Imatges de pÓgina

Of the high vaulted porch beneath,
Where Norman beauty hangs a wreath
Of simple elegance and grace;
Where slender columns guard the space
On every side, in cluster'd row,

The triple arch through arch disclose,
And lightly o'er the vaulting throw

The thwart-rib and the fretted rose." The fresh florid painting of the chestnut roof, upon which not a brush has been employed for three centuries or more, is very remarkable, and shows that the secret of mixing colours for the eye of posterity has not descended to the present day. In the several compartments of this roof, as faintly seen í h $

in the foregoing view, the three initial letters are the Jesu HOMINUM SALVATOR. only ornament; and being in the Saxon form, the effect is rather pleasing than otherwise.—But in order to give the reader a more correct notion of the interior, we proceed to the particular features selected for illustration. Among these is

The Nabe, to which we have slightly alluded, and on the spectator few things can be imagined more likely to make a strong and lasting impression. From whatever point it is contemplated, laterally or longitudinally, grandeur of design and elaborate execution are the leading characteristics. To enter into minute detail of its architectural beauties were impossible in our narrow compass. The general effect is all that we can presume to describe; and of this, assisted by the very correct view prefixed, the reader will have little difficulty in forming a just estimate of the magnificence that reigns in this venerable temple of our ancestors. There is one feature particularly deserving of notice, as a boundary line between two grand epochs in ecclesiastical architecture : this is, the point where the Saxon and Gothic meet in the same column. From the great western entrance, right and left, the massive clustered pillars have been evidently chiselled, at vast labour and expense, out of the original Saxon—thus engrafting the new style upon the primitive stock. The point where the Gothic ceases and the Saxon remains, and marking where the progressive work of transformation had been arrested by some public event, forms an admirable contrast, and shows the Gothic to infinite advantage. But the Saxon arches, still untouched by the reformer's chisel, will be viewed by every lover of native art as precious relics of antiquity.

" In Saxon strength that abbey frown'd,
With massive arches, broad and round,
That rose alternate, row and row,

On ponderous columns, short and low." Near the centre of the pavement is a remarkable echo, limited to one particular position, and quite inaudible as we diverge from the spot. The voice,

St. Albans.]



or clapping of the hands, is reverberated with a noise like the discharge of cannon, or the roll of distant thunder; at first, loud and multiplied, and then dying gradually away in languid undulations.

St. Cuthbert's Screen,* which divides the nave from the choir, forms an imposing boundary to the coup-d'oil ; but over its top the spectator's eye penetrates the lofty transept, takes in the whole space between the high altar and the western portal, and wanders over the richly emblazoned ceiling with feelings of mingled awe and admiration. To the right and left are objects that rivet his attention to the spot: the names and monuments of the dead; the tablets that encrust the walls, or mix with the pavement, are eloquent of the past, and address him in terms of solemn admonition. The dust of many abbots, the remains of unnumbered monks, rest within its walls; "these all died in the faith, and, from the steps of the altar, descended into the regions of silence. They, too, who had circled the monarch’s throne, swayed the senate, fought his battles, fostered science, and enriched their country with the spoils of nations, have all in their turn craved, like Wolsey at last, the favour of a little hallowed earth to rest their weary

To enumerate the illustrious dead who have here taken up their last abode, is not within our limits; but we must not omit, even in the most cursory notice, to mention the famous traveller who saw, or feigned, more wondrous things than ever fell to the lot of any other “pilgrim of the nations." We mean Sir John Mandeville, a native of the place, whose tomb, covered with a massive slab of grey marble, and verified by an inscription on the adjacent column, bears record to his eventful history.

But as he died at Liege in 1372, after thirty-four years spent in travelling, doubts must necessarily arise as to the fact of his being buried here. The evidence by which it is supported, however, is equal to that of his travels.

The Choir, comprising the whole space between the western arch of the tower and the great altar, is indisputably grand. Flanked by two magnificent tombs right and left; closed on the east by the celebrated altar screen, canopied, niched, and carved—magna componere parvis--with all the fanciful, yet classic elegance of an ivory fan, the stranger is almost bewildered by the profusion of objects that here claim his notice and admiration. To dwell upon

heads on.

* The origin of this screen is thus gravely recorded: his arm restored to health. And accordingly, on his During the Abbot Richard's visit at Tinmouth, he re- return, he built a wall, or screen, across the nave ceived a wonderful cure of a withered arm, with which of the church, about 50 feet below the choir ; and, he had been afflicted many years. It is related, that adjoining to the wall, a chapel, dedicated to St. being present at Durham, when the monks were re Cuthbert. This chapel stood on the west side of moving the corpse of St. Cuthbert, the founder of the said screen, and had service performed in it, and Durham Cathedral and the Apostle of the North, he an altar; but has been long since pulled down, though assisted to lift and support the shrine, and received the screen remains to this day.--Lires of the Abfrom that instant a cure of his malady, and found bots.

these in anything like minute description, would preoccupy the space which we must reserve for other particulars; but a few words are indispensable for

the sake of the engraved view. The light, which is finely modified by the means usually adopted, falls from the centre of the tower upon the various objects in the choir, with a subdued religious effect which greatly adds to the general impression. In this position, surrounded by the varied labours of many centuries, we can fancy in part the scenes and events which have transpired within these arches, before that altar, at which so many kings and peers have bent the suppliant knee in penitence and confession. In those early times it was a blessing, that when outrage, violence, and injus

tice were irrepressible by any other means, the strong arm of the church was sufficient to restrainand when it could not effectually restrain, to punish with its stigma—the licentious baron, the crowned despot, and make the culprits quail at the very head of their armies and retainers. Where the law was weak, religion was strong, and, like the voice of God, heard upon earth, encouraged the prostrate, and brought the rebellious under subjection. Without its power and influenceits holy exercises and humanizing studies—without the spiritual arm to check aggression, to redress grievances, the baser passions must have revelled without control, and life have become a scene of continued warfare.

These considerations are nowhere felt with more obvious truth than on the spot where we now stand, where so many deadly feuds have given way to religious exhortation ; where they who had met as foes quitted the altar as friendsfriends at least in act, if not in heart—and returned the guilty sword to its

[ocr errors]




scabbard. But we need not detain our readers with what is manifest to every reflecting mind—that if justice and redress were anywhere to be found in those times, it was rather in the abbeys, than either in the Star Chamber or Westminster Hall.

The Screen of the great altar, or “Wallingford's screen," was begun and finished in the reign of Edward the Fourth, and is one of the best—if not the very best-specimens of the style and architecture of that epoch. It was the munificent taste of Abbot Wallingford, and his liberal encouragement of the arts, which have bequeathed this precious morceau to the admiration of posterity. It has suffered little from the lapse of time and the momentous changes which have passed over the abbey; and for beauty of design and elegance of workmanship is worth a pilgrimage. Its front consists of three divisions—a centre and two wings, the latter being perfectly symmetrical; the lower part of the centre displays a double series of small niches with rich canopies. On great festivals of the Church this splendid tabernacle was covered with cloth of gold or crimson, and, drooping from its lofty pinnacles in ample folds, must have produced an effect worthy of the gorgeous taste of Wolsey himself, who carried the “state ecclesiastical” to a higher pitch than any of his predecessors.

The Pulpit, which is a fine specimen of oak carving, though not apparently of a remote date, is well deserving of attention; and in recalling the splendid ceremonial of former times, with the impressive but simple and decorous service of the present day, the mind is prepared to weigh and contrast the spiritual energies which, exercised under that canopy, have expounded the doctrines and enforced the duties of a religious life. The pulpit of St. Albans would be no bad subject in the hands of another Boileau.

On the right of the altar, and closely adjoining the screen, is the tomb of Abbot Ramryge—an elaborately carved Gothic chapel or shrine, greatly admired for the beauty and delicacy of its workmanship, which is in high preservation.

Opposite to this, and occupying the corresponding arch, is another but less ornamental shrine to the memory of Abbot Whethamstead. Both are of native stone-of a remarkably fine close texture, procured from the quarry of Tottenhoe, light Portland colour, and capable of being wrought into the most delicate tracery. Of this material all the finest chisel-work of the abbey is composed.

Erected against the south wall of the church, where a door formerly existed, is a beautiful Piscina, represented in many engravings. It has all the marks of antiquity, and is said to occupy the spot where, in the earliest times of Christianity in this country, two devout Eremites had chosen their cell, and there, by a life of austere penance and mortification, left a holy example for their brethren in after times. As a fragment of the colossal Abbey, this traditionary relic is of itself a gem, and never fails to secure a full share of the stranger's

attention. On one of the windows of the south aisle, was a representation of the martyrdom of St. Alban” in painted glass, only a few fragments of which remain. On the wall below was an inscription, now almost obliterated, beginning thus :

“ This image of our frailty, painted glass,

Shews where the life and death of Alban was.
A knight beheads the martyr, but so soon
His eyes dropt out to see what he had done;
And leaving their own head, seemed with a tear

To wail the other head laid mangled there,” &c. Between the east façade of the great screen and the end of the church wall, is the space occupied by the modern Vestry, containing several objects well deserving of notice, and long hallowed in the eyes of priest and pilgrim as the spot on which the Shrine of the protomartyr had stood for centuries, and drawn much tribute from the devout of all nations. Deeply cut in the pavement near this spot, is the following inscription :


In the pavement six small artificial grooves mark the spot where rested the pillars of the shrine, weighed down by the accumulated riches with which it was loaded in the shape of votive offerings.

On the north side is the Rood-loft—a carved Gothic shrine of oak, in the upper part of which, behind a lattice-work, the monks kept constant watch over the sacred treasures, while the pilgrims knelt at the shrine. In the floor several hollows are observable around the spot-worn, it is said, by the successive crowds whose "penitential knees” subjected the stone

“ It is to be understood, that in those days,” says the saint lying in great state. The inside cortained the historian of the abbey, “there was no screen at a coffin, wherein had been deposited the bones of the top of the choir, that the great altar stood where Alban by Abbot Geoffrey. This was enclosed in the rails and table now stand, and the shrine was another case, which, on the two sides, was overlaid placed in what is now the consistory; so that it was with figures cast in gold and silver, showing the chief all open, even from Cuthbert's screen, to the view of acts of Alban's life, in work that was highly raised and the whole choir and congregation.

embossed. At the head, which was toward the east, “ Abbot Symond caused the shrine to be a little was placed a large “ Crucifixion,” with a figure of the elevated, for a better view, and to appear directly Virgin Mary on one side and of St. John on the other, before the eye of the priest who was celebrating mass; ornamented with a row of very splendid jewels. At whose place it was to stand and kneel with his back the feet, which were towards the east and in front of to the people, and on the west side of the altar. the choir, was placed an image of the Virgin, holding This position of the shrine was not only the most her son in her bosom, seated on a throne; the work splendid to the eye of the beholder, but was intended seemingly of cast gold highly embossed, and enriched to raise and elevate the devotion of the priest ; and with precious stones and very costly bracelets. to this purpose, also, was intended the Decollation “ The four pillars which supported the canopy, and of St. Alban, which was painted on the wall oppo- stood one at each corner, were shaped in resemblance site.

like towers, with apertures to represent windows, and “THE SHRINE was in form somewhat resembling all of plate gold, supporting the roof or canopy, whose an altar-tomb, but rising with a lofty canopy over it inside was covered with crystal stones.”—Newcome, supported on pillars, and was intended to represent ed. 1793, p. 76.

« AnteriorContinua »