Imatges de pàgina

St. Albans.]


aware, for the numbers who continually resort to the Abbey church for the study and improvement of architectural science, bear ample testimony to the exquisite materials which it offers for that purpose. The erection of new churches, and the restoration of others in a dilapidated state, are greatly facilitated by the numerous models, in every department, which are here thrown' open for imitation. Artists are seen taking casts; others measuring the proportions, comparing the drawings, selecting the beauties, and copying the example of whatever is chaste in design or exquisite in workmanship. In short, the Abbey of St. Albans may be considered as a vast museum, or school of arts, where the student may improve and perfect his designs upon the best models; and which, were every other lost, might still supply the elements for constructing a masterpiece of ecclesiastical Architecture.

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All the subjects in this superb Abbey, to which we have thus briefly adverted, are more or less striking in their kind; yet the effect is peculiarly enhanced or diminished according to the season and hour selected for the visit. The glare of noon, and the sober light of evening, produce effects which are scarcely credible to those who are not familiarized to such contrasts; but in no instance have we ever seen this venerable and majestic pile to such advantage as during our recent visit, when we resolved to take a view after the twilight had passed away, and the still deep shadows of night had thrown their mantle over the scene. One of our party, who is an excellent judge and an enthusiastic admirer of “Gothic grandeur,” strongly advised us to make a survey by torch-light; but to this certain objections were started, which it became necessary to respect. Reluctantly abandoning the torch, we sallied forth into the sacred precincts under the dim light of a

westering moon, and, sauntering along in a silent contemplative mood, enjoyed a treat of which the noon-day visitor can form no adequate conception. It afforded what may be truly called a “night at St. Alban’s," and seemed to address us in the words of the poet

“ Ye, whose high spirit dares to dwell

Beyond the reach of earthly spell,
And tread upon the dizzy verge
Of unknown worlds, or downward urge,
Thro' ages dim, your steadfast sight,
And trace their shapes of shadow'd light;
Oh! come with meek, submitted thought,
With lifted eye by rapture taught,
And o'er your head the gloom shall rise
Of monkish chambers, still and wide,
As once they stood: and to your eyes
Group after group shall slowly glide,
And here again their duties ply-

As they were wont, long ages by.” The entrance to Lady-chapel from the north, of which a view has been already given at page 80, is particularly characteristic and picturesque. The massive square tower, showing at intervals its Roman materials and ancient masonry, throws a solemn and stately grandeur over the scene. It seems, while we look upon its scars, as if covered with hieroglyphics which embody the sacred and political history of a thousand years, during which it has been a cherished landmark to the pilgrim, a home to the weary, and an object of sanguinary contention between rival armies.

“ Here to its hospitable gate,

In want or woe, the pilgrim came;
For at its portal Pity sate,

To dry the tears of sin and shame.
And here have armies on their march,

And monarchs with their chiefs of fame,
Paused, as beneath that lofty arch

Their lips invoked St. Alban's name.”

The great western entrance has a very imposing aspect, and conveys to the spectator's mind those ideas of ecclesiastical magnificence which can only be inspired by the noblest constructions of art—such as are here presented to his contemplation. It consists of a projecting porch, elaborately omamented, niched and pillared, and subdivided into numerous compartments, upon which the artist's chisel has been most skilfully employed.

“ Beside this porch, on either hand,
Giant buttresses darkly stand,
And still their silent vanguard hold
For bleeding knights, laid here of old;
And Mercian Offa and his queen,
The portal's guard and grace, are scen.




This western front shows various style,
Less ancient than the central pile.
It seems some shade of parted years
Left watching o'er the mouldering dead,
Who here for pious Henry bled;

And here, beneath the wide-stretch'd ground

Of nave, of choir, of chapels round,
For ever-ever rest the head.”

Over the entrance is the magnificent window, shown in the steel plate: it occupies nearly the whole breadth of the nave, and through its numerous mullioned and transomed squares, pours a flood of light upon the long Gothic aisles as far as the high Altar. To see the interior of the church to the greatest advantage, the spectator should take his station at this entrance, and at that hour after mid-day when the light and shade are brought into strongest contrast.

In the south Aisle, nearly opposite the steps leading into the Chapel of St. Alban, is the subject of the annexed cut. It is an oblong table of stone, covered with a massive slab of dark marble, which is considered to be of a rare and precious quality. It is marked with several small crosses, rudely traced, and, as we were told by our cicerone, is the original Altar-table of the Monastery, which, after the suppression of the latter in 1539, was removed from the choir.

This Aisle, including the exterior of Abbot Whethamstead's monu- menton the left—that of Duke Humphrey in the distance—the entrance to the shrine of the patron saint between, and with the outer doorway arches, windows, and altar on the right, is one of the most interesting scenes in the church. Standing by this altar of a thousand years, the lines of the French poet possess a force which in any other situation would be scarcely felt:

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Les arcs de ce long cloitre, impénétrable au jour,
Les degrés de l'autel usés par la prière,
Ces noirs vitraux, ce sombre et profond sanctuaire,
Ou peut-être des cæurs, en secret malheureux,

A l'inflexible autel se plaignoient de leurs neuds,
Et, pour des souvenirs encore trop pleins de charmes,
A la religion dérobaient quelques larmes-

Tout parle, tout émeut dans ce séjour sacré ! The Gate-House, with its ponderous oaken doors still closing the lofty pointed archway, is a massive and cumbrous pile of building, and has all the rude

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strength of a fortress crowned with ennbattled walls. It stands parallel with the west end of the church, at the distance of about one hundred and fifty feet, and formed the original grand entrance to the Abbey-court, which was bounded, at the distance of about three hundred feet, by a lower gate leading to the Abbey Mills. Both these gateways were originally crowned with turrets. The smaller gate has long since disappeared ; and the larger fabric, which still survives the shock of centuries, has undergone many alterations in recent times, as is sufficiently apparent in the view annexed. The massive oak doors, still firm on their hinges, are good specimens of ancient carpentry. This gate is said to have been built in the reign of Richard the Second, and is every way characteristic of that age of treason and feudal splendour. The lower apartments were appropriated to malefactors under the jurisdiction of the Lord Abbot; and, with the exception of the order having been reversedby converting the upper rooms to a similar purpose—it is still the prison for the borough and liberty of St. Albans.

The high and distinguishing privileges enjoyed by the spiritual lords of this Abbey gave them precedence of every other in the kingdom. “The king,” says Weever, “could make no secular officer over them but by their own consent; they were alone quit from paying that apostolical custome and rent which was called Rom-scot, or Peter-pence; whereas neyther kinge, archbishop, bishop, abbot, prior, nor any one in the kingdom, was freed from

87. ALBANS.)



the payment thereof. The Abbot also, or monk appointed archdeacon under him, had pontifical jurisdiction over all the priests and laymen, of all the possessions belonging to this church, so as he yielded subjection to no archbishop, bishop, or legate, save onely to the Pope of Rome. This Abbot had the fourth place among the Abbots which sate as Barons in the Parliament House.” “Howsoever, Pope Adrian the Fourth, whose surname was Breakspeare, born hereby at Abbots-Langley, granted this indulgence to the Abbots of this monasterie, namely—that as Saint Alban was distinctly known to be the first martyr of the English nation, so the Abbot of this monasterie should at all times, among other Abbots of England, in degree of dignity, be reported first and principal. The Abbot and convent of this house were acquitted of all toll throughout England. They made Justices ad audiendum et terminandum,' within themselves, and no other Justice could call them for any matter out of their libertie. They made Bayliffes and Coroners; they had the execution and returne of all writs, the goodes of all outlaws, with gaole and gaole deliverie within themselves.”—These particulars have been carefully embodied in a poem on the subject, from which we have already quoted. In the prosperous days of the Abbey, several apartments were built exclusively for the use of strangers.* These adjoined the cloisters; and beyond them, in a separate range of buildings, were the king's and the queen's apartments.t But notwithstanding this preparation for visitors, and these indirect invitations, it would seem, on the authority of Matthew Paris, that some of the earlier “monarchs came too often, or at least with too cumbrous suites.”

The princely state which the Abbots maintained in their style of living, in their table and retinue, partook much more of regal splendour than of religious restriction. The scene, as exhibited on a festal day in the Abbey, is thus effectively sketched by Mrs. Ann Radcliffe :

... The stately walls, with tapestry richly dight,
Of the Abbot's banquet-hall, where, as on throne,
He sat at the high dais, like prince alone,
Save when a Royal guest came here,
Or papal Legate claimed a chair.

• Abbot Geoffrey de Gorham built a large and noble † The buildings called the “royal lodging," were hall, with a double roof, to entertain strangers in; near separated from the rest of the monastery by a range which he built a fair bedchamber. Abbot John of of cloisters, running nearly the whole length of the Hertford built a noble hall for the use of strangers, church, but divided from it by the great square, and adding many parlours, with an inner chamber and a by all the principal buildings of the convent. The chimney, (no common luxury in those times,) with a royal apartments were pleasantly and quietly situated noble picture. He built also an entry, a small hall, near the southern edge of the hill, overlooking the and a most noble entry with a porch or gallery, and valley of the Ver.--Notes to “St. Albans Abbey," many fair bedchambers, with their inner chambers and p. 89. chimneys, to receive strangers honourably.-Willis' Mitred Abbeys.

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