10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 5. Henry Purcell’s grave in Westminster Abbey…

Westminster Abbey. PICTURE: Clark Van Der Beken/Unsplash

Westminster Abbey is important for many reasons when it comes to London’s musical heritage but among them is the intrinsic connection the grand building has with Restoration-era composer and musician Henry Purcell.

Purcell, who was born in Westminster in 1659 and who died there in 1695, is famous for having composed music in a range of genres including the first English opera as well as being the organist of the Westminster Abbey (from 1679) and that of the Chapel Royal (from 1682).

Statue commemorating Henry Purcell. PICTURE: Eluveitie (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Fittingly, Purcell, who died at the age of just 36 leaving a widow and six children behind, was buried beside where the organ was then located in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey. The grave, which also contains the remains of his wife Frances, is inlaid with brass letters written in Latin.

It reads: “Here rests Henry Purcell, Organist of this Collegiate Church. Died 21 November aged 37, A.D. 1695. Immortals, welcome an illustrious guest, your gain, our loss – yet would not earth reclaim the many-sided master of his art, the brief delight and glory of his age: great Purcell lives! his spirit haunts these aisles, while yet the neighbouring organ breathes its strains, and answering choirs worship God in song. Frances, wife of Henry Purcell, is buried near her husband 14 February 1706.”

A memorial tablet to Purcell was erected on a nearby wall by Dame Annabella Howard, a former pupil of Purcell’s. The inscription in English and Latin “Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded. Died 21 of November in the 37th year of his age, AD 1695”.

There is also an elaborate statue, The Flowering of the English Baroque, commemorating Purcell located just down the road from the Abbey in Christchurch Gardens, Broadway. Designed by sculptor Glynn Williams, it was unveiled by Princess Margaret on the tercentenary of the death of the composer – 22nd November 1995.

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