Sunday, June 14, 2009

Question from Nikki - Mary's restoration of the tomb of Edward the Confessor

Hi everyone! I came across an article today that states that Mary I restored Edward the Confessor's tomb in Westminster Abbey. If that is true, what was done to it? Thanks!


Marilyn R said...

You can see the ‘join’ between the medieval and Renaissance styles if you go to:

I saw the tomb at close quarters last week and it looks better in the flesh, so to speak, but even so, the two levels do seem strangely at odds with one other.

Lara said...

Here's the link that got cut-off in Marilyn's reply:

PhD Historian said...

If I may offer a minor correction: The structure in the nave of Westminster Abbey that was stripped during Henry VIII's and Edward VI's reigns and "restored" during Mary's is the shrine of the saint-king Edward the Confessor, not his tomb. The actual tomb is far beneath the floor behind the high altar. His remains were removed from his tomb and "translated" (the term used to describe the transfer of a saint's bones out their original tomb) to the shrine late in the 13th century, fully two centuries after his death.

As you can see from the photos provided by Marilyn R, two extra layers were added to the top: the parts in black stonework with gilding. Compared to the original base, which was once colorfully painted and gilded and had precious stones and goldwork set in it, the upper portion is quite plain. But Mary' short reign allowed little time for more extensive work. And it is a small miracle that the later Elizabethan iconoclasts or the Cromwellian Puritans did not tear the entire thing down!

Marilyn R said...

I don’t recall ever seeing an artist’s impression of the shrine complete, but a description of Becket’s shrine at Canterbury gives an idea,

“It was raised up on steps and fronted by an altar and consisted of three parts: a stone plinth with an open arcaded base, the richly gilded and decorated wooden casket in which the feretrum containing the relics of the saint were laid, and a painted wooden canopy, suspended from the roof by a series of pulleys that enabled it to be raised or lowered to reveal or cover the casket itself. The casket was covered in gold plate and decorated with fine golden trelliswork. Affixed to the gold plate were innumerable jewels, pearls, sapphires, diamonds, rubies and emeralds.” The Quest for Becket’s Bones, John Butler

Obviously the gold and jewels are long gone. The bones now lie in the original part of the structure, above the arcading, roughly at the eye-level of a person of average height.

Relics of Becket and other saints were destroyed at the Dissolution, but the monks of Westminster were able to remove the Confessor’s bones and dismantle the shrine, which they put into storage and hoped for better times. Did the bones survive because Henry had qualms about destroying the remains of a fellow monarch?