Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub
[graphic]
[ocr errors]

pression a traveller passing through the town found that even the bakers had not consumed all the abbey books in heating their ovens, whilst he saw many broken windows patched up with the remnants of the most valuable manuscripts on vellum. The loss in this direction alone has been incalculable, irreparable and final, not only from a literary and historical standpoint but from that of art as well, for it must be remembered that these hundreds of thousands of volumes that went to feed bakery fires and stop bungholes in ale casks were each and all of them the result of years of devoted labor, and, as such, works of the most precious art, exquisitely engrossed on vellum, embellished with delicate illumination, and bound in covers sometimes of solid gold or silver, wonderfully wrought, and studded with jewels.

After reading the pitiful narratives of the destruction of such monastic libraries as this at Malmesbury, one can hardly wonder how it was that in the first years following the Suppression "whole ships full" of manuscripts on vellum and parchment "were sent over seas to the bookbinders" and yet that enough remained for local consumption for generations.

The "Revival of Learning" was manifesting itself at last in its true colors, though after a somewhat unexpected fashion.

Centre of learning that it was, Malmesbury Abbey, with the exception of the abbot's lodgings and stables, was by the "King's Magesty" as recorded in the "Survey" in the Augmentation office "deemed to be superfluous, appointed to be razed and sold." The entire monastery with its gardens, orchards and park were purchased, however, in one lot by a certain "William Stumpe, clothier," for a sum so out of proportion to the ordinary market rates of the time for this kind of commodity that one suspects there must be some mistake. The price is recorded as £1,117, 15s. 11d., rather more than $30,000 to-day, which, for the time, was a good deal to pay for a lot of useless buildings that would cost perhaps $2,000,000 if the attempt were made to reproduce them to-day to serve as a particularly glorious and majestic type of cathedral. Mr. Stumpe was far-seeing, however; the extinction of the great abbey left the people without spiritual ministrations of any kind, and, feeling at first the need of these (custom dying but slowly), they induced the clothier to sell them the nave of the

[graphic][subsumed][ocr errors]

abbey to use as a parish church. The conventual buildings and the more sacred parts of the abbey were turned into a mill for the weaving of cloth under Mr. Stumpe's directions, tene ments for his mill hands were erected over the gardens and orchards, new streets were cut through the precincts, and altogether it would seem that the thrifty citizen was probably by way of making a good thing of his investment. Whether he did or not we do not know, but in any case his fortune was not of a permanent type, his direct descendants being on record as common laborers in Malmesbury early in the nineteenth century.

After the death of Mr. Stumpe, the conventual buildings were, of course, turned into a stone quarry. In 1650 Aubrey speaks of fine fragments still remaining, but to-day not a sign is left, except the abbot's lodgings, which have been rebuilt and The now serve as an imposing and beautiful private house. utter wreck of the church itself dates from comparatively recent times. There was formerly at the crossing a great central tower "with a mighty high pyramis, a mark to all the country about," twenty feet higher than the spire of Salisbury. This "pyramis" fell shortly before the Suppression, but without injuring the tower itself or any portion of the walls of the church. At the time of the Great Rebellion the whole fabric was comparatively complete, though of course only the nave was in use, while the spire had gone, and a portion of the west front. Malmesbury held loyally to the King and was furiously bombarded by Cromwell, as a result of which the western bays of the nave fell down and the tower was further weakened. On Restoration Day, 1660, the tower collapsed, owing to "so

MALMESBVRY ABBEY CHVRCH GIROVND PLAN.

Ted'

Doorway

Malmesbury-The Norman Door.

[merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Norman Decorated Ferpendicular A For Reformatio

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

many volleys of shot loyally fired" and apparently the abbey was then reduced to the present mutilated stump, every vestige of choir, transept and tower being swept away except the great arch to the nave and that to the north transept.

Since then the abbreviated trunk, shorn of its towers, choir, transepts, chapels and west front, has stood a forlorn reminder of happier and more pious days; within the last few years something has been done toward a kind of restoration, but the direction taken by these laudable efforts is somewhat startling, though unquestionably significant. One would have thought, perhaps, that funds would have been expended toward the east, the south and east arches of the tower rebuilt and temporarily enclosed, thus presenting a decent chancel where might have been erected an altar, respectful at least, and reverent, even though simple and unmarked by the connotations of "Puseyism." But no, the packing box within its painted fence and beneath the secret-society emblem was enough to meet the law, so the money subscribed went to the rebuilding two of the bays of the south wall of the nave that had been thrown down by Cromwell's artillery. Of course these bays lay quite without the enclosure of the present church; they were simply a replication of the other bays of the nave; they could serve no purpose, devotional or architectural. Why they should have been chosen for restoration is a question beyond solution, unless it was that being toward the town their absence caused a shocking gap in the visible wall, while, rebuilt, they would enhance the neatness and respectability of the common prospect. Well, ideals change and incumbents also. Which is to blame for the present shocking state of Malmesbury? I do not know, but let us hope the time will come when the rebuilding of the abbey will begin. afresh and toward the east, so that the future pilgrims may not be scandalized by the evidences of archæological interest in combination with religious indifferentism.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

(1

[graphic]
[graphic]

Malmesbury-Norman Sculpture.

[graphic]

The holy hill of Malmesbury has known many churches, several of them standing grouped together when the vast shrine of St. Aldhelm, the remains of which still exist, first came into being. The first little wooden church of St. Maeldulph, built in 637, was still standing, as was also the finer stone church erected by St. Aldhelm himself. William of Malmesbury, who died in 1112, declares it then to have been superior in size and beauty to any ancient church in England. It was in this church that King Athelstan and his line found sepulture. Two other churches, the one dedicated to Our Lady, the other to St. Michael, stood close at hand, St. Aldhelm's tomb in St. Mary's, St. Maeldulph's in St. Michael's. Yet a fifth church, built for the use of the townspeople, was dedicated to St. Andrew, and

[graphic][subsumed]

in this were buried the exiled Greek archbishop, Constantine, and, for a time, Abbot Brithwald II., fourteenth in succession. Unfortunately for him, however, his tomb was so haunted by "fantastic shadows" that the townspeople rebelled and, breaking open the tomb, cast the unquiet ashes into a distant marsh. Whereupon peace descended upon St. Andrew's once more. Finally, toward the end of the eleventh century, the great abbey was begun, either under Turold, a monk of Fécamp, or Godfrey of Jumieges, the student and creator of the enormous library that was sometime to become the pride of English monasticism.

As then laid out, St. Aldhelm's remained to the end, but above the triforium level many changes took place through the succeeding centuries. Probably the work progressed slowly down to the middle of the twelfth century; it is all a heavy, rich and massive type of transitional Norman, with enormous circular piers, bluntly pointed arches, and vaulting shafts resting on the pier-caps. In the fourteenth century a great transformation took place, though under which abbot we do not know; at this time the entire Norman clerestory was removed and in its place was substituted a great range of pointed windows and a stone vault, for the support of which fine flying buttresses were flung out over the aisles; at this time delicate wave-patterned balustrades of open tracery were applied to the copings of nave and aisles. In the fifteenth century the transformation continued: a gigantic window was inserted in the west front, the tower was raised and surmounted by its proud "pyramis," taller even than Salisbury spire. As so often happened, however, ambition here overtopped itself, and very shortly the spire fell, without, however, injuring any portion of the church. Toward the end of this century a wonderful rood screen, evidently similar to the work in the chapel of Henry VII. at Westminster, was set up between the presbytery and the nave; this was removed after the Suppression and inserted under the west arch of the tower. Now here a question suggests itself. This very site is now filled by a rough wall covered with blank plaster. If the great screen was indeed placed here, is it not here now, only slabbed over with lime, as happened in Oxford and elsewhere? The possibility is engaging and adds another to the list that might become operative were Malmesbury Abbey now in more reverent hands.

Malmesbury at the Suppression was one of the most majestic abbeys in England, though by no means one of the richest, its resources being but about $25,000 yearly. The monastic buildings covered an area of six acres, while the orchards, gardens and "warren" comprised forty more. The cloister, upwards of an hundred feet square, with all the monastic buildings, lay to the north on the very brink of the precipitous hill down the sides of which crept the industrial offices to the brink of the river, where one of the many mills is even now in commission. Of all this, as I have said, nothing now remains, thanks to Mr. Stumpe, except one humble mill and the remains of the infirmary; streets have been slashed ruthlessly through all the abbey precincts, shabby houses crowd toward its walls, and only a few feet of land remain about the shapeless ruins in sad memory of the vast estates once held in trust by the Benedictine order in the name of the holy St. Aldhelm. At the close of the fifteenth century Malmesbury must

have stood second to Durham alone for majesty of situation and grandeur of aspect, with its far flung monastery crowning the hilltop and rising from terraced orchards and gardens, the huge bulk of St. Aldhelm's church with its triple towers looming over all.

Malmesbury was not one of the abbeys which, "when the devil was sick," had been destined for preservation as a cathedral; but it might well have been, not only from its location but because of its splendid history and traditions and its majestic beauty. It will be remembered that, when Henry was importuning Parliament to give him the greater as well as the lesser houses, he had caused it to be bruited abroad that of his piety and generosity he would re-establish many of the great houses as cathedrals. The list included some twenty monasteries; as soon as the bill was passed the list was withdrawn and only Westminster, Oxford, Chester, Gloucester, Bristol and Peterborough actually became see cities, though seven other cathedrals which were included in the king's list and served by Benedictine monks were turned over to secular canons. Of the $80,000,000 acknowledged as received by the Augmentation Office from the suppression of the monasteries, but $500,000 went to the endowment of new bishoprics. Forty million dollars were used for the army, navy, and the prosecution of foreign wars, whilst $35,000,000 were turned into the king's private purse to be expended by him at will and after the unsavory fashion the details of which have fortunately been preserved for our instruction and edification.

Malmesbury Abbey was surrendered to the king on Dec. 15, 1539, by Robert Frampton and his twenty-one monks; the abbot accepted a pension amounting in the money of our time to almost $8,000 per year, the munificence of the amount being undoubtedly due to the faithless abbot's complaisance, cheerful or otherwise, in the royal schemes. The prior received $600 annually, the monks but $350. Under Mary I. but seven still survived to draw the pensions then continued to them by Cardinal Pole.

[graphic]

St. Mary's,

York.

Of the thousands who go yearly to the see-city of the northern province to wonder at what is indeed one of the noblest of English cathedrals, how many realize that down by the river and just without the line of the ancient city wall, forgotten in the gardens of an archæological society, stand the few scarred fragments of a church that, though an hundred feet shorter than the "minster," was not only incomparably more beautiful viewed as pure architecture, but was as well the most beautiful church in England and one of the most perfect examples of consummate architecture in the Christian world?

The fragmentary nature of the wreck explains, perhaps, the perfect oblivion that has fallen upon these ruins; but at least one might give a few minutes of his time to visiting what still remains, if only in tribute to the fact that it stands for one of the wonders of the world, entirely extinguished and wiped out that the "Supreme Head" might acquire an accession of wealth and later build over the fields he had devastated and from the rubble to which he had reduced the most wonderful art of man, a shortlived pleasure house, gone now

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

To-day the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of York, once the richest of all monastic foundations in the north of England, consists in the crumbling wall of the north nave aisle, one tower pier cut short at half its height, a fragment of the west end, and nothing more whatever, except a few stones of the chapter house and such foundations below the floor level as have been exposed through the diligence of the present owners of the ruins. This is all that remains in place, but fortunately it is not everything. By some whim of chance an enormous number of fragments have been picked up here and there, dug out of the earth, redeemed from walls where they have lain for centuries as makeshift building material, traced far without the limits of the city and restored. These precious vestiges have been gathered together and now form, some of them, retaining walls and decorative borders in the garden, whilst others are piled together pell-mell in the lower story of the monastic guest house, cheek by jowl with Roman tombs and heathen altars. They are unique, these shards of glory, not only in their number, but in the almost unimaginable beauty of their art, and they serve as an heart-breaking hint of the inestimable loss the world has suffered in the savage destruction of one of its noblest monuments.

The ruin that overwhelmed York Abbey was prompt, terrible and condign. The whole vast property, with the dreamlike church and majestic monastery, was retained by the Crown, and the fairy buildings themselves were doomed to destruction after they had been rifled of their splendid plate, their hoard of sumptuous embroidery and needlework, their stores of parchment and vellum folios and manuscripts. The vast conventual buildings, wonders of masterly architecture, were blown up and levelled with the ground; and over their site was erected a new palace for the king, the carven stones being roughly hewn down to fit them to serve as mere rubble for the walls. This palace, or rather the major part of it, was speedily destroyed after Henry died, and that which was left was joined to the abbot's lodgings, which were largely rebuilt and made into a residence for the "Lord's President of the North." Under James I. extensive changes were made, and again under Charles the Martyr. What remains has now become a school for the blind.

In the meantime the church itself had been left, in all probability, to fall slowly into ruin, such portions as were available being used in the various schemes of royal building and reparation, whilst the townsfolk were given leave to fetch such stones as they could drag away to aid them in building their houses, sheds and styes. With the eighteenth century the final raid began: in 1701 York Castle, being in need of repairs, levied on the church itself; four years later the insignificant church of St. Olave near by followed the same course and for the same reason. George I. graciously granted to the minster and to St. Mary's, both of Beverly, so much stone from the ruin as they might need for their extensive repairs, and finally, early in the nineteenth century, the destruction not progressing fast enough, lime-kilns were set up, and for years sculptured stones worthy to stand in the British

Museum by the Elgin Marbles were given to the fire that they might acquire a commercial value when transmuted into quicklime.

It is a biting commentary on the civilization of the nineteenth century that this sacrilege and vandalism went on without a protest until the year 1827, when the Yorkshire Historical Society asked for and obtained the site of the awful destruction. The society did not exhibit an instant appreciation of its opportunities, for it forthwith proceeded to erect a neat and elegant Greek temple over the ruins of a portion of the fratry and refectory, but as time went on its eyes were opened and the fact became apparent that there might be other items of archæological interest in ancient Eboracum besides Roman cippi and the fragments of pagan altars. The land where once the choir stood was added to the Society's holdings, and consistent excavation began, with the result that a great store of wonderful sculpture has been unearthed, whilst to-day the entire foundations of the eastern arm of the church, together with those of a small portion of the monastic buildings, have been exposed. It will be necessary to remove the Society's building itself before these excavations can be continued, while small houses that now cover the site of the chapter house must also be demolished. The older buildings also of the school for the blind should be taken down in order that the material from the abbey may be sorted out and some portions perhaps restored to their original position.

As one passes through the narrow alleys adjacent to the church, one finds in every wall stones unquestionably from the abbey itself, nor are they confined to the immediate vicinity; all over York they crop out in unexpected places, some of them used even as copings for garden walls or built into the abutments of bridges. The fierce centripetal force of sacrilege and irreligion has hurled them wide over an enormous area, but stone by stone they are being brought back and given in charge of a Society conscious at last of its sacred trust. As one pores over the scattered fragments, the passionate desire asserts itself to mark each broken stone and try if by patient care it would not be possible to rebuild at least one entire bay of the nave in order that it might stand as an everlasting monument of the highest point reached by the Christian builders of England.

In the undercroft of the hospitium, as I have said, has already been gathered together a mass of marvellous material. I do not like to criticize any action of a Society that has shown itself conscientious and careful, but I must submit that even now it is not fully realized that these vestiges of medieval art are infinitely more precious than mere classical remains. In this same undercroft, piled in unorganized, unidentified heaps, black with the sifting coal-dust of the neighboring railway, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth century work all jumbled together in dusty chaos, are some of the most perfect examples of English medieval art to be found in any place. In some instances the dirt of their long sepulture still clogs the carying of caps, bosses and statues, each one of which is well worth preservation under glass. It is only by digging down into the casual heaps that one may find what actually exists. In simple truth it may be said that here are gathered together

[graphic]
[graphic]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

more precious fragments than in any other place in England. Let us realize the paramount glory of our own great thousand years of civilization, forget, though only for a day, the charm of our classical period, and do a laggard honor to the immortal achievement of our immediate forbears. From the architectural fragments now at hand and, please God, soon to be acquired, it might be possible to restore the nave order of St. Mary's or, if not that, at least to lift some portions of the walls and shafts a few feet higher above the turf. From the shards of sculpture logically arranged and conserved, it would be possible to form a chronological sequence of national styles out of examples of each period at its noblest and best. The opportunity is glittering in its possibilities; is there none who will lead the way?

It really seems that this is true, the apparently careless statement that all the work at York was of the best, whatever its period. Why this should be so is hard to say, though we know that the Benedictine was the richest order in England and the one most devoted to the advancement of learning and art, whilst St. Mary's was one of the richest of all Benedictine houses. It would seem that whenever anything was done here it befel that it should be at the best possible time and that the Abbots of York were content with no workman who was not a master in his own art. Go down into the hospitium undercroft and look around; it is impossible to catalogue the treasures, but here is a tenth century font of singular value, consigned to the stone heap at the recent restoration of Hutton Cranswick church, and fortunately recovered; here are AngloNorman doorways, caps and lintels from the old chapter house of the abbey, unique in their richness and originality. Here are scores of caps, corbells and vaulting bosses, mostly thirteenth century, wrought in a fashion that stops the breath with wonder and admiration, each one of them more exquisite, more masterly as absolute art than any bit of carven acanthus or honeysuckle from the Acropolis or the Forum. Against the piers are ten life-size statues of prophets and evangelists, fourteenth century work, strong and powerful, a part of the great lines that once were ranged rank on rank down the triforia of the abbey church, then blazing with color and gold, now asheu after their long interment beneath the ruins of their tabernacle. Most wonderful of all, amongst a horde of smaller images, a mutilated fragment of a statue of Our Lady and the Holy Child, so consummate in its faultless art that it deserves place with the masterpieces of sculpture of every age and race. Finally here are great pieces of canopied altars and sedilia of the fifteenth century, in black Derbyshire marble wrought like fine lace, as pure in their cutting as a Greek intaglio and marvellously preserved, every line as sharp to-day as when it left the sculptor's chisel. Here in this dim and sooty undercroft is an epitome of the English art of four centuries, precious and beautiful beyond the power of words to describe.

There seems somewhat of the providential in the manner in which these things have been preserved. There is unmistakable evidence that many hands labored at the Suppression to save a few vestiges of that which they were hired to destroy. The triforium statues were carefully buried together down amongst the foundations of the church and covered by a mass of shattered window tracery cemented together with the very material used in the building of Henry's transitory palace. The marvellous bosses of the warming-room had also been buried together in the same fashion when the monastery was razed to give place to the royal dwelling, whilst the marble canopies were found carefully built into walls in such a way as to prove they were given place not as building material but solely for their own preservation from the fate that overtook the major part of their fellows, which, as Thoresby records, were "sold by parcels to statuaries and others for common use." There is something infinitely pathetic in these evidences

[ocr errors]

of humble appreciation of a great art doomed to annihilation, on the part of those who, clearly against their will, were forced to be the instruments of the destruction of the things they loved. Their names may never be known, the names of the poor men who did their best to save a statue or a bit of lovely carving, but they deserve a mass for their charity and for their love that has proved not all in vain. Also, and more materially, do they merit a more tender custody of those things preserved to us by their gentle piety and their faithful care.

Shall we try to restore, in words only, the Abbey of Our Lady of York?

The walls of the close rise sheer from the river, and above them only a glimpse is seen here and there of pale, vaporous towers emerging from deep masses of foliage. Entering the water-gate and passing under the big arch of the guest house we find ourselves suddenly fronting a gentle slope that rises toward what almost seems a citadel, so vast is it in extent. The view is bounded on either hand by low, detached buildings, so that we are in a kind of vast and irregular quadrangle, the upper side of which is formed by many low structures strongly buttressed, pierced by windows full of delicate tracery, rising to the left into a lofty gable, rich with intricate panelling, fretted with the glimmering light and shade of deeply cut caps and bosses and crocketing, and decked with many images. Above all, crowning the composition and tying it all into an aspiring pyramid, lifts a single lofty tower with its lance-like spire flashing in the sky. Here in a world of green trees and greener turf rises a thing like clouds and sea mists, a mystical presence commingled of fire and snow, for it is all of pearly white stone, marble in all but name, that has softened into a silvery radiance in its exposed parts, while the hollows of arch and cap and archivolt have deepened into a golden ivory that glows here and there as deep as amber. This is no fortress shrine of granite or ruddy freestone or harsh black flints; it is a wonderful vision of the New Jerusalem compact of alabaster and mother-of-pearl. Pure, crystalline, gleaming like sea foani, it is a vision, not an actuality in time and space.

In the base of the wall is a single door; pause long enough to note the almost passionate carving of the vines that creep up the hollows behind the shafts and at the top spring suddenly outward to wreathe themselves into involved capitals; no more lovely carving than this can be found in Athens or far Cathay; if it should perish now, if by some terrible tragedy it were to be calcined by fire or worn by wind and rain, what would not the world lose?

We enter; at first nothing is visible except a kind of wash of palpitating color, back and forth between enclosing walls, then, little by little, we are able to establish ourselves, for details are taking form in the luminous dusk. We are standing in the lay-brothers' church, the six westernmost bays of the nave; the great rood screen closes the view to the east up as high as the spring of the aisle arches, but above all is open and the eye pierces on and on past the gigantic Calvary flashing with color and gold, through slanting lines of myriadcolored light from the clerestory windws, until it centres on the eastern wall that is as though it were wrought of precious

[graphic]
[ocr errors]
« PředchozíPokračovat »