The remains of several archbishops of Canterbury are believed to have been found beneath a former parish church in Lambeth. Workers were carrying out renovation works at the deconsecrated St Mary-at-Lambeth, removing flagstone, when they found a hitherto unknown crypt containing some 20 lead coffins one of which had a small gold archbishops’ mitre resting on top of it. Among those whose coffins have been identified are those of Archbishop Richard Bancroft (in office 1604-1610), who played an important role in the creation of the King James Bible, and Archbishop John Moore (1783-1805) as well as Moore’s wife Catherine and that of John Bettesworth, Dean of Arches, Judge of the Archbishop Prerogative court. It is also believed that archbishops Frederick Cornwallis (1768-1783), Matthew Hutton (1757-1758) and Thomas Tenison (1694-1715) were buried in the tomb under the church’s chancel. The church, which is located beside the River Thames adjacent to Lambeth Palace – London home of the archbishops of Canterbury, originally dates from the 11th century and was deconsecrated in the 1960s. The burial place of John Tradescant (c1570-1638), described as the first “great gardener” in British history, it was subsequently transformed into what is now known as the Garden Museum, the world’s first museum of garden history. The museum closed in 2015 for a £7.5 million redevelopment project and is expected to reopen in late May. PICTURE: Top – the lead coffins with metallic bishop’s mitre; a still taken from video posted on the Garden Museum website/Right – St Mary-at-Lambeth (right side of image).
March 2, 2015
We’re delving back a long way into London’s history here to the Anglo-Saxon period when London was known as Lundenwic. Credited as the first bishop of London in the Anglo-Saxon period, Mellitus is perhaps most famous for having founded the precursor to today’s St Paul’s Cathedral.
Tradition holds that Mellitus was a priest – perhaps an abbot – of noble birth who was among a group of missionaries, known as the Gregorian mission, sent from the monastery of St Andrew on the Coelian Hill in Rome to England by Pope Gregory the Great in response to a call from St Augustine – the first archbishop of Canterbury – for people to help convert the Saxons to Christianity.
The mission was dispatched to England in 601 AD (apparently Mellitus brought with him a number of books, including possibly the St Augustine Gospels now at Cambridge University) coming via Gaul where the mission paused to deliver letters to various Frankish kings.
The group reached England sometime prior to 604 AD for that year St Augustine, with the permission of Saxon King Æthelberht of Kent (aka Ethelbert), consecrated Mellitus Bishop of the East Saxons with London as his seat, making him the first post-Roman-era bishop of the city.
Records are scant about Mellitus’ time as bishop but he is believed to have constructed a simple wooden church dedicated to St Paul (the first ‘version’ of St Paul’s Cathedral) in 604 with King Æthelberht as his patron (the ruler of Lundenwic was King Sæberht but, while he was then a pagan and unlikely to welcome the building of a church, he apparently owed his allegiance to Æthelberht as his overlord (Sæberht was later baptised by Mellitus). It was apparently constructed in the ruins of a temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana as per the instructions Mellitus had carried from Rome to convert rather than destroy pagan temples.
Mellitus is known to have left the city in 610 to attend a council of bishops called in Italy by Pope Boniface IV. He returned with letters from the Pope for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Laurentius (or Laurence), and one for King Æthelberht.
There was a crisis following the death of both kings Æthelberht and Sæberht some time around 616-618. Sæberht’s three sons inherited and subsequently drove Mellitus out of the city into exile (Bede suggests it’s because he refused them a ‘taste’ of the sacramental bread but its also suggested he was exiled from his bishopric because the overlordship of the East Saxons passed from the now dead King Æthelberht of Kent to the pagan East Anglian King Raedwald and thus the brothers felt there was no need to allow a Christian bishopric in the city any longer).
Mellitus fled first to Canterbury but King Æthelberht’s successor Eadbald was also a pagan and so he continued to Gaul. He was eventually recalled – some suggest his exile was only a year – after Archbishop Laurentius converted Eadbald. Mellitus was not to return to Lundenwic, however, and the bishopric remained vacant for some years thereafter (it wasn’t until 654 that Cedd reclaimed the bishopric).
Mellitis, meanwhile, went on to greater things – he succeeded Laurentius as the third Archbishop of Canterbury following Laurentius’ death in 619. During his time as archbishop, legend has it that Canterbury was saved from fire due to his prayers which summoned a strong wind that kept the flames from the town.
He eventually died on 24th April, 624. He was buried at St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury (the ruins of the abbey remain in the city today).
Mellitus, who has a stone memorial at Canterbury Cathedral (pictured), was later elevated to sainthood within the Roman Catholic Church and there was a shrine to Mellitus in Old St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
September 28, 2012
This stunning early medieval casket, dating from around 1180-1190, commemorates one of the most infamous events of the Angevin era – the death of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on 29th December, 1170, by four knights of King Henry II.
The murder – for which the king undertook public penance (although whether he ordered the death of Becket, his former chancellor and friend, remains a matter of some dispute) – provoked outrage across Europe and pilgrims soon started flocking to Becket’s tomb.
So much so that the Archbishop was canonised in 1173 and in 1220 a richly decorated shrine was created to house Becket’s remains and serve as a focal point for pilgrims (a pilgrimage to Becket’s shrine is at the heart of Geoffrey Chaucer’s A Canterbury Tale). The shrine was eventually destroyed in 1538 on the orders of King Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The beautiful Becket Casket, made of Limoges enamel, depicts, among other things, Becket’s murder, subsequent burial and the ascension of his soul to heaven. On the rear are four long-haired figures who may represent saints or the Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance.
One of more than 40 examples still in existence (the British Museum also has one), it was probably made for an important religious house and may have been used to contain relics of the dead saint.
It can now be found in the collection of the V&A’s Medieval and Renaissance Gallery at the museum’s premises in South Kensington.
WHERE: Room 8 (case 20), Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington (nearest Tube Stations are South Kensington and Knightsbridge). WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (Fridays until 10pm – select galleries after 6pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk.
For more on Thomas Becket, see John Guy’s book Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim: A 900-Year-Old Story Retold.
PICTURE: V&A images
May 8, 2012
The life of Florence Nightingale, ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, depicted here on the Crimean War Memorial at Waterloo Place, is to be commemorated at the annual service in Westminster Abbey tomorrow. The Florence Nightingale commemoration service is held “to celebrate nursing and midwifery and all staff, both qualified and unqualified working in these services”. During the service a lamp, carried this year by Claire Gibbs, will be taken from the Abbey’s Florence Nightingale Chapel (formerly known as the Nurses’ chapel but rededicated in May 2010 – the centenary of Nightingale’s death) and escorted by a procession of nurses – this year it’s students from Liverpool John Moores University – to Reverend Professor Vernon White who will place it upon the High Altar. The address will be given by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey. Nightingale (1820-1910) rose to fame for her pioneering nursing work during the Crimean War and established the first secular nursing school in the world at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. The upcoming International Nurses Day is celebrated each year on her birthday – 12th May. Tickets for this year’s commemoration service are already allocated – to apply for tickets to next year’s, keep an eye on www.florence-nightingale-foundation.org.uk for details.
October 17, 2011
Recently making news headlines thanks to the work of Adrienne Barker of the University of Dundee in reconstructing his face, Simon of Sudbury wasn’t born in London and, in fact, spent much of his early life elsewhere. But, as Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, he was a key figure in the 14th century city and it was in London that he eventually met his grisly death during the Peasant’s Revolt.
Simon Theobold was born around 1316 – the son of a wealthy Norfolk merchant – and, while details of his early life are scant, it has been suggested he studied at Cambridge before eventually entering the service of William Bateman, the Bishop of Norwich. He apparently became caught in the middle of a dispute between the bishop and the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds (the details of which we don’t have time to get into here) and it was this which is said to have led to the issuing of a royal order for his arrest, a move which forced him to flee England for the papal court at Avignon.
He quickly came to the attention of the popes and took on an official role, the reward for which was the income from various positions in the English church including Chancellor of Salisbury. In 1356, Pope Innocent VI sent him on a peace mission to King Edward III and it was during this mission that he came to the attention of the king. Having never been formally outlawed, he was apparently forgiven his earlier crimes and was soon acting on behalf of the king including at the Papal court.
In 1361, Simon was made Bishop of London and spent the next 10 years in the role, as well as continuing to act for the king, notably as a diplomat.
In 1375 following the death of incumbent William Whittelsey, he was elevated to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. His time as archbishop was somewhat troubled – as well as facing accusations of being too close to the king, he also faced criticism over his treatment of Bible translator John Wycliffe – but it was his role in secular politics which led to his demise.
Following the accession of King Richard II in 1377, in 1380 Simon was appointed chancellor, a position which meant he bore the ultimate responsibility for the imposition of an extremely unpopular new poll tax. In 1381, there were calls for his death at the outbreak of rebellion in Kent, notably when the rebels entered Canterbury Cathedral. But as the crisis now known as the Peasant’s Revolt gained momentum, Sudbury remained with the king in the Tower of London where he apparently counselled a hard line.
King Richard II when to parley with the traitors at Mile End on 14th June and there apparently indicated that action would be taken against traitors around him (Wat Tyler was killed when the king again met the rebels, this time at Smithfield, the following day). A group of rebels subsequently stormed the tower and dragged out Sudbury and the treasurer, Sir Robert Hales. Taken to Tower Hill, they were there beheaded. Sudbury’s head, which apparently had a skullcap nailed to his skull, was impaled on a lance and put on display over London Bridge. His body was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.
The skull, meanwhile, was apparently taken down by a Sudbury man and taken back to his home town where it was kept at St Gregory’s Church. Some 630 years later, following an approach by Sudbury locals, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee was asked to recontruct Simon’s head.
Following some CT scans of the skull, Barker – who carried out the work as part of her MSc Forensic Art studies under the tutelage of renowned facial reconstruction expert Professor Caroline Wilkinson – used state-of-the-art reconstruction techniques to recreate Sudbury’s facial features and complete a series of 3-D bronze-resin casts of his head. The models, one of which will be on permanent display at St Gregory’s Church in Sudbury alongside Simon’s skull, were unveiled in September.
PICTURE: University of Dundee
April 29, 2011
Along with tens of thousands of others, Exploring London took up a post in The Mall to watch festivities surrounding the London wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Here’s some of what we saw…
Kate Middleton, newly titled Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge, rides in a 1977 Rolls Royce Phantom IV from the Goring Hotel in Belgravia to Westminster Abbey via The Mall, greeting crowds along the way. Others, including Prince William, had already passed by.
The crowds cheered along The Mall throughout the morning, including after Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was heard over loudspeakers announcing that the couple were now man and wife. The Bishop of London, Dr Richard Chartres, delivered the address while James Middleton read the lesson.
After the ceremony, the newly married couple processed in the 1902 State Landau down Whitehall and The Mall through a sea of flag-waving well-wishers towards Buckingham Palace after the wedding ceremony. The Landau was the same used by Prince Charles and Princess Diana after their 1981 wedding.
The couple, along with other members of the royal family and Kate Middleton’s parents, appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at around 1.30pm, waving to the crowd and exchanging kisses. Here they are flanked by Queen Elizabeth II (right) and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (left) along with bridesmaids and pageboys.
A Lancaster bomber and two Spitfires flew over the top of Buckingham Palace as part of an RAF flypast. They were followed by two tornados and two typhoons. The flypast brought official celebrations to an end after which the royal rejoined the champagne and canape reception already underway.
Crowds fill The Mall in the wedding’s aftermath. The newly weds later left Buckingham Palace driving a vintage convertible Aston Martin owned by Prince Charles. Overhead hovered a Sea King helicopter manned by some of Prince William’s colleagues.