Tag Archives: Antiquarian

Secret Spaces: Medieval Sacristies, Vestries, Treasure Rooms and their Contents


Salisbury Cathedral Treasure House, Upper Champber, from “Pituresque Memorials of Salisbury” by Peter Hall (1834), courtesy of the Society of Antiquaries.

The aim of the conference is to introduce the subject of ecclesiastical treasure houses to both the academic world and the wider public.

Treasure houses take the form of small buildings attached as annexes to the cathedrals and churches which they served. Their function as store houses of the priceless ecclesiastical treasure belonging to the church meant that they were accessible to only a few privileged individuals but many are resplendent pieces of architecture in their own right. Recently Yves Gallet, in discussing an ambitious vault within the thirteenth-century treasure house of Saint-Urbain, Troyes, noted that ‘it is curious that they should have placed such a spectacular and up-to-date ornament in a place where it was never going to be seen’. Notable treasure houses in Britain are attached to the cathedrals of Canterbury, Lincoln, Wells, and Bristol, to name but a few. However, medieval ecclesiastical treasure houses existed everywhere in the medieval West and this will be reflected in the conference, which will bring together scholars from different countries. Ecclesiastical treasure houses also stored money, the presence of which necessitated the activities of depositing, guarding and counting. The ecclesiastical treasure house thus occupied a fault line between two opposing ideologies in medieval Christian thinking, the first condemning the accumulation of worldly treasure and the second promoting its use for God’s service.

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Resources: Images of English Cathedrals before 1850

Gloucester Lady chapel (Britton 1828)

I have been recently working on sedilia in cathedrals and as an art historian, I enjoy little more than a game of spot-the-difference. Here are some resources I have found very useful for a glimpse of that state of our greatest medieval buildings before the Gilbert Scott-led frenzy of restoration mania. They are available copyright-free on archive.org so I could not help sharing them.

Browne Willis – A survey of the cathedrals of York, Durham, Carlisle, Chester, Man, Litchfield, Hereford, Worcester, Gloucester, Bristol, Lincoln, Ely, Oxford, Peterborough, Canterbury, Rochester, London, Winchester, Chichester, Norwich, Salisbury, Wells, Exeter, St. Davids, Landaff, Bangor, and St. Asaph : containing an history of their foundations, builders, antient monuments, and inscriptions, endowments, alienations, sales of lands, patronages … : with an exact account of all the churches and chapels in each diocese, distinguished under their proper archdeaconries and deanries, to what saints dedicated, who patrons of them, and to what religious houses appropriated : the whole extracted from numerous collections out of the registers of every particular see … : and illustrated with thirty-two curious draughts … : in three volumes (1742)

Browne Willis YorkBrowne Willis is the sort of Antiquarian mega-achievement that puts the fear of death into you. The title alone is long enough. It is mostly the names of every holder of every stall in the Cathedral, but there are also short descriptions of the fabric, monuments, as well as a plan and at least a side view of every cathedral. A few have extra views, such as the now sadly collapsed west front of Hereford. They are remarkably detailed for their time.

Volume 1 York, Durham, Carlisle, Chester, Isle of Man (!), Lichfield, Hereford
Volume 2 Worcester, Gloucester, Bristol, Lincoln
Volume 3: Ely, Oxford, Peterborough

James Storer – History and antiquities of the cathedral churches of Great Britain : illustrated with a series of highly-finished engravings, exhibiting general and particular views, ground plans, and all the architectural features and ornaments in the various styles of building used in our ecclesiastical edifices (1814)

Storer Lincoln RemingusWith Storer we are in a different world. The interior views are much more picturesque, and one might assume, cleared of excess clutter. Except, unlike modern-day photographers, antiquarian engravers actually prefered people in their images, to give a sense of scale, grandeur, and also perhaps, a Romantic sense of audience and perception. The accounts of the buildings now attempt to place the structure more firmly in a historical framework, and its construction history, rather than the more topographical and ancestral approach of the antiquarians. archive.org has all the cathedrals in alphabetical order in its descriptive contents, but such is the inconvenience of using this resource. The actual contents of the volumes are as shown below.
v. 1: Canterbury, Chichester, Lincoln, Oxford, Peterborough, Winchester
v. 2: Chester, Gloucester, Hereford, Salisbury, Lichfield, Rochester, Worcester
v. 3: St David’s, London, Ely, Llandaff, Bath, Bristol, Carlisle
v. 4: Wells, Norwich, Durham, Bangor, Exeter, St Asaph, York

John Britton – Cathedral antiquities (1821)

Britton canterburyBritton again, gives us a whole different view on the cathedral – measured cross-sections, details, specimens and elevations, startlingly accurate and rather ahead of their time. There is also a suitably more rigid text, a historical account followed by a topographical tour of the major features.

v. 1. Canterbury. 1821. York. 1819
v. 2. Salisbury. 1814. Norwich. 1816. Oxford. 1821
v. 3. Winchester. 1817. Litchfield. 1820. Hereford. 1831
v. 4. Wells. 1824. Exeter. 1826. Worcester. 1835
v. 5. Peterborough. 1828. Gloucester. 1829. Bristol. 1830
v. 6. Bath, St Mary Redcliffe Bristol.

Winkles’s Architectural and picturesque illustrations of the cathedral churches of England and Wales (1851)
Lincoln - Judgement porchWinkles is full of uncomprimisingly Romantic views: many so distant to be completely useless for assessing the fabric. However, the interiors are full of charming incident and also a more palpable sense of decay, as well as the sense of the grand vistas into which these buildings had been often opened up to, to the expense of medieval screens and furnishings. The text is also has rather more of a tendency to dwell on his own aesthetic opinion than the others and submit us to rather purple passages at times: not always a bad thing.

Vol. 1: Salisbury, Canterbury, York, St. Paul’s, Wells, Rochester, Winchester

Vol. 2: Lincoln, Chichester, Ely, Peterborough, Norwich, Exeter, Bristol, Oxford

Vol. 3: Lichfield, Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester, Durham, Carlisle, Manchester

The great thing about archive.org is that you can download and save individual images as well as full PDFs as much as you wish, and the text is even OCR’d so you can search it. Marvellous.