Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Tomb of William of Wykeham in Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral

William of Wykeham was born in Wykeham near Southampton in 1324, the son of a yeoman. For the twenty years of his career he served as a secular civil servant, entering the royal service, for a time he was secretary to the constable of Winchester Castle. He was ordained in 1362 at the age of 38 and the next year was appointed Lord Privy Seal to Edward III. He then quickly rose up in the world and in 1366 he was elected Bishop of Winchester and in 1367 became Chancellor of England. At that time the see of Winchester was the richest in England and he was able to apply the revenues of the see to good works including the foundation of Winchester College and New College Oxford. He remained bishop of Winchester until his death in 1404.

During his early royal service he had managed building projects, including work at Windsor Castle, so when he came to Winchester he inevitably turned his hand and some the vast wealth of his see to building work. William of Edington, his predecessor, had started reconstructing the Norman nave of Winchester Cathedral in the Perpendicular style and Wykeham continued the building scheme.

Winchester Cathedral

Into the south nave arcade Wykeham incorporated an elaborate open-work chantry chapel that rises to the level of Triforium. The chantry was constructed on the site of an altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary, where as a boy Wykeham had served the mass of the priest Richard Pekis. The chantry was completed, along with the rest of the nave, in 1403, the year before Wykeham died.

Winchester Cathedral

Inside the chapel he placed a glorious alabaster tomb chest decorated with shields of arms and with a polychromed recumbent effigy of himself in full pontificals on the top.

Winchester Cathedral

At the feet of Wykeham are placed three figures of praying Benedictine monks. In his will Wykeham provided revenue for three monks from the cathedral priory to celebrate three masses in his chapel on a daily basis and presumably the figures are a reference to that provision.

Winchester Cathedral

Altogether the nave, chantry and tomb of Wykeham are a wonderful example of a unified scheme of late medieval memorialisation.

10 comments:

Michael Stevens said...

How did this survive the wrekers at the Reformation?

BillyD said...

My thoughts exactly, michael stevens.

Roger Mortimer said...

Do you know if the cross-ties in the upper tracery of the chantry are contemporary with its construction or are a later, strengthening measure?

Allan Barton said...

Monuments, unless they had images of superstition on them didn't attract the attention of iconoclasts. Interestingly although the monuments in all the chantries in Winchester survive, all the images niches behind the altars and the altars themselves have been removed.

Allan Barton said...

Roger, I hadn't noticed the tie beams. I must have been focusing too much on the rest of the structure. The answer to your question is I don't know, but I would be very surprised if they were original. Would any self-respecting medieval mason have put them in?

Roger Mortimer said...

I assumed that they are probably later, and as you yourself attest, they're certainly unobtrusive. Re the preservation of the tomb, I read years ago that when the church was knocked about a bit by the Parliamentarians, a army officer who was an Old Wykehamist posted soldiers to guard the chantry.

Would be wonderful to see it statues intact tho', wouldn't it?

davis d'ambly said...

Well the iron tie bars at Westminster Abbey are original I believe. I don't think they thought as we do and wouldn't necessarily have seen them as inappropriate.

James Harris said...

The tie bars are in fact original. It's a wonderful memorial to a remarkable man. Interestingly a little further down the nave is the tomb of William Wayneflete, Wykeham's predecessor. His chantry is comparatively modest and was designed to fit beneath the main arcade of the nave when it still consisted of three storeys before the remodelling into the perpendicular style. It was in between the rood screen and the pulpitum and on the north side of the nave is a platform which is generally thought to have been another chantry. It is unclear why this one did not survive. The only chantry to receive considerable damage during the Civil War was that of Cardinal Beaufort. His effigy showing him a Cappa Magna was smashed by the Parliamentarian soldiers. The current one was put in at the Restoration. The giveaway is the classically styled cartouche at the foot of the effigy with the royal coat of arms. Probably the oddest chantry is that of Bishop Gardiner whose chantry is an odd mix between late perpendicular and classical styles.

Anonymous said...

As an Old Wykehamist I've spent plenty of time with our founder over the years. In response to Michael Stevens the reason why the tomb wasn't destroyed is (according to what I was told) that a senior army officer in the force was an OW and stood guard over the tomb ordering the men to leave it undisturbed. It seems pretty amazing when you think about the level of destruction that took place (the windows were destroyed as well as the tombs of the old English Kings) but it remains, all things considered, the most convincing explanation to this day - and a charming one at that!

Anonymous said...

the officer in charge of the parliamentarian troops who protected the cathedral was nathaniel fiennes, second son of lord seye and sele. Fiennes was a wykehamist and was also founder's kin (related to wykeham through wykeham's siblings) and so had extra reason to feel protective.

He is also responsible for protecting Winchester college which is why the statue above the gate of Mary still exists - an extreme rarity.

Boulay