The delicately refined and the brutally honest

Sometimes a national event becomes a moment to note that nothing is fixed forever. The recent ten days of state mourning and a state funeral is one such example.

Visit any local parish church and you can see how the great and the good have been memorialised in stone or glass to be remembered to the end of time! Naturally, as with most aspects of human society the expression of commemoration is subject to the form of the times and the ability to pay for the memorial. The fine and elaborate tomb of Sir Robert Drury and his wife, Lady Anne, reflects the status they enjoyed whilst alive and the elite memorial fashion of the early sixteenth century.

The tomb of Sir Robert Drury (1456-1536) and his first wife, Lady Anne. Sir Robert was a Knight of the Body to Kings Henry VII and Henry VIII. St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

By the time of the eighteenth century more and more middle class professionals and their families were worthy enough and had means enough to be publicly remembered and were able to afford wall monuments.

18th century wall monuments for the great and the good of the locality. St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

But if we revisit the medieval period we find memorials which are less a decorous celebration of a life, but more a prompt to the onlooker to consider their own mortality. One expression of this sentiment is the Transi or Cadaver Tomb. There are over 40 medieval cadaver tombs extant in England and Wales and one of these is for John Baret (d.1467) and it can be found in St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds. Baret was a wealthy cloth merchant and a gentleman of the household of the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds who had his memorial constructed in 1463, four years before his death.

The Cadaver Tomb of John Baret. Limestone. 1463

This particular cadaver tomb is unusual as traditionally the tomb had a clothed human effigy on the top of the tomb, and the naked emaciated corpse below. Baret reversed the convention and had his single-carved, three-quarter sized, naked corpse on the top with his miniature, clothed version below on one side of the tomb in bas-relief.

The miniature, clothed Baret in bas-relief.

Baret also had these words carved near his effigy’s head, “He that wil sadly beholde one with his ie, May se hys owyn merowr and lerne for to die“. (‘He that will sadly behold me with his eye, may see his own morrow and learn for to die’.)

These days it appears we have travelled a long way from the clear-eyed almost brutal memorials of the medieval dead to a time where youth is lauded to such an extent there is almost a denial that death exists at all. If there’s one positive to be taken from the ten days of national mourning, it is that it provided an opportunity for ordinary people to discuss their own experiences of loss and bereavement more openly.

Cardinal Wolsey – A Tudor Titan

four-wolsey-Angels2Cardinal Wolsey (1470 or 1471-1530) sadly ended his days being hounded by King Henry VIII and died in Leicester en route to London following his recall from York to be tried for treason. It hadn’t always been so as Wolsey had spent much of his life and good fortune entwined with the Tudors despite being born the son of a butcher in Ipswich.

Thomas Wolsey was clever and after attending Ipswich School he studied theology at Magdalen College, Oxford. Henry VII had made Wolsey Royal Chaplain, but when Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, Wolsey’s intelligence, administrative competence and diplomatic skills began to be recognised and rewarded. He rose through the ranks, both ecclesiastical and secular, to become Archbishop of York in 1514, Cardinal in 1515 and Lord Chancellor of England from 1515 to 1529. And, he was passionate about the role of education creating the Cardinal’s College of Mary, Ipswich and Cardinal College, Oxford, although neither of which outlived him in their original form.

Rampant griffin detail at the head of the Charter of Foundation of Cardinal College, Ipswich.

Despite all his accomplishments Wolsey ended his days in disgrace and was buried in ignominy in Leicester Abbey without a significant, grand monument to mark his burial.  In fact Wolsey had been overseeing arrangements for his eternal resting place including a design for a sarcophagus and accompanying sculptural adornments some six or so years before his death.

Proposed arrangement for the tomb of Cardinal Wolsey as imagined by a Victorian Mr Somers Clarke, Architect to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1894.

By 1524 the sarcophagus had been made and the Florentine Renaissance sculptor, Benedetto da Rovezzano, was commissioned to create four bronze angels to complete the monument.

Wolsey’s black touchstone sarcophagus eventually used for the monument to another national hero, Admiral Lord Nelson, and installed in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

However, despite these exquisite Renaissance angels being sculpted and cast by 1529 a year before the Cardinal’s death, the full memorial tomb was never assembled and erected in its entirety as .   .   .   .   .

The Wolsey Angels by Benedetto da Rovezzano. Bronze about 1 metre tall. 1524-29. Claimed by King Henry VIII on the Cardinal’s death, hidden, dispersed and lost until reunited again in 2008.

unfortunately for the Cardinal he dramatically and cataclysmically fell from the King’s favour following his failure to obtain a divorce from Pope Clement VII permitting Henry to escape his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

One of the two Wolsey Angels found in 2008 mounted on gateposts at the entrance to Wellingborough Golf Club, Northamptonshire. They joined the other two which had surfaced at an auction in 1994 simply listed as ‘in the Renaissance style’. The pair were subsequently attributed by the Italian scholar Francesco Caglioti to be Wolsey Angels by Benedetto.

There may not be the grand tomb in Westminster Abbey for Cardinal Wolsey that he had envisaged, but there is an engaging tribute to Wolsey in his home town of Ipswich. It is a commemorative statue by David Annand that I hope Wolsey would have deeply appreciated as it depicts him not only as the Cardinal, but gesticulating, as if in full flow, educating the world (or at least the good folk of Ipswich as they stroll up St Peter’s Street).

Thomas Wolsey by David Annand. Bronze. 2011. The text running round the plinth reads ‘Thomas Wolsey born in Ipswich 1470 or 1471 died Leicester 1530 Cardinal Archbishop Chancellor and Teacher who believed that pleasure should mingle with study so that the child may think learning an amusement rather than a toil‘.


Out with the old, in with the new

17thcentury-monumentAnother New Year. A moment to pause and think about endings and beginnings, beginnings and endings. Due to a strange set of circumstances and horizontal rain in a howling gale I found myself in Southwark Cathedral on London’s South Bank on New Year’s Day. It was early for London, 10.00 am, and there was a young chap fast asleep across some chairs in the nave. Southwark Cathedral is not large. It isn’t tall and stark like the Norman built, Romanesque Norwich Cathedral. Neither does it have an intricate and ornate west face like that of the Gothic Exeter Cathedral.

Southwark Cathedral
Southwark Cathedral close to the River Thames and London Bridge railway station.

Instead it is a much repaired and rebuilt church with only traces of its Norman heritage visible. One remaining Norman architectural detail is a doorway in the north aisle of the nave. In 1212 the church was devastated by fire. It’s rebuilding began around 1215 and was one of the first expressions of Gothic architecture in London. Subsequent fires and neglect have led to further renovations, but the medieval structure of the choir and the retro-choir still remain, making Southwark Cathedral the oldest Gothic building in the city predating the commencement of the present Westminster Abbey by 30 years. Changing, renovating, rebuilding. St Mary Overy renamed St Saviour’s and then renamed again to become Southwark Cathedral in 1905. Time does not stand still.

wooden effigy
Possibly a de Warenne knight. Wooden effigy, c1280.
Interesting as the building was, the most striking markers for the passing of time were three of the tomb sculptures. Firstly, an effigy of an unknown knight. This wooden effigy is one of the earliest wooden monumental effigies in England dating from about 1280. The knight is thought to be a member of the de Warenne family who had been benefactors to the Priory church of St Mary Overy. He looks knightly, muscular and strong and dressed with chain mail coif and sword. He appears ready to continue the good fight.

The second sculpture is a stone effigy of an Elizabethan worthy, Thomas Cure Esq. Thomas Cure was the Queen’s saddler. He had also been saddler to Elizabeth’s siblings Edward VI and Queen Mary. As the Queen’s saddler Cure was a man of means. He owned a ship and its cargo in 1573 and acquired the manor of Widefleete in Southwark in 1580. He was also a Parliament man coming in for Southwark and East Grinstead. He died in 1588 and his stone effigy is in the style of a cadaver, a very direct memento mori.

stone cadaver effigy tomb
Thomas Cure Esq, stone cadaver effigy, 1588.

A decomposing body as opposed to a skeleton atop a tomb is known as a transi. Although this example is more of a withered body than a rotting one it’s purpose is to remind us that we, too, will one day look like this. This tradition in funerary monument design lasted over three centuries, but by the time we reach the 17th century funerary fashion has moved on and has become more gentle and reflective. This brings me to the third example of a tomb sculpture that of ‘Lionel Lockyer, Physitian’.

Lockyer monument
Lionel Lockyer. Funeral monument with sleeping, portrait sculpture of Lockyer, stone.

He looks calm, thoughtful and perhaps a bit superior. Actually I think he looks rather self-satisfied, but then I now know he was a famous quack doctor. He made his fortune from selling ‘Pilula Radiis Solis Extracta’, pills containing captured sunbeams called Lockyer’s Pills . Obviously from the look of his grand tomb and the large sculpture capturing his likeness he did a roaring trade ripping off the desperate and gullible. So, out with the old and in with the new? It seems more like history repeating itself as we see the end of yet another year littered with examples of financial mis-selling scandals here in the UK.

lockyer's pills
Advertisement Leaflet for Lockyer’s Pills.
Image credit: The Wellcome Library.