mansurah in Egypt while commanding the English forces and 280 Knights Templar against the Mameluks. The French king Louis IX, who wasn’t on the field when Longespée perished, headed the crusade. Longespée’s effigy in Salisbury Cathedral shows him with legs crossed at the knee, both hands on his sword, even though his head lies on a pillow. His shield rests against his left shoulder. His mailed feet press against the figure of a lion, which indicates he died in battle. Some photographs of the effigy are online here.

Set into the floor are two brass monuments that cover the graves of two of the cathedral’s bishops. Bishop Wyville (died 1375) had been challenged to a single combat by the Earl of Salisbury, an event recorded by his monument. (An image is available here.  Scroll down.) Bishop Gheast (died 1577) left a vast library to the cathedral.

Two enameled figures lie atop the graves of Sir Richard Mompesson and his wife Katherine. Both of them wear Jacobean ruffs around their necks and their eyes are painted open. She wears a dark dress decorated with herbal figures painted in gold. Lace cuffs emphasize the praying hands she holds above her waist. They’re hands with character, wrinkled and veined. Her husband wears painted wooden armor, also adorned with gold. His hands are less lined than his wife’s even though his hair had gone white. A photo of their whole tomb is here.

In the quire lies Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, who died in 1621. She was an author and translator, who saw her brother’s Arcadia published after his death in 1586. (He is also buried here.)  Mary Herbert is the first English woman recognized as a poet.  Her name is among those floated to be the true author of Shakespeare’s plays.

The cathedral’s cloister

Very lifelike is the marble effigy of John Wordsworth, who served as Salisbury Cathedral’s bishop between 1885 and 1911. He founded the school that continues to exist in the Cathedral Close. John’s statue seems to have been carved from life. You could definitely pick him out in a crowd. His wavy hair recedes from his forehead above a sharp, straight nose and a narrow chin. His fingers intertwine above the stole that wraps his neck to past his waist. Even his full sleeves are so realistic that one marvels that their folds and billows withstand gravity. Altogether, Salisbury holds the remains of 16 former bishops.

Most notable of recent burials is Sir Edward Heath, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974 and as a Member of Parliament from 1950 to 2001. He lived in the Cathedral Close for the last twenty years of his life. After his death in 2005, he was cremated and his ashes interred in the floor of the cathedral, beneath a slab that remembers him as a “statesman, musician, and sailor.”

Photography was forbidden inside the cathedral when I visited many years ago, so please forgive the amount of linkage I’ve done tonight.  It really is a lovely place, full of history.  May the links inspire you to visit for yourself.

Useful links:
Salisbury Cathedral’s homepage

Information about more burials in the Cathedral

Some lovely photos of the cathedral

More photos of the cathedral’s riches

Tourist information about the Salisbury area

More information about Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke

The medieval plague pit across the green.

My review of Who Lies Where: A Guide to Famous Graves

Cemetery of the Week #63: Westminster Abbey

Towers of Westminster Abbey

Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster, known as Westminster Abbey
City of Westminster, 20 Deans Yard, London, SW1P 3PA, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44(0)20 7222 5152
Founded: 960
Number of Interments and Memorials: 500?
Open: Usually open to visitors from Monday to Saturday throughout the year. Hours vary, so check the daily schedule here: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/opening-times. On Sundays and religious holidays such as Easter and Christmas, the Abbey is open for worship only. All are welcome to services.
Admission: £16 for adults, £13 for students over 18 and seniors 60+, £6 children from 11 – 18 years old, children under 11 free if accompanied by an adult. Family discounts are available. Each of these entry fees includes the audio guide.

King Edward (later called the Confessor) was born between 1002 and 1005, son of Saxon King Ethelred the Unready. He was chased from England by Danish invaders and lived in exile in Normandy, where he vowed to make a pilgrimage to Rome if he ever regained his throne. When he eventually returned to England, he was crowned at Winchester in 1042. The Pope released him from fulfilling his vow on the condition he would found a monastery to St Peter. Edward chose to replace the old Saxon church at Westminster with a new building in the Norman style. It was consecrated on Holy Innocents’ Day at the end of December 1065, but Edward was too ill to attend. He died early in January 1066 and was buried before the High Altar in his new church. The Bayeux Tapestry shows his burial procession.

Westminster Abbey has served as the site of every British coronation since 1066. The tradition predates the modern Gothic building, begun by Henry III in 1245. The abbey is also stuffed nearly to bursting with mortuary sculpture, which it is –unfortunately – forbidden to photograph. The abbey’s website says, “Taken as a whole, the tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom.” Photographs of the monuments are available from the Abbey’s gift shop.

Effigies of kings and queens in Westminster

Seventeen British monarchs reside permanently in the Abbey, ranging from Henry III, whose heart lies at Fontevrault Abbey in France amongst the tombs of his ancestors to Henry VIII’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves, and Mary, Queen of Scots. Protestant Elizabeth I shares a tomb with her older sister Catholic Mary I beneath an epitaph that says “Consorts both in throne and grave, here rest we two sisters…in the hope of one Resurrection.” Apparently, Elizabeth’s coffin was stacked atop Mary’s. Elizabeth’s effigy is the only one visible.

Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey

Commoners such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Darwin, and Sir Isaac Newton were honored with burial in the Abbey. Charles Dickens was interred here against his will, rather than being allowed to be buried alongside his family in Highgate Cemetery. Composer Henry Purcell was buried in the abbey near the organ that he had played. George Frederic Handel requested burial in the Abbey in his will, since he had composed a hymn that is still used at every coronation. African explorer David Livingstone was offered burial in the Abbey after his death in Africa, so his attendants unearthed his body, embalmed it, and sent it back to England without its heart, which they reburied in his original grave. During the 20th century, coffins were no longer buried in Westminster. Actor Sir Henry Irving was the first to be cremated and have his ashes interred in 1905.

Other famous Britons are commemorated in the Abbey, although their remains lie elsewhere. Among these are Shakespeare (buried in Holy Trinity Church at Stratford upon Avon), Jane Austen (buried in Winchester Cathedral), William Blake (buried in an unmarked grave in Bunhill Fields, London), Lewis Carroll (buried in Guildford’s Mount Cemetery), Sir Winston Churchill (buried with his parents in St. Martin’s Churchyard in Bladon), Shelley and Keats (both buried in the Protestant Cemetery of Rome), and many more.

Some Britons were recognized many years posthumously with memorial plaques. Lord Byron’s memorial was placed in 1969. Oscar Wilde was recognized on a stained glass window unveiled on Valentine’s Day 1995. Poet and spy Christopher Marlowe received his acknowledgment on another panel in the same window in 2002, 500 years after his death.

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was honored by a bust in the Poet’s Corner, the only American to be granted that honor. A statue of Martin Luther King Jr. stands in a niche beside nine other 20th century martyrs, including theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior

At the west end of the nave lies the tomb of The Unknown Warrior. After the end of World War I, unidentified British servicemen were exhumed from graveyards in the Aisne, the Somme, Arras, and Ypres, then draped in the British flag. Brigadier General L. J. Wyatt, commander of British troops in France and Flanders, chose one, who was placed in a plain pine coffin. The others were reburied with honors. The chosen unknown was reburied in the Abbey floor on Armistice Day, November 11, 1920. Of all the graves in the Abbey, this is the only one upon which it is forbidden to step. Flowers or wreaths often surround it.

Useful links:

Westminster Abbey’s home page

An admittedly partial list of famous people buried or remembered at the Abbey

Map to Westminster Abbey

A map of the interior of the Abbey

The UNESCO Heritage listing

Books I’ve reviewed that reference Westminster Abbey:

Westminster Abbey: The Monuments

London Cemeteries: An Illustrated Guide

London Cemeteries

Who Lies Where

Famous and Curious Cemeteries: A Pictorial, Historical, and Anecdotal View of American and European Cemeteries 

The Cemetery Book

Weekly Photo Challenge: Old Fashioned

The grave of Richard the Lionheart’s heart

Although he was king of England, Crusader Richard the Lionheart spent very little time in England — and did not, in fact, speak English.  He grew up at his mother’s court in Aquitane, in Southern France.  All in all, Richard spent only six months of his 10-year reign in England.

In 1199, he was shot by a crossbow bolt while besieging the castle of Chalus-Chabrol.  The wound became toxic and he died, leaving his kingdom to his brother John (who later signed the Magna Carta).

Richard wanted his entrails buried at Chalus and his body buried at the foot of his father’s tomb in Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou.  His heart he bequeathed to the city of Rouen, which had always remained faithful to him.

After the Funeral:  Posthumous Adventures of Famous Corpses reports that “His exceptionally large heart was encased in a silver casket.”  That casket was donated to ransom St. Louis from the Saracens in 1250.  The heart it had contained disappeared for centuries, then turned up in 1838 in a lead box marked, “Hic jacet cor Ricardi Regis Anglorum.”

If all that is true, I’m not sure what actually lies in the tomb in Rouen’s Cathedral de Notre-Dame.  Its inscription reads, “Hic cor conditum est Ricardi Anglorum Regis qui Cor Leonis dictus.”  Roughly, that’s “Here lies the heart of the English king Richard, called Lionheart.”

The tomb looks like a medieval grave, complete with the clean-shaven monarch resting his crowned head on a stone pillow, broken sword lying on his breast, and his feet against a crouching lion.  I believe that signifies he died in battle.  It’s a wonderful old-fashioned monument, whatever lies within.

The effigy where his body lies at Fontevraud shows him as bearded.  You can see the photo comparison here.

My review of After the Funeral is here.

Other Rouen gravesites on Cemetery Travel:

Cemetery of the Week #23: Aître Saint Maclou

Joan of Arc