THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF
A DESCRIPTION OF ITS FABRIC AND A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE EPISCOPAL SEE
THE REV. W.D. SWEETING, M.A.
WITH FIFTY ILLUSTRATIONS
LONDON: G. BELL AND SONS, LTD. 1926
First Published, February 1898 Second Edition, Revised, 1899. Reprinted, 1906, 1911, 1922, 1926.
The chief authorities consulted in the preparation of this book are named in the text. Besides the well-known works of reference on the English Cathedrals, and the "Monastic Chronicles," there are several that deal with Peterborough alone, of which the most important and valuable are "Gunton's History" with Dean Patrick's Supplement, "Craddock's History," the monographs by Professor Paley and Mr Poole, and the Guide of Canon Davys. If I have ventured to differ from some of these writers on various points, I must appeal, in justification, to a careful and painstaking study of the Cathedral and its history, during a residence at Peterborough of more than twenty years.
My best thanks are due to Mr Caster of Peterborough, for permission to incorporate with this account the substance of a Guide, which I prepared for him, published in 1893; and to Mr Robert Davison of London, for his description of the Mosaic Pavement, executed by him for the Choir. I desire also to express my thanks for the drawings supplied by Mr W.H. Lord, Mr H.P. Clifford, and Mr O.R. Allbrow; and to acknowledge my indebtedness to the Photochrom Company, Ld., and to Messrs S.B. Bolas & Co., for their excellent photographs.
In this new edition the corrections are limited almost entirely to alterations necessitated by lapse of time. In connexion with which I have to thank Mr H. Plowman of Minster Precincts, Peterborough.
CHAPTER I.—History of the Cathedral Church of S. Peter 3
CHAPTER II.—The Cathedral—Exterior 36 The West Front 39 The Towers 44 The Porch and Parvise 45 The Bell-Tower 48 The Dean's Door 50 The Lantern-Tower 51 The North Transept 52 The New Building 55 The South Transept 55
CHAPTER III.—The Cathedral—Interior 57 The Choir 60 The Choir Stalls 67 The Pulpit and Throne 70 The Organ, Baldachino, and Pavement 72 The Screens 74 The Lectern 74 The New Building 76 The Transepts 77 The Saxon Church 80 The Nave 81 The Nave Ceiling 84 The West Transept 87 Altars 87 Stained Glass 88 The Parvise 90 Monuments and Inscriptions 91
CHAPTER IV.—The Minster Precincts and City 99 The Chapel of S. Thomas of Canterbury 100 The Knights' Chamber 101 The Deanery Gateway 102 The Infirmary and Cloisters 103 The Palace 106 The City and Guild Hall 108 The Tithe Barn 111
CHAPTER V.—History of the Monastery 112
CHAPTER VI.—History of the Diocese 127
The Cathedral, from the South-East Frontispiece Arms of the Diocese Title The Cathedral and Palace 2 The Cathedral; from the North, c. 1730 7 Remains of Saxon Church 10 Map, 1610 23 The West Front in the Seventeenth Century 25 Iron Railings, 1721 27 Finial of the Central Gable of the West Front 34 The West Front 37 Plan of Central Portion of the West Front 41 West Porch and Parvise 43 Gates to West Porch 44 South-West Spire and Bell-Tower 47 The West Front, restored according to Gunton, 1780 49 The Dean's Door 51 Apse and New Building, from the South-East 53 Plan of Monastery Buildings 58 The Choir 61 View from the Triforium South of Choir 63 North Transept and Morning Chapel 65 The Pulpit 71 Apse and Canopied Reredos 73 The New Building—Interior 78 The Transepts, looking North 79 Evangelistic Symbols, from Lantern Tower Roof 80, 81 Boss from Lantern Tower Roof 82 The Nave, looking East 83 The Choir and Nave, looking West 85 Head of S. Peter in Ancient Stained Glass 89 Part of the Monks' Stone 92 Saxon Coffin Lids in North Transept 93 Portions of Abbots' Tombs 94, 95, 96 South Aisles of Choir and Nave 97 South Side of the Close, 1801 99 Cathedral Gateway, 1791 101 Door to Palace Grounds from the Cloisters, 1797 104 Door way to Cathedral from the Cloisters 105 Archway from Cloisters, North-West 107 Church of S. John the Baptist and Guildhall 109 Rose Windows and Details of West Front 117 Tomb of an Abbot, possibly Abbot Andrew, 1201 120 Iron Railings, 1721 123 Details of Chasuble on Abbot's Tomb 129 Details of Albs on Abbots' Tombs 133 PLAN OF THE CATHEDRAL. 135
HISTORY OF THE CATHEDRAL CHURCH OF S. PETER.
Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Peterborough remained one of the most unchanged examples in the kingdom of the monastic borough. The place was called into existence by the monastery and was entirely dependent on it. The Abbot was supreme lord, and had his own gaol. He possessed great power over the whole hundred. And even after the See of Peterborough was constituted, and the Abbey Church became a cathedral, many of the ancient privileges were retained by the newly formed Dean and Chapter. They still retained the proclamation and control of the fairs; their officer, the high bailiff, was the returning officer at elections for parliament; they regulated the markets; they appointed the coroner. Professor Freeman contrasts an Abbot's town with a Bishop's town, when speaking about the city of Wells. "An Abbot's borough might arise anywhere; no better instance can be found than the borough of S. Peter itself, that Golden Borough which often came to be called distinctively the Borough without further epithet." And again, "the settlement which arose around the great fenland monastery of S. Peter, the holy house of Medeshampstead, grew by degrees into a borough, and by later ecclesiastical arrangements, into a city, a city and borough to which the changes of our own day have given a growth such as it never knew before."
Situated on the edge of the Fens, some miles to the east of the great north road, without any special trade, and without any neighbouring territorial magnates, it is hardly surprising that the place seemed incapable of progress, and remained long eminently respectable and stagnant. In one of his caustic epigrams Dean Duport does indeed speak of the wool-combers as if there were a recognised calling that employed some numbers of men; but he is not complimentary to those employed, for he says that the men that comb the wool, and the sheep that bear it, are on a par as regards intelligence:
"At vos simplicitate pares et moribus estis, Lanificique homines, lanigerique greges."
In another epigram he derides the city itself, calling it contemptuously "Urbicula"; and he suggests, with a humour that to modern ideas savours of irreverence, that this little city of S. Peter's, "Petropolis," unless S. Peter had the keys, would run away through its own gates.
The great development of the last half of the nineteenth century is due to the railway works at New England, and to the Great Northern Line making Peterborough an important railway centre. In 1807 the entire population of the city and hamlets was under 3,500. In 1843 it was just over 5,500, and when the railway was laid it was not much more than 6,000. It has since gone up by leaps and bounds. In 1861 the population exceeded 11,000. By 1911 it had grown by steady increments to 33,578. The private diary of a resident of about 1850 would read like an old world record. The watchman in the Minster Precincts still went his rounds at night and called out the time and the weather; sedan-chairs were in use; the corn-market of the neighbourhood was held in the open street; turnpikes took toll at every road out of the town; a weekly paper had only just been started on a humble scale, being at first little more than a railway time-table with a few items of local news at the back; a couple of rooms more than sufficed for the business of the post office.
In 1874 a charter of incorporation was granted, not without some opposition; it had been, up to that time, the only city in England without a mayor, except Ely and Westminster.
An account of the church which is now the cathedral church of a diocese that was only constituted in 1541, must of necessity trace its history for some centuries before it attained its present dignity, and when it was simply the church of an abbey. Three centuries and a half of cathedral dignity have not made its old name of Minster obsolete; it is indeed the term usually employed.
The village was first known by the name of Medeshamstede, the homestead in the meadows. There is no evidence that any houses were built at all before the foundation of the monastery. There was probably not a single habitation on the spot before the rising walls of the religious house made dwelling-places for the workmen a necessity. As time went on the requirements of the inmates brought together a population, which for centuries had no interests unconnected with the abbey. The establishment of the monastery is due to the conversion of the royal family to Christianity. It was in the middle of the seventh century when Penda was King of the Mercians, and his children, three sons, Peada, Wulfere, and Ethelred, and two daughters, Kyneburga, and Kyneswitha, became converted to the Christian faith. On succeeding to the throne, Peada the eldest son, founded this monastery of Medeshamstede. The first Abbot, Saxulf, had been in a high position at court; he is described as an earl (comes); and most likely had the practical duty of building and organising the monastery, as he is called by Bede the builder of the place as well as first Abbot (Constructor et abbas). This was in the year 654 or 655 (for the date is given differently by different authorities), and Peada only lived two or three years afterwards. His brothers in turn came to the throne, and both helped to enrich the rising foundation. The elder of the two, however, had lapsed from Christianity, and killed his own two sons in his rage at finding they had become Christians; but afterwards stung with remorse he confessed his offence to S. Chad, who had brought the princes to the knowledge of Christ, and offered to expiate it in any way he was directed. He was bidden to restore the Christian Religion, to repair the ruined churches, and to found new ones. The whole story is told with great particularity by the chronicler, and it was represented in stained glass in the cloisters of the abbey, as described hereafter.
The church thus built must have been of considerable substance, if, as recorded, Peada in the foundation of it "laid such stones as that eight yoke of oxen could scarce draw one of them." It has nevertheless, utterly perished. We read of the continued support bestowed by a succession of princes and nobles, of the increasing dignity of the house, and of the privileges it acquired; but there is nowhere a single line descriptive of the buildings themselves. Gunton does indeed speak of a goodly house for the Abbot constructed by King Peada; but he must have been capable of strange credulity if he imagined, as his words seem to imply, that this very house was in existence in the time of Henry VIII. He writes thus: "The Royal Founder ... built also an house for the Abbot, which upon the dissolution by Henry the Eighth, became the Bishop's Palace. A building very large and stately, as the present age can testifie; all the rooms of common habitation being built above stairs, and underneath are very fair vaults and goodly cellars for several uses. The great Hall, a magnificent room, had, at the upper end, in the Wall, very high above the ground, three stately Thrones, wherein were placed sitting, the three Royal Founders carved curiously of Wood, painted and guilt, which in the year 1644 were pulled down and broken to pieces."
There is no doubt that this first monastery was utterly destroyed by the Danes about the year 870. The very circumstantial account given in the chronicle of Abbot John, derived from Ingulf, is well known; but as it is entirely without corroboration in any of the historians who mention the destruction of the monastery, recent criticism has not hesitated to pronounce the whole account a mere invention. It is unnecessary, therefore, to give it here. The account "may have some foundation in fact," Professor Freeman admits, "but if so, it is strange to find no mention of it in Orderic." But the discredit thrown upon the minutely graphic story of Ingulf, does not of course apply to the actual fact, of which there is ample evidence, that the monastery was burnt by the Danes. Matthew of Westminster says:—"And so the wicked leaders, passing through the district of York, burned the churches, cities, and villages ... and thence advancing they destroyed all the monasteries (coenobia) of monks and nuns situated in the fens, and slew the inmates. The names of these monasteries are, Crowland, Thorney, Ramsey, Hamstede, now called Burgh S. Peter, with the Isle of Ely, and that once very famous house of nuns, wherein the holy Virgin and Queen Etheldreda laudably discharged the office of abbess for many years."
The re-edification of the monastery, henceforth known as Burgh, is due to Bishop Ethelwold, of Winchester, with the approval and support of King Edgar. This was accomplished in 972. We have now reached a point where all can take a practical interest in the subject, because portions of this church are to be seen to this day. The exact site of the Saxon church had always been a matter of conjecture until the excavations made in the course of the works incidental to the rebuilding of the lantern tower (1883-1893) finally settled the question. Many students of the fabric supposed that the existing church practically followed the main outlines of the former one, possibly with increased length and breadth, but at any rate on the old site. It is now ascertained that the east end of the Saxon church was nearly under the east wall of the present south transept and the south walls of the south transepts of both buildings were but a very few feet apart. The dimensions of the former church both its length and breadth, were as nearly as possible half of those of the existing one. A description of the present appearance of the remains will be found in a later chapter (see page 80).
The Church of Bishop Ethelwold was not without its vicissitudes. Nothing was more promising than its origin, and the circumstances of its building. King Edgar and Dunstan, whom he had made Archbishop of Canterbury, were very enthusiastic in extending the growth of monastic influence in the country. No less than forty Benedictine convents are said to have been either founded or restored by Edgar. Bishop Ethelwold was entirely of one mind with the King and Archbishop, in the ecclesiastical reforms of the day. Mr Poole well describes the commencement of the work. "At Medeshamstede the ruins were made to their hands, and they at once commenced the grateful task of their restoration and appropriation. As usual, we find certain supernatural interferences assigned as indications of the divine approval of the work. It is related how Ethelwold was directed by God, in a dream, to go to the monastery of S. Peter, among the Mid-English; how he halted first at Oundle, supposing that to be the monastery intended; but being warned in a dream to continue his eastward course, at length discovered the ashes of the desolated Medeshamstede. It needs but little ingenuity to collect from this that Ethelwold, having received some vague intelligence of the present condition both of Oundle and Medeshamstede, started from Winchester, determined on reaching either or both; and that being less pleased with what he saw at Oundle than he expected, he extended his progress to Medeshamstede." The Queen is said to have overheard the Bishop's fervent prayers for the success of his object, and to have used her influence with the King; but he probably required very little persuasion to undertake what was so much to his taste. It may be mentioned that if we accept the date 972 for the completion of the re-building (the Chronicle gives 970 for its commencement), the very same year witnessed that well-known scene on the River Dee, when King Edgar held the helm of a royal barge as it was being rowed by eight vassal kings.
The King came to visit the monastery thus rebuilt under his direction. The Archbishops, Dunstan and Oswald, with a large company of the nobility and clergy attended at the same time. The King is said to have inspected some old deeds which had been saved from the general destruction a century before, and to have wept for joy at reading the privileges belonging to the place. He therefore granted a new charter, confirming all the old privileges and possessions. Since in this charter no allusion is made to the triple dedication of the church, but S. Peter alone seems named as the Patron Saint, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the first church of Burgh monastery was dedicated to S. Peter only, and that the dedication of the original minster to SS. Peter, Paul, and Andrew, was not repeated. Edgar says that he renews the ancient privileges "pro gratia Sancti Petri"; and that certain immunities shall continue as long as the Abbot and the inmates of the house remain in the peace of God, and the Patron Saint continues his protection, "ipso Abbate cum subjecta Christi familia in pace Dei, et superni Janitoris Petro patrocinio illud (sc. coenobium) regente." This charter is noteworthy for the title the King gives himself, "Ego Edgar totius Albionis Basileus."
For some time this establishment continued to flourish. But the troublous times that followed the Norman conquest did not leave Burgh undamaged. It plays a considerable part in the story of Hereward, the Saxon patriot. Situated on the direct line between Bourne, his paternal inheritance, and the Camp of Refuge near Ely, it was exposed to the attacks of both the contending parties. Brando (1066-1069) had made Hereward, who was his nephew, a knight; and the patriot might be credited with a regard for the holy place where he had been girt at a solemn service with the sword and belt of knighthood; but upon Brando's death the abbacy had been granted to a Norman, doubtless with the intention of making the place available as a military centre. Hereward joined the Danes, who had again begun to infest the district, in an attack upon the abbey. The accounts vary as to the time at which this attack was made. One says that it was before Turold, the Norman Abbot, had entered upon possession: another says that Turold had in person joined Ivo Taillebois in an attempt to surprise Hereward and his men in the woods near Bourne, but had been taken prisoner and only released after paying a large ransom. When dismissed there seems to have been something in the nature of an undertaking that the Abbot would not again fight against Hereward; but as soon as he was free he organised fresh attacks, obliging all the tenants of the abbey to supply assistance. In revenge for this Hereward went with his men to Burgh, and laid waste the whole town with fire, plundered all the treasure of the church, and destroyed all the buildings of the abbey except the church itself.
Though Hereward spared the church and went away, yet very soon afterwards the monks, possibly sympathising more with Hereward than with their Norman Abbot (who had left them for a time), allowed themselves to indulge in a drunken revel; and while carousing, a fire seized upon the church and other remaining buildings, from which Gunton says they rescued only a few relics, and little else. But, as Mr Poole has well observed, "we must receive such accounts with some allowance; and, in fact, neither was the abbey so despoiled, nor the church so destroyed, but that there was wealth enough to tempt robbers in the next abbacy, and fuel enough for another conflagration." The robbers in question were foreigners who got into the church by a ladder over the altar of SS. Philip and James, one of them standing with a drawn sword over the sleeping sacrist. The plunder they carried off was valuable, but it was recovered when the thieves were overtaken. The King, though he may have punished the robbers, retained the goods so that they were never restored to the abbey.
That Ernulf (1107-1114) should not have done anything towards improving the church is a fact that speaks as plainly as possible of its being already in good condition. Had there been anything like the desolation that some accounts pretend, Ernulf would have spared no exertions in his endeavours to put things right. He came from Canterbury, where he was Prior, and where he had already distinguished himself as a zealous builder; but all that is recorded as due to him at Burgh is the completion of some unfinished buildings, the dormitory, the refectory, and the chapter-house. We may feel confident therefore that the Saxon Church built by Ethelwold remained substantially as first erected until the time of Ernulf's successor; and that the remains to be seen to this day were in their present position when Edgar and Dunstan visited the place.
These newly erected buildings were all that escaped a terrible conflagration that occurred in the time of John of Sais (1114-1125). Hugo Candidus, the chronicler, was an eye-witness of this fire, and has left us an account of it. On the second day of the nones of August, being the vigil of Saint Oswald, King and Martyr (4th Aug. 1116), through neglect, the whole monastery was burnt down, except the chapter-house, dormitory, refectory, and a few outside offices. The refectory had only been in use for three days, having been apparently opened (as we should say in these days) by an entertainment given to the poor. The whole town shared the fate of the monastery. The Abbot was a very passionate man, and being in a great rage, when he was disturbed at a meal by some of the brethren who had come into the refectory to clear the tables, cursed the house, incautiously commended it to the enemy of mankind, and went off immediately to attend to some law-business at Castor. Then one of the servants, who had tried unsuccessfully to light a fire, lost his temper, and (following the evil example of his superior) cried out, "Veni, Diabole, et insuffla ignem." Forthwith the flames rose, and reached to the roof, and spread through all the offices to the town. The whole church was consumed, and the town as well, all the statues (or perhaps signa may mean the bells) were broken, and the fire continued burning in the tower for nine days. On the ninth night a mighty wind arose and scattered the fire and burning fragments (carbones vivos) from the tower over the Abbot's house, so that there was a fear that nothing would escape the devouring element.
The very next year John of Sais commenced the building of a new minster. He laid the foundation on the 8th of March 1118. Much work was probably necessary before a foundation stone could be laid; and Abbot John's Chronicle, wherein it is said that the foundation of the new church at Burgh was laid, on the 12th of March, 1117, may be speaking of the actual commencement of the operations; and Candidus, who gives the later date, and who was present, may refer to a ceremonial laying of a stone, after the ground had been cleared and new designs prepared. The church then begun is the minster we now see. The works commenced, as we find almost universally the case, at the east end. The choir is here terminated by an apse; and before the eastern addition was built in the fifteenth century, this apse, with the two lesser ones at the ends of the choir aisles, must have presented an appearance of much grandeur.
The Abbot who began the church did not live to see much progress made, as he died in 1125. He is said to have worked hard at it, but how much was finished we do not know. The next Abbot, after an interval of two years, was Henry of Anjou, a kinsman of King Henry I. He appears to have been a scandalous pluralist, restless and greedy, continually seeking and obtaining additional preferment, and as often being forced to resign. He was not the man to prosecute such a work as was to be done at Burgh; "he lived even as a drone in a hive; as the drone eateth and draggeth forward to himself all that is brought near, even so did he." It is likely that for eight years after the death of John de Sais nothing was done to advance the building. But the Prior of S. Neots, Martin de Bee, who was appointed to succeed Henry, was continually employed in building about the monastery; and in particular he completed the presbytery of the church, and brought back the sacred relics, and the monks, on Saint Peter's day into the new church, with great joy. Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln, was present; but there was no service of consecration. According to the Saxon Chronicle this took place in 1140; Abbot John says in 1143.
Before proceeding further with the architectural history of the cathedral (as distinguished from the description of it, which will be given in due course), it may be well to say a few words upon the principles which have guided the writer in his treatment of the subject. These cannot be better expressed than in a very pithy sentence uttered by Professor Willis at the meeting of the Archaeological Institute at this very place in 1861. "In all investigations of this nature, I am of opinion that it is requisite to ascertain first whether there exist any contemporary documents which may throw light upon the history of the fabric, and then to let the stones tell their own tale." Now there is an abundance of documentary evidence for our purpose; but recent criticism has shewn that not all is to be relied upon as authentic. And the Latin expressions for different portions of the building can, in many instances, not be interpreted with certainty; while the absence of all reference to some works of importance (the West Front, for example), is very mysterious. Most of these documents had been studied in manuscript by Gunton and Patrick, and the result of their studies was published in 1686. The work is entitled "The History of the church of Peterburgh ... By Symon Gunton, late Prebendary of that church.... And set forth by Symon Patrick, D.D., now Dean of the same." Gunton was Prebendary from 1646 to his death in 1676; Patrick was Dean from 1679 till his consecration as Bishop of Chichester in 1689. Most of the documents in question have since been printed. Two writers in the last half century have published monographs on the cathedral, both of great value, both treating the subject after Professor Willis's method. These are G.A. Poole, formerly Vicar of Welford, whose paper on the Abbey Church of Peterborough was published among the Transactions of the Architectural Society of the Archdeaconry of Northampton in 1855, and the late Professor F.A. Paley, a second edition of whose pamphlet, "Remarks on the Architecture of Peterborough Cathedral," was issued in 1859. It by no means detracts from the value of the method employed that the results of the investigations of these two careful students of the fabric do not accord with one another. Much must always be left to inference or conjecture. Since they wrote many discoveries have been made which have shewn some of their conclusions to have been inaccurate. But the rule is a sound one, and indeed it is only by studying the documents and the fabric together that one can hope to learn the history of any great building.
Thus, when the chronicle records that Abbot Martin completed the presbytery, and that then the monks entered into the new church, we should naturally understand that he built no more than the existing choir and its aisles. But there can be little doubt that his work included the eastern bays and aisles of both transepts. The style of the architecture speaks for itself, "the stones tell their own tale," and the most careful study, and the most painstaking investigations, have failed to detect the slightest break in the continuity or character of the work. This applies to the whole of the eastern part of the transepts, excepting of course the alterations that were made in later times. As Martin remained abbot till 1155, it is probable that he went on with his building after the choir had been opened, and that this work in the transepts was done in the latter part of his abbacy, but there is no record of it.
Of Abbot William of Waterville (1155-1175) we are told that in his time were erected the transepts (ambae cruces) and three stages of the central tower (tres ystoriae magistrae turris). This does not contradict what has been said above as to the eastern part of the transepts being built in Abbot Martin's time. For the walls and aisles to the east only would be in position; and his successor might well be credited with the erection of the transepts, if he built the ends and western walls, and roofed in the whole. It is tolerably clear also that this same abbot must have built the two bays of the nave adjoining the central tower. A tower of three stages, presumably of the massive character that marks all large Norman towers, must have had some western supports. Two bays of the nave would act as buttresses; and it is easy to see the difference between these two bays and the rest of the nave. Apart from many minute points of difference which only an expert architectural student could fully appreciate, there is one conspicuous variation which all can see. This is in the tympanum of the triforium arches; in all four instances we notice rugged ornamentation here which occurs nowhere else in the nave.
Exclusive of the western transept we may assign eighty years as the period during which the Norman Minster was being erected. And it is one of the most noteworthy points in connection with its architectural history, and one that has produced the happiest result in the grandeur of the whole effect of the building upon the spectator, that each successive architect carried on faithfully the ideas of his predecessors. The whole work has been continued, as it were, in the spirit of one design; and the differences in details, while quite observable when once pointed out, are yet so unobtrusive that they seldom attract notice. To mention one such instance, Mr Paley calls attention to the different ornamentation on the windows of the south transept when compared with those in the north transept, as well as to the fact that on the south those windows have straight sides to the inner surface of the wall, while those on the north have the sides splayed. He justly argues, from these and other considerations, that the south transept was built first.
To Abbot William of Waterville succeeded Benedict (1177-1193). Of him we are told that he built the whole nave in stone and wood-work, from the tower of the choir to the front, and also erected a rood-loft. He built also the great gate-way at the west of the precincts, with the chapel of S. Nicolas above it, the chapel of S. Thomas of Canterbury and the hospital attached to it, the great hall with the buildings connected; and he also commenced that wonderful work (illud mirificum opus) near the brewery, but his death occurred before it could be completed. What this last named great work was we do not know. It is at least possible that the reference is to the western transept.
Considerable controversy has arisen as to the work in the church thus attributed to Benedict. Both chronicles give him credit for building the whole nave from the tower of the choir to the front. The wording, however, of the two is so similar as to cause some doubt as to their being independent authorities. Granting that some small portion of the nave to the east, as before described, must have been built as a support to Waterville's tower, the question remains, what is the front to which this record alludes? There is of course no doubt that the words speak of the nave only, exclusive of the front. But was this the present west front, as now remaining, or was there previously a Norman front to the church? There is much to be said on both sides. Mr Paley believes the latter; Mr Poole, the former. And possibly the true solution may be found in a combination of both theories, though at first sight that seems impossible. That a west front in Norman times was designed, and in part built, Mr Paley has shewn most conclusively. He indeed thinks it was finished, but that is open to considerable doubt. The evidence on which he proves that two western towers were at least designed is quite conclusive; and the whole passage in which he discusses the matter may be quoted. "Proceeding towards the west end of the nave, we observe a very singular feature. The third pillar from the west end on each side is considerably larger and wider than the others; and it also projects further into the aisles. The arch also, springing from it westward, is of a much greater span. The opposite vaulting shafts, in the aisle walls, are brought forward, beyond the line of the rest, to meet the pillars in question; so that the arch across the aisles is, in this part, very much contracted, and, instead of being a mere groin rib, like the rest, is a strong moulded arch of considerable depth in the soffit. What appears at first sight, still more strange, the wall of the aisles opposite to the wider nave-arch just mentioned, is brought forward at least a foot internally, but again retires to the old level at the last bay; so that in this particular part the whole thickness of the aisle-wall is considerably greater. Not less remarkable is the circumstance, that the half-pillars on each side of this wider arch resume the complex form already described at the eastern end of the nave, though they do not accurately agree either in plan or details.... Now it seems highly probable that it was at this very spot that it [i.e., a Norman west front] stood, with two flanking Norman towers at the end of the aisles. The wider nave-arch, with its massive and complex pillars, was the entrance into the tower from each side of the nave. The thicker aisle-wall opposite to it was, in fact, the tower wall. The larger and heavier group of vaulting-shafts against the aisle-wall, and the strong arch spanning the aisle across this point in place of the groin-rib, were all parts of the tower.... The transformation of the base of these two immense towers into a compartment of the aisle, so similar to all the rest that its real nature has never been hitherto suspected, is highly ingenious. It is only when once detected that the anomalies above mentioned are at all intelligible."
These arguments prove to demonstration that the intention was to make the Norman church end at the spot where now stand the third pillars of the nave; and that the two western towers had begun to be built. As an after thought another bay was added to the nave, with western transept, and last of all the grand west front was another after thought. But they do not establish the fact that the towers were ever finished, or the Norman west front actually erected. The considerations adduced are perfectly consistent with the theory that the additional length of the nave was decided upon while the towers were still unfinished, and the lower part of the towers transformed as Mr Paley has described. Thus we combine the rival theories. For Mr Poole maintains that the point, up to which Benedict's work was carried, must mean the front we now see. One argument he advances appears unanswerable. Of the two chroniclers, Swapham takes his history down to 1246; Abbot John ruled from 1249 to 1262. Both these writers therefore, beyond all question, were alive when the present front was finished. "Here are two people writing after the present west front was erected, and for persons before whose eyes the present west front appeared every day, and speaking of the tower and of the west front as well-known limits to a certain work. Surely they not only meant, but must have meant, the front that then was, in other words, the west front as it is now."
The conclusion of the controversy may perhaps not yet have been reached. But all the difficulties appear to be explained by understanding that Benedict's work extended to the west end of the present nave, and that he carried the whole building further west than was originally intended, and managed to do this without destroying the lower part of the towers which had actually been raised.
When, therefore, the Norman nave, as originally designed, was approaching completion, the designers determined upon an extension of the nave, and a much grander western finish to the church than had before been contemplated. This idea included a dignified western transept, the dimensions of which, from north to south, should exceed the entire width of the nave and aisles. This would of necessity involve the lengthening of the nave, because the monastic buildings came close to the south aisle of the nave, at the point where the original termination of the church was to have been, as may be seen by the old western wall of the cloister, which is still standing.
The two next abbots were Andrew (1193-1200), and Acharius (1200-1210). To one or both of these may be assigned the western transept. By their time the Norman style was giving place to the lighter and more elegant architecture of the Early English period, the round arch was beginning to be superseded by the pointed arch, and the massive ornamentation which marks the earlier style was displaced by the conventional foliage that soon came to be very generally employed. Most wisely, however, the Peterborough builders made their work at the west end of the nave intentionally uniform with what was already built. Very numerous indications of this can be seen by careful observers. The bases of the western pillars, the change in the depth of the mouldings, characteristic changes in the capitals in the triforium range, and especially the grand arches below the transept towers, which are pointed, but enriched with ornamentation of pronounced Norman character, all point to the later date of this western transept.
At the west wall of the church all trace of Norman work disappears. The arcade near the ground, the large round arch above the door, the great west window and its adjacent arches (not, of course, including the late tracery), are all of distinct Early English character. The whole of this wall may be held to be an integral part of the west front, and not of the transept which it bounds.
When we come to the most distinctive feature of the cathedral, the glorious west front, we find we have no help whatever from the chronicles. Nowhere is there the smallest reference to its building. Other works raised by the Abbots of the period are named, but the noble western portico is never once mentioned. Perhaps the rapid succession of abbots after Acharius may account for this. The building must have taken some years, and the credit of the whole cannot be given to one. There were four Abbots after Acharius before the church was dedicated. They were Robert of Lindsey (1214-1222), Alexander (1222-1226), Martin of Ramsey (1226-1233), and Walter of S. Edmunds (1233-1245). During the abbacy of this last the church was dedicated on the 4th of October 1237, (according to the Chronicon Angliae Petriburgense), or on the 28th of September 1238, according to Matthew Paris. The Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grostete, took the chief part in the ceremony, assisted by William Brewer, Bishop of Exeter. The other chronicle calls the second bishop suffragan of the Bishop of Lincoln, which may mean no more than that he assisted on the occasion. The dedication took place in accordance with the provisions of certain constitutions which had been drawn up at a council held in London. No doubt the building had before this been completed. This date agrees well with the period which all architectural experts accept as the probable date of the erection of the west front. It may have been, and probably was, finished some few years before the dedication. The very fine gables at the north and south ends of the western transept are of the same date as the west front.
Considerable changes in the fabric, as well as additional buildings, belong to the latter part of the thirteenth century. The documents mention two of these. In the time of Richard of London (1274-1295), but before his election to the abbacy, while he was still sacrist, the bell-tower was erected, in which were hung the great bells which were called Les Londreis, because he was himself a Londoner, and had caused them to be brought from London. A previous abbot, John of Calais (1249-1262), had contributed a great bell to the monastery, which he had dedicated to S. Oswald. On it was inscribed the rhyming hexameter Jon de Caux abbas Oswaldo consecrat hoc vas. The other great work of this period was a magnificent Lady Chapel, since destroyed, begun in 1272 by William Parys, then Prior, who laid the first stone with his own hand, and placed beneath it some writings from the gospels. He lived to see it completed, and at last his body was interred within it. Its altar was consecrated in 1290, as is recorded in the register of Bishop Oliver Sutton. It is described as having been built of stone and wood, with a leaden roof, and with glass windows. There was a statue of the Virgin, and round the walls, or perhaps in the stained glass in the windows, there were figures of those named in the genealogy, with a compendium of their lives beneath each. The Prior contributed five pounds of silver and upwards of his annual revenues towards the decoration of this chapel. From an engraving in Gunton's History, which may be taken as fairly representing its appearance, for it was standing in his time, although the drawing is manifestly inaccurate and must have been sketched from memory, we gather that the windows were of the same character as four which are still to be seen, three of them in the eastern chapels of the south transept, and the fourth on the north side, near the site of the Lady Chapel. These are all of excellent geometric work, and precisely of the date given. This chapel was built, as at Ely, to the east of the north transept. The position of the roof can be traced on the east wall of the transept; and it can be there seen how the Norman triforium windows were originally arranged. These being covered by the Lady Chapel, had not been altered like those in other parts of the church.
Other works of this century, not mentioned in the annals, are the entire removal of the lower stage of Norman windows in the aisles, these were replaced by wide windows of five lights each; the addition of a parapet to the apse; the erection of piscinas and other accompaniments to side altars, at the east ends of the choir aisles.
For the rest of the architectural history we have no chronicles to guide us, and are left to the stones themselves. But there is very little difficulty in fixing at least approximate dates for all the later work. The most important alteration in the fourteenth century was the removal of the stages above the four great arches of the central tower, and the substitution of a lighter lantern. When this was done, the great round arches east and west of the tower were changed into pointed arches, but those north and south were left unaltered. There is every probability that some signs of insecurity had made themselves evident. We have seen that three stages of the Norman tower were erected by Abbot William of Waterville. Though not so stated we infer from this that at least one more stage was afterwards added. In any case the tower must have been a very massive structure, considerably higher than the present one. In the early part of this century, in 1321, the great tower of Ely had fallen; and its fate may have warned the monks of Peterborough to see that the disaster was not repeated here. This alteration must have been made, judging by the details of the architecture, in the second quarter of the century. Above the lantern was a wooden octagon. The views that are given of this hardly warrant the admiration that has been sometimes expressed, or the regrets that have been uttered at its removal. It may have been designed to carry a wooden spire, such as was afterwards erected on the bell-tower. But most will agree with the criticism that it was "a low and unsightly structure." It hardly rose more than eight or ten feet above the top of the lantern, and the whole height of the central tower, including the octagon, was less than the height of the south-western spire of the front.
To this century belongs the transformation of the triforium windows all through the nave and choir. Parapets were at the same time added above the Norman corbel tables. The change effected in the apse was the most noticeable; not only were the two upper tiers of Norman windows replaced by Decorated ones of larger size, but the three lowest ones in the centre were altogether removed, and their place taken by lofty archways, when the new building was built. But we can judge of their appearance from the two side windows which still remain; these, being not now external, have had all the glass removed; but the mullions and tracery are perfect, and even the iron-bars across are still there. At the inner surface of the wall the five lower windows have very good hanging tracery, of different designs.
The south-western spire of the west front is also of this period, probably a little earlier in date than the lantern. This is of very remarkable beauty, and very much more elegant than the corresponding spire to the north. The triangular section of the pinnacles at the base of the spire, the crockets with which they are enriched, and the open canopies around, combine to produce a most graceful feature. To the latter years of this century may be assigned the central porch, with room above, inserted between the two middle piers of the west front. Some regard this as a blemish; others as a distinct improvement. One party maintains that it is "an unsightly encumbrance, in its present position, seeing that it violates the uniformity of design displayed in the west front"; the other party contends that it is "an extremely judicious insertion, and that it really does, just as if it was intended for that purpose only, restore its proper dignity to the central arch of the facade." It was most likely built as a matter of structural necessity, to secure the stability of the front. From a settlement of the foundations, or from a failure of the two central piers, or from the great weight of masonry above, for there are no western buttresses, the whole must have been in danger of falling. Mr Paley points out that the "construction of this elegant little edifice is extremely scientific, especially in the manner in which the thrust is distributed through the medium of the side turrets so as to fall upon the buttresses in front. These turrets being erected against one side of the triangular columns, on the right and the left hand, support them in two directions at once, viz., from collapsing towards each other, and from falling forward. The latter pressure is thrown wholly upon the buttresses in front, which project seven feet beyond the base of the great pillars." The room above is called by Browne Willis the Consistory Court. It is now used for the Minster Library.
The alterations and additions during the Perpendicular period can be detected at a glance. All the Norman windows which had remained unaltered were now filled with tracery, not of particularly good design; the great west window and the others in the west wall were similarly treated; the conical tops to the transeptal corner turrets were altered into battlements; the screens in the transepts were made, and, probably, the groined wooden ceiling in the choir. The most important addition was the New Building at the east end of the choir. This is often erroneously called the Lady Chapel; but when this edifice was erected the Lady Chapel to the east of the north transept, and for more than 150 years afterwards, was still standing. The new building was begun by Abbot Ashton (1438-1471), and finished by Abbot Kirton (1496-1528). The rebus of each of these abbots can be seen in its decorations: an ash growing out of a tun or barrel, and a church or kirk with a tun.
In 1540 the reign of the abbots came to an end, and in 1541 the church became a cathedral. For a hundred years the church itself, as well as all the buildings attached to it, appear to have remained in their full glory. There is no reason to discredit the account given of the preservation of this church, when so many others were dismantled or sold at the suppression of the monasteries. It was suggested to King Henry VIII, after the interment here of Queen Katharine of Aragon, that it would become his greatness to erect a suitable monument of her in the place where she was buried; and in reply the King said he would leave her one of the goodliest monuments in Christendom, meaning that he would spare the church for her sake. We conclude, however, from what we know of the state of the fabric in the reign of Charles I, that although no buildings may have been demolished, yet the church itself was falling into disrepair. No doubt the diminished resources of the establishment, as well as the numerous demands upon the stipends (never large) of the members of the chapter, most of whom had duties and claims elsewhere besides having families to support, materially reduced the amount that could be annually devoted to the sustentation of the fabric. In the time of the civil war much wanton destruction took place. Nearly everything in the nature of ornamentation or embellishment was destroyed. A full account of the mischief wrought has been preserved. Without particularly naming such things as books, documents, vestments, and the movable ornaments, we find the damage done to the fabric itself was terrible indeed. The organs, "of which there were two pair," were broken down. All the stalls of the choir, the altar rails, and the great brass chandelier, were knocked to pieces. The altar of course did not escape. Of the reredos, or altar-piece, and its destruction, Patrick writes as follows: "Now behind the Communion Table, there stood a curious piece of stone-work, admired much by strangers and travellers; a stately skreen it was, well wrought, painted and gilt, which rose up as high almost as the roof of the church in a row of three lofty spires, with other lesser spires, growing out of each of them, as it is represented in the annexed draught. This had now no Imagery-work upon it, or anything else that might justly give offence, and yet because it bore the name of the High Altar, was pulled all down with ropes, lay'd low and level with the ground." All the tombs were mutilated or hacked down. The hearse over the tomb of Queen Katherine was demolished, as well as the arms and escutcheons which still remained above the spot where Mary Queen of Scots had been buried. All the other chief monuments were defaced in like manner. One in particular is worth mentioning. It was a monument in the new building erected to himself by Sir Humfrey Orme in his lifetime. Two words on the inscription, "Altar" and "Sacrifice," are said to have excited the fury of the rabble, and it was broken down with axes, pole-axes, and hammers. So this good old knight "outlived his own monument, and lived to see himself carried in effigie on a Souldiers back, to the publick market-place, there to be sported withall, a Crew of Souldiers going before in procession, some with surplices, some with organ pipes, to make up the solemnity." This monument, as it was left after this profanity, is still to be seen exactly as it remained when the soldiers had done their work. The brasses in the floor, the bells in the steeple, were regarded as lawful plunder. The same would not be said of the stained glass, of which there was a great quantity. This was especially the case with the windows in the cloisters, which were "most famed of all, for their great art and pleasing variety." All the glass was broken to pieces. Much that escaped the violence of these irresponsible zealots fell before the more regular proceedings of commissioners. By their orders many of the buildings belonging to the cathedral were pulled down and the materials sold. This was the case with the cloisters, the chapter-house, the Bishop's hall and chapel. The merchant that bought the lead from the palace roofs did not make a very prosperous bargain, for he lost it all (as Dean Patrick says, within his own knowledge) and the ship which carried it, on the voyage to Holland.
For some time nothing was done to repair the damage. At length the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Oliver St. John, obtained a grant of the ruined Minster, which he gave to the town for use as a parish church, their own parish church having also gone to decay. This gentleman was doubly allied to the Cromwell family, his first wife being great-grand-daughter of Sir Henry Cromwell, of Hinchinbrooke, and his second wife daughter of Henry Cromwell, of Upwood. He had been sent upon a distasteful embassy to Holland, where he experienced many indignities; and on his return, according to Mark Noble, "he protested, that all the favour which he received in reward for this embassy, was, that he obtained the cathedral of Peterborough, which was propounded to be sold and demolished, to be granted to the citizens of that place." The interest that he took in Peterborough arose from the fact that he resided at Longthorpe Hall, about two miles off.
The burden of restoring the church to a decent condition being too great for the inhabitants, they agreed to pull down the Lady Chapel, and sell the materials. This was done, except that some portion of the woodwork was utilised in repairs. The painted boards from the roof were made into backs for the seats in the choir. An engraving of the choir as it appeared in the eighteenth century shews these boards. They are mostly adorned with the letter M surmounted by a crown, and the three lions of England, in alternate lozenges. Until the Restoration the church was served by a school-master of the Charterhouse, Samuel Wilson, appointed by the London Committee. When the cathedral body was restored, further repairs were gradually effected, and when Dean Patrick wrote, he says that the church was "recovering her ancient beauty and lustre again."
But the same causes which operated to prevent very much being done for years after the dissolution of monasteries, the absence of any special fabric fund, and the inadequacy of the revenues, again produced the same results. Browne Willis published his survey of this cathedral in 1742. He says that considering the pillaging of the church by King Henry VIII., and the subsequent despoiling by King Edward VI., and Queen Elizabeth, "we may less wonder that so large a fabrick has not had more care taken of it as it ought; for I cannot but say, that it is ill kept in repair, and lies very slovenly in the inside, and several of the windows are stopped up with bricks, and the glazing in others sadly broken; and the boards in the roof of the middle Isle or Nave, which with the Cross Isle is not archt with stone (but wainscotted with painted boards, as at S. Albans) are several of them damaged and broken, as is also the pavement; insomuch that scarce any cathedral in England is more neglected." He proceeds to say that the Dean and Chapter had recently set apart L700 for repairs, and intended to apply more money to the same purpose when certain leases were expired.
While Willis was collecting information for his book, Francis Lockier was Dean. In his time new seats were erected in the choir which were "very plain and tasteless." They remained until 1827. A new organ was also obtained. L1500 was spent on these alterations.
The record of other changes, until the time of Dean Monk, is meagre. Dean Tarrant (1764-1791) collected the fragments of stained glass and had them all inserted in the windows of the apse. He also repaved the church, but most unfortunately without carefully preserving the ancient inscribed monumental stones. An altar screen and organ screen, from designs by Carter, were erected; but neither seems to have possessed much merit.
Dean Kipling (1798-1822) is chiefly remembered from his alterations to the lantern tower. He erected unsightly turrets at the four corners and removed the octagon. These turrets, commonly spoken of with derision as "Dean Kipling's chimneys" were of unsuitable height, and poor detail; they were terminated with battlements. They were happily removed when the tower was rebuilt.
Dean Monk (1822-1830) inaugurated and carried out an extensive scheme of reparation. The appeal to the public for subscriptions is dated 31st July 1827. It states that the altar screen, choir screen, and all the woodwork in the choir are unworthy of the structure to which they belong: that the Dean and Chapter had substantially repaired the exterior of the church at their own expense; that they had procured plans from Mr Blore, and an estimate of upwards of L5000 for the projected work. The members of the chapter in their corporate capacity had given L1000, and had further individually subscribed L1050. The result of this appeal was that by June 1828 a sum of L5021 11s. had been collected.
The improvements effected before this appeal to the public was made are enumerated by Britton. As has been intimated, the cost was defrayed by Dean Monk and the Chapter from their own resources. The chief repairs and restorations were these:—new roofs were put to the transepts and bell-tower; columns, mouldings, and ornaments in various parts of the church were renewed; several windows, till then blocked up with rubble, were opened and glazed, and in some cases the stonework made good; the pinnacles, spires, and shafts of the west front were carefully restored; two Norman doorways, which had been obscured for ages, were exposed to view. The work in the choir included new stalls and seats, pulpit, and throne; an altar screen of clunch, filling up the lower part of the apse; and an organ screen, also of clunch, with an open parapet, and enriched with much diaper-work and many canopies, and adorned on the west face with large shields of arms, very brightly coloured, charged with the heraldic bearings of the principal subscribers. At first there were only four stalls on each side of the entrance to the choir; others were added, in front of the ladies' pews, when Honorary Canons were created in 1844. This organ-loft did not occupy the place of the former screen, which was where the monastic choir had always terminated, at the second bay west of the tower, but was placed under the eastern arch of the lantern tower. The former screen was called by Rickman "a barbarous piece of painted wood-work." It was either sold, or taken by the contractors as a perquisite; it ultimately found its way into a little garden at Woodston, just across the river, where it was transformed into a summer-house, or arbour.
Great admiration was universally expressed at the conclusion of this work. It was esteemed a marvel of beauty. Harriet Martineau, in her "History of England during the Thirty Years' Peace," thought the re-opening of the choir a matter of sufficient national importance to be recorded in her book. She writes thus: "A new choir of great beauty, was erected in Peterborough Cathedral during this period, and the church was made once more what it was before it was devastated by the Puritans." All must admire the enthusiasm and devotion which brought this restoration to a successful issue, although to the taste of the present day it would all appear cumbrous and heavy.
In the time of Dean Saunders (1853-1878) the choir roof was painted anew, and much valuable and important work was done towards securing the stability of the fabric, by underpinning some of the walls, and in other ways; but all the expense was defrayed out of the resources of the Dean and Chapter, and no public appeal was made for assistance. Indications of the insecurity of the lantern tower had begun to appear, one or more fragments of the masonry having fallen from a great height; and for some years before the tower was condemned as unsafe, a wooden stage had been erected, above the four great arches, as a protection in case more stones should fall. The great pier to the south cast had been, time out of memory, bound all round with strong iron bands. As far back as 1593, there is an entry among the cathedral accounts, which mentions that L47 4s. 9d. had been spent on "the great column near the choir repaired with iron and timber." In 1882 the evidences of failure in the lantern stage were found to be increasing, and its condition was pronounced dangerous. Large gaps made their appearance towards the end of the year, and in January 1883, the greater part of the tower was said to be in a "state of movement."
It was very soon realised that nothing short of rebuilding the tower from the foundation would meet the case. The first stone was taken down on April 5th, and the tower and two eastern piers were removed by August. The western piers were soon afterwards condemned, and taken down the following year. The chief corner stone of the new tower at the north-eastern pier, was laid with full masonic ceremonial on May 7th 1884, by the Earl of Carnarvon, acting for the Prince of Wales. All the stones, as taken down, were numbered, and every one that could be used again was replaced in its original position. During this year there commenced a controversy as to the correct way of finishing the building of the tower. When the Decorated lantern was first built, the great arches, east and west, to the choir and nave, were altered from the round to the pointed shape. A few of the stones of the original Norman arches having been brought to light during the work, some persons wished round arches to be built as at first. Some stones of the Norman tower were also found; and it was proposed to heighten the central tower by one stage of work in the Norman style, using original stones where possible, and placing the Decorated stage above it. Others again, wanted a lofty central spire to be added. The matter was referred to Archbishop Benson for his decision. In the result the whole was rebuilt exactly as before, with the exception that the four corner turrets, erected by Dean Kipling, were not replaced.
In 1886 the tower was finished. The transept ceilings were repaired in this and the next year. All unsound wood was removed and replaced by good oak. The diamond shapes are still to be seen, but the black, white, and brown patterns have been improved away. The discovery of the site of the Saxon church, which will be described hereafter, was made in 1883. Steady progress continued to be made in securing the safety of various parts of the church; and on July 11th, 1889, a temporary choir having been fitted up, divine service was again held in the ancient ritual choir, which extended two bays into the nave.
During the next two years many contributors to the general fund for the restoration, and some others, made gifts of special objects for the embellishment of the choir. By the end of May, 1892, the mosaic pavement was almost completed, and the bishop's throne, the pulpit, the litany desk, and eighteen stalls had been erected. These gifts were solemnly dedicated at a stately service held on June 2nd, when, after the litany and an anthem, the special service was taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the altar, and after that Te Deum was sung. A sermon was preached by the Bishop of Durham, formerly Canon. The Archbishop and Bishops wore their convocation robes.
Two years later the fitting up of the choir was very nearly complete, four stalls only remaining to be supplied. At a second dedication of gifts on May 10th, 1894, these additional gifts were in position; new organ and case, canopied reredos, retable, iron screens inclosing the four eastern bays of the choir, pillars and choir gates (part of a design for an elaborate screen), eight stalls, extension of mosaic pavement, fourteen sub-stalls and seats for lay-clerks and choristers, altar-rails, and credence table. Up to this date, since the commencement of the restoration in 1883, upwards of L32,400 had been expended upon the fabric, besides more than L17,800 upon the internal fittings of the choir. All the woodwork of the choir is now quite complete.
In speaking of the repairs carried out on the west front at the end of the nineteenth century we touch on a matter which gave rise to no little controversy. The insecure state of the west front had been known for years. In the early part of 1896, a scaffold was raised in order to enable Mr Pearson, the architect of the cathedral, to make a complete examination of the front, special causes for alarm having lately been detected. At first it was believed that underpinning the central piers would secure the stability of the whole. This was done, as well as the shoring and strutting to the gables of the two outer arches. The clearing away of the dirt and rubbish, and the cleaning of the groining, disclosed greater danger than had been expected, and the architect recommended the rebuilding of parts of the gables. Before acting on this advice the Restoration Committee took the opinion of Sir A.W. Blomfield, and his report not only confirmed the opinion expressed by Mr Pearson, but said further that much of the superstructure was so disintegrated, that it was impossible to render substantial and lasting repair as it stood, "and that the inner parts of the walls were such as would not permit of the superstructure being preserved or successfully dealt with by any of the well-known expedients frequently recommended and sometimes employed with success." When it became generally known that the Dean and Chapter intended to act upon the advice given in these two reports, the knowledge created the greatest possible excitement. Other plans were suggested; the mere removal of a single stone to make it more secure was declared quite unnecessary; the taking down a gable to rebuild it was denounced as Vandalism. Much strong language and many hard words were used which had better be forgotten. It certainly seems difficult to explain how the objectors to the course that had been decided upon could write of the west front that it was "superficially, in a fair state of preservation," or that it was "literally without a patch or blemish." The present writer was for twenty years a member of the cathedral foundation, and lived just opposite the west front. He made a special study of the history and fabric of the cathedral. Hardly a year passed without something falling down; sometimes a piece of a pinnacle, sometimes a crocket or other ornament, sometimes a shaft. Old engravings of the spires show the pinnacles broken. Many of the shafts are wanting. Some have been replaced in wood. Many wholly new ones were put up by Dean Monk. And concerning the north arch, which was notoriously the most dangerous, Dean Patrick has recorded that Bishop Laney gave L100 toward the repairing one of the great arches of the church porch "which was faln down in the late times." Dean Monk also, in a memoir of his predecessor Dean Duport, speaks of the efforts of the cathedral body to repair the devastation caused by the civil war, and says "in particular one of the three large arches of the West Front, the beauty of which is acknowledged to be without rival, having fallen down, it was restored in all its original magnificence." In an account of the cathedral published by the writer thirty years ago, he says of this arch: "Its present state looks dangerous from below. The stones in the arch have some sad gaps. It is tied up by iron bands, and further protected within by a great number of wooden pegs, not of recent construction. When last observed it leant forward 141/2 inches." In 1893 he wrote: "there is no doubt that the security of the whole front is a most serious question that before long must demand energetic action."
A very great preponderance of local opinion was in favour of the action of the Dean and Chapter. When it came to moving the stones, after all the rubbish was removed, it was found that the mortar had crumbled into mere dust, and could be swept away; and that the stones themselves could be lifted from their positions, without the use of any tool. What has actually been done is this: the north gable has been taken down with the outer orders of the archivolt for a depth of some feet, and rebuilt; the innermost order has not been moved. Relieving arches have been put in at the back. The gable is now believed to be perfectly secure. The cross on the summit was replaced in its position on July 2nd, 1897. The south gable was afterwards taken down and rebuilt, a very few new stones being used to bond the masonry where a fracture had been found on the left side of the great arch below. This is what has been called "the destruction" of the west front.
Nearly every cathedral and large abbey church has some one conspicuous feature by which it is remembered, and with which it is specially associated in the minds of most persons. Nearly every one also claims for itself to have the best example of some one architectural feature, or the largest, or the oldest, or in some other way the most remarkable. Occasionally the claim is indisputable, because the boasted object is unique in the country; as is the case with the octagon at Ely, the three spires at Lichfield, the situation and western Galilee of Durham, and the almost perfect unity of design at Salisbury. Sometimes, if not unique, there is no question as to the justice of the claim for superiority; whether it be for a thing of beauty, like the cloisters at Gloucester, or the Norman tower at Norwich, or the east window of Carlisle, or the angel-choir at Lincoln; or for size or extent, when the question narrows itself to a mere matter of measurement.
But it is not always by any means the fact that this prominent feature, though it is the pride of the inhabitants and a source of admiration to visitors, is really the most noteworthy thing belonging to the church. This seems specially the case at Peterborough. Probably nobody speaks or thinks of Peterborough cathedral without immediately associating it with its glorious west front. Many believe that there is little else in the building that is worthy of any particular attention. And yet nowhere in the kingdom is there to be found a finer and more complete Norman church. Arches, windows, mouldings, more elaborate and more grand may no doubt be found elsewhere; but where else can we find, as here, choir, transepts, and nave, with all the original Norman, from ground to roof, with two insignificant exceptions, remaining unaltered? It is natural to compare the three great East Anglian Cathedrals, as all have superb work of the Norman period. But at Norwich the lower arches in the choir have been rebuilt in the Perpendicular style, while the vaulted roof of the nave, raised in the fifteenth century, is less in keeping with the sturdy architecture beneath it than the wooden ceiling at Peterborough. At Ely, beautiful as is the work in the octagon and choir, there is no Norman work east of the transepts. Of course we are referring to the main arches and pillars of the building, and not to the tracery of the windows, or to alterations to the walls. The two exceptions mentioned above are the pointed arches, east and west of the central tower, and the removal of the three lowest windows in the apse.
The greatest attraction to the world at large is undoubtedly the West Front, which is seen in its full beauty on entering the close.
The following lines, from Morris's "Earthly Paradise," may fitly introduce the subject.
"For other tales they told, and one of these Not all the washing of the troublous seas, Nor all the changeful days whereof ye know, Have swept from out my memory: even so Small things far off will be remembered clear When matters both more mighty and more near, Are waxing dim to us. I, who have seen So many lands, and midst such marvels been, Clearer than these abodes of outland men, Can see above the green and unburnt fen The little houses of an English town, Cross-timbered, thatched with fen-reeds coarse and brown, And high o'er these, three gables, great and fair, That slender rods of columns do upbear Over the minster doors, and imagery Of kings, and flowers no summer field doth see, Wrought in these gables.—Yea I heard withal, In the fresh morning air, the trowels fall Upon the stone, a thin noise far away; For high up wrought the masons on that day, Since to the monks that house seemed scarcely well Till they had set a spire or pinnacle Each side the great porch. In that burgh I heard This tale, and late have set down every word That I remembered, when the thoughts would come Of what we did in our deserted home, And of the days, long past, when we were young, Nor knew the cloudy days that o'er us hung. And howsoever I am now grown old, Yet is it still the tale I then heard told Within the guest house of that Minster Close, Whose walls, like cliffs new made, before us rose."
It is rather a porch, or piazza, than a front; for it consists of a paved walk of some extent outside the wall of the cathedral covered at a great height by a vaulted roof which is supported by the wall and by the three great arches. Mr Fergusson, in his "Handbook of Architecture," pronounces that "as a portico, using the term in its classical sense, the west front of Peterborough is the grandest and finest in Europe": and there are few that will not agree with him. Professor Freeman says:—"The portico of Peterborough is unique; the noblest conception of the old Greek translated into the speech of Christendom and of England has no fellow before it or after it." Exclusive of the spires, and the central porch and parvise, the dates of which have been given previously, the whole is of the best and purest Early English style. The effect is certainly improved by the middle arch being narrower than the others. But if the gables above had been of unequal angles, the result would have been far less satisfactory. Wisely, therefore, these angles have been made equal, and all of the same height: and the device of the architect to secure this, by making the central gable rise from points somewhat higher than the others, is admirable. It is to be observed also that the turrets, or large pinnacles, that are placed between the gables, are not placed exactly above the central line of the great piers beneath them, but are in each case a little further towards the outer arches; and it will be seen, immediately that this is pointed out, how much the upper part of the facade is thereby improved. The two great piers may be roughly taken as having for section an isosceles right-angled triangle, the right angle being towards the west. The mouldings of the arches are supported by a series of banded shafts, six on each side of each arch. In the spaces between the shafts of the middle arch, but not of the others, are crockets for the whole height, and the innermost cavetto is entirely filled with dog-tooth ornament. All the shafts have floriated capitals; and the great arches have similar mouldings. Four sets of ornaments run round each arch; a continuous chevron, a richly floriated roll, a roll with bands, and a series of billets. Between the arches there rises a clustered shaft which reaches to the level of the highest points of the arches: here these shafts combine with an ornamented stringcourse which runs in a straight line along the entire front. In each of the six spandrels are a deeply recessed quatrefoil, two trefoiled arches (like the upper part of a niche), a pair of lancet-shaped niches containing figures, and a beautifully designed hexagonal ornament, with wavy edges, the cusps uniting in a central boss. The pinnacles on each side of the middle gable are at first square, then there are two octagonal stages, the uppermost pierced, and finally a short spire. The lowest stage has a double lancet with floriated capitals; the second has a lancet, also with floriated capitals, filling up each face of the octagon; the last stage has round-headed lancets, without capitals, entirely surrounded by zigzags.
The gables are richly ornamented. At the head of each is a massive cross of very fine workmanship. Along the edges of the gables are two rows of billets and the wavy ornament. Just below the crosses are three large statues, in niches of which the gable mouldings form the heads. That in the centre is S. Peter, with a mitre, the right hand uplifted in blessing, and two keys in the left hand; the other two are S. John and S. Andrew. Below plain, straight stringcourses, at the foot of these statues, are three rose windows of exceptional grace and beauty. The central one has eight spokes radiating from a flat medallion enriched with conventional foliage; these support trefoil-headed arches which have their outer mouldings thickly covered with dog-tooth; the whole is bounded by two circular bands, the inner one ornamented. The two other rose windows have six spokes instead of eight, the trefoiled arches have foliage, and the inner moulding of the bounding circles is continuously waving. The spokes in all three windows have the dog-tooth on each side. On each side of the lower part of these windows is a trefoil-headed niche containing a figure. Below these, and resting upon the long stringcourse that runs above the great arches, are sets of seven trefoil-headed niches, with a half-niche at each end. Four of these niches are pierced for windows, which have trefoils with pointed heads, though the trefoil heads of the niches themselves are round at the top. The three intervening niches contain figures. All these nine figures have a nimbus; and as these, with the three under the crosses, make up twelve, it is assumed that they represent the Apostles. The six smaller statues, just above, are said to be kings; the twelve below, benefactors. There are thus thirty statues in all, and most were no doubt carved at the time of the erection of the front; but two or three appear to be of earlier date, and may possibly have formed part of the embellishments of the Saxon church.
The Towers north and south, up to the height of the parapets, are of the same date as the portion already described. They are ornamented with blank arcading in six stages, of different dimensions and character; all is in perfect harmony with the rest of the composition. The loftiest of the stages of this arcading has a sub-division with round arches; and the stage above the great stringcourse has round-headed trefoils so as to be in keeping with the row of similar arches in the gables; but with these two exceptions all the arches on the arcades of the tower are pointed and without cusps. Of the spires which surmount these towers that on the south is by far the more elegant. It has pinnacles at the corners of square section, and then another set of triangular pinnacles, resting on open arches connecting the corner pinnacles with the spire. These triangular pinnacles are double the height of those at the corners. All the pinnacles and canopies over the arches have crockets. This spire is some few feet loftier than that to the north, though most measurements of the cathedral have hitherto given them as being of the same height.
The inner wall of the portico, forming the west wall of the cathedral, is covered with elaborate arcading, and so also are the ends, north and south. The designs are nearly a continuation of the arcading on the two towers. There are five lofty windows, now filled with tracery inserted in the Perpendicular period, the great west window having been enlarged at the same time. The two side doorways are exceedingly good, and should be carefully examined. The central doorway must have been of still greater beauty; but the whole of the upper part of it is hidden by the porch and parvise inserted beneath the central arch. This doorway is divided by a fine pillar rising from a well-carved base, with a very curious scene depicted on it. "It represents," writes Canon Davys, "a Benedictine tortured by demons, and was doubtless intended as a significant hint to the monks that a sacred calling demands a consistent life." The portico retains its original Early English vaulting.
The Porch and Parvise beneath the middle arch was inserted, as has been previously stated, as a support to the two great piers. It is vaulted in two bays, the first being of the same dimensions as the inner width of the portico; the western bay (of the same size) thus reaches beyond the two great piers, and the corner turrets and buttresses in all project about seven feet. This gives a very substantial support to the piers. The whole composition is very fine, and quite worthy of the great portico to which it is an adjunct. It must be left to each spectator to decide for himself if it improves or diminishes the effect of the whole. It is of late Decorated date, highly enriched with profuse carving. The staircase turrets, as well as the great window are embattled. Possibly there may have been pinnacles now lost. The spaces north and south, and within the portico, have tracery on the walls similar to the window. The groining is very fine. One of the central bosses has a representation of the Trinity. The Father is represented as the Ancient of Days, with a Dove for the Holy Spirit above the shoulder, and the figure of the Saviour on the Cross in front. Freemasons are recommended to look for a special symbol which they alone can understand and appreciate.
The floor of the portico is paved with gravestones, some apparently in their original position. This place was at one time appropriated as a burial place for the Minor Canons. Some of the stones, however, are of mediaeval date, and it can be seen where the brasses have been wrenched from them: some of these have been used again for later inscriptions. One stone bears an incised cross originally filled with some coloured composition. Some of the marble wall-shafts had fallen, and their places had been filled by stone substitutes. Others had been cheaply replaced by wood. The stone shafts still remain, but the wooden imitations have all been replaced by new marble which was specially quarried for this reconstruction.
Wood had also been used for the repair of the battlements on the gable of the porch under the centre arch of the west front. These have, of course, been reconstructed in stone. All the criticisms that have been passed by amateur architects upon the front, as a termination to the building, cannot be discussed here. It is clear, however, that the existence of the portico does away with any objection that could be made (as has been done with regard to the west fronts at Lincoln, Wells, and elsewhere), that the front might be considered to hide rather than to bring out the construction of the nave and aisles. It is true that the side gables are not the gables of the aisles, and indeed the roofs that are built against the gables are built only for them; but they are a legitimate finish to the great arches, and to the vaulted roof of the portico. Possibly the inequality of the great arches may be explained when we reflect that the central gable is the honest termination of the nave roof; the two central piers were therefore bound to be built so as to give support to the existing nave roof, and to fit it. The position of these piers being fixed, the outer ones might be as distant as was desired, for the front must of course extend to the entire length of the western transept. It has been commonly supposed that the three great arches of the Lincoln front suggested the idea to the Peterborough builders. If so, they improved upon their model. The central arch at Lincoln even before the round arch was altered, must have been half as high again as the side arches; and as they all are integral parts of the wall, and therefore not open, they have somewhat the appearance of magnified doorways that have been blocked up. At Snettisham, in Norfolk, is a western doorway protected by a porch with three open arches; and this has sometimes been mentioned when Peterborough west front is a subject of discussion; not, of course, as a fitting comparison, but as an illustration of the architectural method employed. At Snettisham, however, the porch is a small erection even for the church to which it gives entrance, and does not nearly extend to the entire width of the building.
The following is the quaint description given in "Magna Britannia," published 1724:—"The western Front is very Noble and Majestick of Columel Work, and supported by three such tall Arches, as England can scarcely shew the like, which are adorned with a great Variety of curious Imagery. The Form of Arches is by the modern Architects called, The Bull's Eye, not Semicircular. The whole is one of the noblest pieces of Gothick Building in England."
The Bell-tower, which rises from the western transept, immediately behind the north gable of the front (p. 37), is a little later than the front itself. It is of good workmanship, and quite in keeping with the older part. There are rows of lancets in the belfry stage, and the four corner pinnacles are very similar to the large pinnacles that are placed between the gables of the front, but all the lancets are pointed, and there are little gables above each. This tower was once surmounted by a wooden spire. When this was erected does not seem to be known. It was not of particularly graceful design, judging from views of the cathedral taken when it was standing. It was removed in the early part of the last century (see page 25).
Passing round to the north side of the cathedral we are at once struck with the beauty of the termination of the western transept. The arcading on the north side of the tower of the front is identical with that on the west side; but to the east there is only arcading in the three upper stages. Mr. Paley's remarks upon the great windows of the western transept may be quoted. He says they "deserve particular examination, not only because they are very early and fine specimens of cusped and traceried windows—indeed, among the best in the kingdom—but for a remarkable peculiarity in the jambs; whereof one side is Norman, with the square capitals to the jamb-shafts both within and without, and the other Early English, as are the arch-mouldings and hoods round the whole arches, which were probably semicircular at first, for at present the point cuts through a stringcourse inside. The frames of the entire windows are later work, having no attachment or bonding to the jambs, as is clearly manifested to the eye." These windows rise as high as the top of those of the triforium. Above is a round-headed window with a slightly smaller arch on each side, with cushion capitals. The gable itself is designedly made to resemble one of the gables of the west front. It is surmounted by a cross, and bordered by the wavy ornament; it has a rose window; and beneath is an arcade of five round-headed trefoiled arches supported by shafts, having at the inner wall three lancet windows. The circular window is without tracery; it has twelve cusps. At each side of the gable is a pinnacle, almost a copy of those on the front, except that the lowest stage is here octagonal instead of square.
On the north side of the nave is a single door, now called the Dean's door, of good Norman work. On each side are three shafts with cushion capitals slightly ornamented; and in the round arches above are different mouldings of the style. The windows to the aisle, ten in number, are very broad, of five lights each, under depressed arches. The tracery and mouldings indicate that these were substituted for the original windows towards the close of the thirteenth century. At the same time it would seem that the walls above, in the triforium range, were heightened, because the parapet at the top is of Early English work, although the three-light windows beneath it are Decorated, and were not inserted until the next century. At the foot of the triforium range is the original Norman arcade of round-headed arches: below the existing Decorated windows is now a blank space of wall, where at first was the Norman window, rising somewhat higher than the arcade. What the original arrangement was can be seen on the east side of the north transept. The Norman clerestory range has been altered only by having Perpendicular tracery put in the windows, and by the addition of a Decorated parapet. The original corbel-table was allowed to remain.
The Lantern-tower has on each face two large windows with transoms, of three lights. The tracery is that known as net-tracery. Between these windows is a blank window, if the term may be allowed; the tracery exists, but there never was a window; it is in four divisions; while between the windows and the corner turrets are similar traceries of two parts. The whole is surmounted by a parapet above a plain arcade. The corner turrets are octangular. As at present finished at the top there is undoubtedly an appearance of their being incomplete.
The west side of the North Transept is a very excellent specimen of Norman work; and we find less change here than in any other part of the cathedral that belongs to the same period. The tracery of the windows is Perpendicular, but the windows themselves are otherwise unaltered: at the top of all is a Decorated parapet, which is here composed of a series of quatrefoils; and the parapet to the corner turrets is not Norman. As there is no aisle on the west side of this transept, there has been no alteration in the wall, as was the case with the nave aisles.
The north end of the transept is similar; but the shallow buttresses between the windows rise to a greater height, and there is another arcade above the upper tier of windows, and a blank arch in the gable. The gable has crockets, and a cross at the apex. The lower Norman window in the aisle here is unlike any others on this side of the church, but there are four others like it on the south. The upper aisle window here is of three lights, with a large pointed trefoil above them instead of tracery.
The east wall of this transept is specially worthy of note. We can trace the lines of the roof of the Lady Chapel which formerly stood to the east of the wall; and beneath this are two bays of the original triforium range, showing two of the simple Norman windows. Between these and the roof are six Early English lancets. Below are the upper parts of the two great arches which were constructed as an entrance to the Lady Chapel. When the Lady Chapel was pulled down in the seventeenth century these were converted into windows filled with late tracery in imitation of Perpendicular work, and the lower part was walled up, except that a doorway was constructed. This was afterwards blocked up for many years, and only reopened during the recent restoration works. The same alteration has been effected in the western part of the choir aisle, the arches towards the Lady Chapel having been in like manner made into windows. The lower window nearest the tower is a very graceful geometric window of three lights, exactly like the three in the south transept; the window above is of the same period as all the other Decorated windows of the triforium range.
Between the Lady Chapel and the north aisle of the choir was a passage (to which the two great arches were open), and at the eastern end of it was a small vaulted chapel, the remains of which are clearly to be seen, including the broken piscina. Above this were chambers, concerning which Gunton has preserved a tradition that they were "the habitation of a devout Lady, called Agnes, or Dame Agnes, out of whose Lodging-Chamber there was a hole made askew in the window walled up, having its prospect just upon the altar of the Ladies Chappel, and no more. It seems she was devout in her generation, that she chose this place for her retirement, and was desirous that her eyes, as well as ears, might wait upon her publick Devotions." He says also that little is known of her except that she was a benefactress to the church, and that a wood she bestowed upon it is still called by her name.