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AUGUSTUS J. C. HARE
"WALKS IN ROME,” “WALKS IN LONDON,” “CITIES OF NORTHERN AND
CENTRAL ITALY,” “WANDERINGS IN SPAIN,” ETC.
THE first church on this site was built (close to Watling Street, THE
the Roman Road from Verulam) on the Isle of Thorns• Thorney Island'—an almost insulated peninsula of dry sand and gravel, girt on one side by the Thames, and on the other by the marshes formed by the little stream Eye, which gave its name to Tyburn (Th’ Eye Burn), before it fell into the river. Here Sebert, king of the East Saxons, who died 616, having been baptized by Mellitus, is said to have founded a church, which he dedicated to St. Peter, either from an association with the great church in Rome, from which Augustine had lately come, or to balance the rival foundation in honour of St. Paul upon a neighbouring hill. Sulcard, the first historian of the Abbey, relates that on a Sunday night, being the eve of the day on which the church was to be consecrated by Bishop Mellitus, Edric the fisherman was watching his nets by the bank of the island. On the opposite shore he saw a gleaming light, and, when he approached it in his boat, he found a venerable man, who desired to be ferried across the stream. Upon their arrival at the island, the mysterious stranger landed, and proceeded to the church, calling up on his way two springs of water, which still exist, by two blows of his staff. Then a host of angels miraculously appeared, and held candles which lighted him as he went through all the usual forms of a church consecration, while throughout the service other angels were seen ascending and descending over the church, as in Jacob's vision. When the old man returned to the boat, he bade Edric tell Mellitus that the church was already consecrated by St. Peter, who beld the keys of heaven, and promised that a plentiful supply of fish would never fail him as a fisherman if he ceased to work on a Sunday, and did not forget to bear a tithe of that which he caught to the Abbey of Westminster.
On the following day, when Mellitus came to consecrate the church, Edric presented himself and told his story, showing, in proof of it, the marks of consecration in the traces of the chrism, the crosses on the doors, and the droppings of the angelic candles. The bishop acknowledged that his work had been already done by
1 The Eye, now a sewer, still passes under New Bond Street, the Green Park, and Buckingham Palace, to join the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge.
saintly hands, and changed the name of the place from Thorney to Westminster, and in recollection of the story of Edric a tithe of fish was paid by the Thames fishermen to the Abbey till 1382, the bearer having a right to sit that day at the prior's table, and to ask for bread and ale from the cellarman.
Beside the church of Sebert arose the palace of the Anglo-Saxon monarchs, to which it served as a chapel, as St. George's does to Windsor. It is connected with many of the legends of that picturesque age. Here, while he was attending mass with Leofric of Mercia and his wife, the famous Godiva, Edward the Confessor announced that he saw the Saviour appear as a child, ' pure and bright like a spirit.' By the wayside between the palace and the chapel sate Michael, the crippled Irishman, who assured Hugolin, the chamberlain, that St. Peter had promised his cure if the king would himself bear him on his shoulders to the church, upon which Edward bore him to the altar, where he was received by Godric, the sacristan, and walked away whole.
Whilst he was an exile Edward had vowed that if he returned to England in safety he would make a pilgrimage to Rome. This promise, after his coronation, he was most anxious to perform, but his nobles refused to let him go, and the Pope (Leo IX.) released him from his vow, on condition of his founding or restoring a church in honour of St. Peter. Then to an ancient hermit near Worcester St. Peter appeared, bright and beautiful, like to a clerk,' and bade him tell the king that the church to which he must devote himself, and where he must establish a Benedictine monastery, was no other than the ancient minster of Thorney, which he knew so well.
Edward, henceforth devoting a tenth of his whole substance to the work, destroyed the old church, and rebuilt it from the foundation, as the 'Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster.' It was the first cruciform church erected in England, 2 and was of immense size for the age, covering the whole of the ground occupied by the present building. The foundation was laid in 1049, and the church was consecrated December 28, 1065, eight days before the death of the king. Of this church and monastery of the Confessor nothing remains now but the Chapel of the Pyx, the lower part of the Refectory underlying the Westminster schoolroom, part of the Dormitory, and the whole of the lower walls of the South Cloister; but the Bayeux tapestry still shows us in outline the church of the Confessor as it existed in its glory.
The second founder of the Abbey was Henry III., who pulled down most of the Confessor's work, and from 1245 to 1272 devoted himself to rebuilding. The material he employed was first the green sandstone, which has given the name of Godstone to the place in Surrey whence it came, and afterwards Caen stone. The
1 In 1231 the monks of Westminster went to law with the Vicar of Rotherhithe for the tithe of salmon caught in his parish, protesting that it had been granted by St. Peter to their Abbey at its consecration.-Flete.
2 ‘Novo compositionis genere.'- Matthew Paris.
portions which remain to us from his time are the Confessor's Chapel, the side aisles and their chapels, and the choir and transepts. The work of Henry was continued by his son Edward I., who built the eastern portion of the nave, and it was carried on by different abbots till the great west window was erected by Abbot Estney in 1498. Meantime, Abbot Littlington, in 1380, had added the College Hall, the Abbot's House, Jerusalem Chamber, and part of the cloisters. In 1502 Henry VII. pulled down the Lady Chapel, and built his beautiful perpendicular chapel instead.
The western towers were only completed from designs of Sir Christopher Wren (1714), under whom much of the exterior was refaced with Oxfordshire stone, and its original details mercilessly defaced and pared down.
“The Abbey Church formerly arose a magnificent apex to a royal palace, surrounded by its own greater and lesser sanctuaries and almonries; its bell-towers, chapels, prisons, gate-houses, boundary-walls, and a train of other buildings, of which at the present day we can scarcely form an idea. In addition to all the land around it, extending from the Thames to Oxford Street, and from Vauxhall Bridge Road to the church of St. Mary-le-Strand, the Abbey possessed ninety-seven towns and villages, seventeen hamlets, and two hundred and sixteen manors.'-Bardwell's Ancient and Modern Westminster,'.