The Chapter House, which is entered from the eastern walk of the cloisters, dates probably from the time of Edward the First; later it may be, but certainly not earlier than the commencement of his reign, as, during certain excavations for underpinning the walls in 1854, several pennies of that king were found below its foundations. The architecture is somewhat later in style than that of the cloisters, and if it be not, as its admirers claim, the most beautiful in England, it has few rivals. Like Westminster, Wells, and other English examples, except York and Southwell, it has a central pillar, from which the groining of the roof springs gracefully in harmonious lines. A raised bench of stone runs round the interior. At its back, forty-nine niches of a canopied arcade borne on slight Purbeck marble shafts mark out as many seats. They are apportioned as follows: those at each side of the entrance to the Chancellor and Treasurer respectively, the rest to the Bishop, Dean, Arch-deacons, and other members of the chapter.
The plan of the building is octagonal, about fifty-eight feet in diameter and fifty-two feet in height. Each side has a large fanlight window with traceried head. Below these windows and above the canopies of the seats is a very remarkable series of bas-reliefs, noticed more fully later on. The bosses of the roof are somewhat elaborately carved; one north of the west doorway has groups of figures on it, apparently intended to represent armourers, musicians, and apothecaries, possibly commemorating guilds who were benefactors to the building; the others have foliage chiefly with grotesque monsters. On the base of the central pillar is a series of carvings taken probably from one of the many books of fables so popular in the middle ages. These were reproduced from the originals, which are preserved in the cloisters.
The quatrefoil over the doorway has an empty niche, and it is not possible to say with certainty whether it was originally filled by a crucifix, as Mr. Mackenzie Walcott infers from the symbols of the Evangelists in the angles of the panel; or, with a seated figure of our Lord in majesty; or, as a third archæologist has suggested, a coronation of the Virgin. Filling the voussoirs of the arch of the doorway are fourteen small niches containing subjects from the Psychomachia of Prudentius, the Battle of the Virtues against the Vices. The figures are not easily identified, but Mr. Burges, whose "Iconography of the Chapter House" is the most important monograph on the subject, suggests that on the right-hand side the figures in the third niche from the top appear to represent Concord triumphing over Discord; in the sixth, Temperance is pouring liquor down the throat of Intemperance; on the seventh, Fortitude tramples on Terror, who cuts her own throat. On the left hand in the first niche Faith is trampling on Infidelity; in the second, a Virtue covers a Vice with her cloak, while the Vice embraces her knees with one hand and stabs her with a sword held in the other. This incident is taken from Prudentius: "Discord by stealth wounds Concord; she is taken and killed by" Faith, which latter incident may be represented in the next compartment. In the fourth niche, Truth pulls out Falsehood's tongue; in the fifth, Modesty scourges Lust; in the sixth, Generosity pours coin into the throat of Avarice. To quote the words of the author from whom these interpretations are derived: "These sculptures are of the very highest class of art, and infinitely superior to any work in the chapter house; the only defect is the size of the heads: probably this was intentional on the part of the artist. The intense life and movement of the figures are worthy of special study." These allegories are common in paintings and sculptures of this period; at Canterbury the same subjects are incised on the pavement that surrounds the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket.
On the spandrils of the continuous arcade, sculptures in high relief once restored as far as possible in the original colours are now again scraped clean, and with the new heads to the figures look so modern that it is hard to believe they are contemporary with the building they adorn, yet since on the whole the restoration has been faithfully accomplished they may be studied as peculiarly valuable examples of early mediæval sculpture, showing certain naïve qualities that raise them far above the usual level of contemporary work. They are supposed to have been defaced by the Commission sitting in this building during the time of the Rebellion. The subjects are:
1. A Representation of Chaos. 2. The Creation of the Firmament.
3. The Creation of the Earth. 4. The Creation of the Planets. 5. The Creation of the Birds and Fishes. 6. The Creation of Adam and Eve. 7. The Seventh Day. 8. The First Marriage. 9. The Temptation of Eve. 10. Adam and Eve hiding.
11. The Flight from Paradise. 12. The First Labour. 13. Cain and Abel's Offering. 14. The First Murder. 15. The Punishment of Cain. 16. The Command to Noah. 17. The Ark. 18. The Vineyard of Noah.
19. Noah's Drunkenness. 20. The Building of Babel. 21. Angels appearing to Abraham. 22. Abraham entertaining the Angels. 23. The Destruction of the Cities of the Plain. 24. Lot's Escape. 25. Abraham and Isaac. 26. The Sacrifice of Isaac.
27. Isaac and Jacob. 28. Esau and Isaac. 29. Rebecca and Jacob. 30. Jacob and Rachel. 31. Rachel, Jacob, and Laban. 32. Jacob and the Angels. 33. The Angel touching Jacob's thigh. 34. Jacob meeting Esau.
35. Joseph's Dream. 36. Joseph relating his Dream. 37. Joseph in the Pit. 38. Joseph sold into Egypt. 39. Joseph's Coat brought to Jacob. 40. Joseph and Potiphar. 41. Potiphar's Wife. 42. Joseph accused.
43. Joseph in Prison. 44. Pharaoh's Baker and Butler. 45. Pharaoh's Dream. 46. Pharaoh's Indecision. 47. Joseph before Pharaoh. 48. Joseph as Ruler. 49. Joseph's Brethren. 50. The Cup placed in Benjamin's Sack.
51. The Discovery of the Cup. 52. His Brethren before Joseph. 53. Jacob on his Way to Egypt. 54. Joseph and his Brethren pleading. 55. Joseph protecting his Brethren. 56. Moses on Sinai. 57. The Miracle of the Red Sea. 58. The Destruction of the Egyptians.
59. Moses striking the Rock. 60. The Law declared.
The Decorations of the Roof of the choir and presbytery are reproductions by Messrs. Clayton and Bell of the original paintings, which dated probably from the thirteenth century. The series, commencing from the west, shows twenty-four prophets and saints, all, with the exception of St. John the Baptist, selected from the Old Testament. Taking them in lines parallel with the choir screen, the first row contains (reading from the left, as one faces the altar): Zechariah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and St. John the Baptist; the second: Zacharias, Joel, Hosea, and Zephaniah; the third: Job, Habakkuk, Nahum, David; the fourth: Moses, Micah, Jonah, and Jacob; the fifth: Malachi, Obadiah, Amos, and Isaac; and the sixth: Haggai, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Abraham. In the square of the transept crossing are (following the same order): St. Thomas and St. Andrew, St. Matthew and St. John, St. Philip and St. Simon, St. Bartholomew and St. Matthias. At the left the last panel on that side contains St. Peter and St. Andrew, while another in the opposite corner has St. James and St. John. In the centre is a figure of Christ, in majesty, surrounded by the four evangelists.
From this point to the east the panels are devoted to secular subjects typifying the twelve months, "The signs of the Zodiac," Price calls them: January, warming at a fire; February, drinking wine; March, delving; April, sowing; May, hawking; June, flowers; July, reaping; August, threshing; September, fruit; October, brewing; November, cutting wood; December, killing the fatted pig. The originals were white, or rather buff-washed, in the last century. Owing to the tenacity of this wash, and the friable non-adhesive quality of the paint it covered, it was found impossible to remove the additional coating without destroying the original paintings. Tracings of some of them were made by Messrs. Clayton and Bell; but although the semi-transparent character of the buff wash allowed the subjects to be discerned from below; on nearer inspection the details became blurred and shapeless.
The theory that the paintings of the choir had been re-painted before their defacement by buff wash seems hardly likely from the state reported by the restorers. The idea probably arose from an extract, itself possibly interpolated, frequently quoted from one edition of Defoe's "Tour through the Island of Great Britain:" "The choir resembles a theatre rather than a venerable choir of a church; it is painted white with the panels golden, and groups and garlands of roses and other flowers intertwined run round the top of the stalls; each stall hath the arms of its holder in gilt letters or blue writ on it; and the episcopal throne with Bishop Ward's arms upon it would make a fine theatrical decoration, being supported by gilt pillars and painted with flowers upon white all over. The roof of the choir hath some fresh painting, containing several saints as big as life, each in a circle by itself and holding a label in their hands telling who they are. The altar piece is very mean, and behind this altar, in the Virgin Mary's Chapel, are some very good monuments." But in the first edition of the same book Defoe himself says: "The inside is certainly hurt by the paltry old paintings in and over the choir, and the whitewashing badly done, wherein they have very stupidly everywhere drawn black lines to imitate joints of stone." In another edition of 1724 the passage reads: "The painting in the choir is mean and more like the ordinary method of Common Drawing Room or Tavern painting than that of a church." Whatever be the actual value of the painting on its own merits, as a record faithfully transcribed of very early roof-decoration, it has an interest of its own far beyond much more important work of later periods.
The statues are arranged in five horizontal lines from north to south, exclusive of the figure in the "vesica," the oval above. In the principal niches of the top row is a tier of angels, below this a tier of Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, then a tier of doctors, virgins, and martyrs, and lowest of all a tier of worthies, including princes, martyrs, bishops, and founders connected with the diocese and the Cathedral.
The Vesica contains a figure of our Lord seated, known technically as a "Majesty." In the tier of angels below, noting them from left to right, are the celestial hierarchies, Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; Dominions, Powers, and Authorities; Principalities, Archangels, Angels. The Old Testament prophets are: David with the harp, Moses with the Tables of the Law, Abraham with the knife, Noah with the ark, Samuel with a sceptre, and Solomon with a church. The eight vacant niches should contain figures of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Elijah, Melchizedek, Enoch, Job, Daniel, and Jeremiah. The tier with the Apostles observes this order: On the northern turret St. Jude with a halberd, St. Simon Zelotes with a saw, St. Andrew with the cross that bears his name, St. Thomas with a builder's square; on the north buttress St. Peter with the keys; on the southern buttress St. Paul with a sword (both these are restorations of ancient figures); on the southern turret St. James the Less with a club, St. James the Greater with a pilgrim's staff, St. Bartholomew with the knife of his martyrdom and St. Matthias with a lance.
The tier of the doctors, virgins, and martyrs, keeping to the same order, shows: St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, with a scourge in his right hand, and a bishop's staff in his left; St. Jerome in a cardinal's hat, with a church in his right hand and a bible in his left; St. Gregory in papal tiara, the legendary club on his shield, his pastoral staff doubly crossed, and a book, typical of his writings, on his left. On the smaller north buttress, near the turret, is a restored figure removed from its original place, which represents St. Augustine, wearing a bishop's mitre, and holding his hand as in the act of benediction. On the greater north buttress is the figure of St. Mary the Virgin, to whom the church is dedicated. This figure is also restored. In the eleven niches over the central door are, with their various symbols: St. Barbara, St. Catherine, St. Roche, St. Nicholas, St. George of England, St. Christopher, St. Sebastian, St. Cosmo, St. Damian, St. Margaret, and St. Ursula. On the greater south buttress is St. John the Baptist, and on the lesser an old figure unrestored, supposed to represent St. Bridget. On the southern turret are St. Mary, St. Agatha, St. Agnes and St. Cecilia, each wearing the martyr's crown. The tier of worthies comprises: Bishops Giles de Bridport and Richard Poore, and King Henry III. as a founder. Bishop Odo, with a wafer in his hand, commemorating the legend of his miraculous proof of the transubstantiation of the Blessed Sacrament; St. Osmund, Bishop Brithwold, St. Alban, St. Alphege, St. Edmund, and St. Thomas of Canterbury.
The Church of St. Thomas à Becket is a most picturesque structure, and, placed as it is in a square of old tiled houses, makes a delightful picture. It consists of a nave with two aisles, a chancel with aisles, and a vestry room. It was built in 1240 by Bishop Bingham. The embattlemented tower has in its south front two niches containing much mutilated figures of the Virgin and Child and St. Thomas à Becket.
In the porch is a very curious panel with a biblical subject rudely carved by Humphrey Beckham, who died, aged eighty-eight, in 1671, and left this as his memorial. The most striking feature of the interior is the large painting above the chancel arch, representing the Day of Judgment, in the naïve manner of its time. Most works on ecclesiastical mural decoration mention it as one of the most important examples that have come down to us. Other paintings in the south aisle were brought to light by Mr. G.E. Street during the restoration in 1867. Without and within it is a building hardly less worth study than the cathedral itself.
The Lady Chapel, originally separated from the choir, thrown into the presbytery by Wyatt for the sake of his much overrated vista, is once again partially hidden by the reredos and the grille work of the screen on either side. As the earliest portion of the building, and the only part Bishop Poore lived to see completed, it would not lack interest, were it commonplace in character; but it is on the contrary a particularly graceful example of its time. The whole chapel is divided into a nave and side aisles by single and clustered shafts of Purbeck marble. These extremely slender shafts look unequal to the heavy groined roof they support; for although nearly thirty feet high, the four largest are not quite ten inches in diameter, while the clustered ones are mere rods. Francis Price, whose interest in the building, as he showed throughout his monograph, was that of a practical builder, was "amazed at the vast boldness of the architect, who certainly piqued himself on leaving to posterity an instance of such small pillars bearing so great a load. One would not suppose them," he says, "to stand so firm of themselves as even to resist the force of an ordinary wind." The modern colouring of this part of the building, including the low eastern aisle immediately behind the reredos, is claimed to be an exact restoration of the original, but it is hardly agreeable. The black of the newly polished marble shafts, the dull green of other parts, with the red, green, and white of the vaulting ribs, is more bizarre than beautiful. In regarding traces of mediæval colouring one often forgets that time has blended harmoniously a scheme otherwise entirely crude, and to modern taste unpleasing. How far in English instances this is emphasized by the absence of rich hangings, carpets, vestments, and pictures, it is not within our subject to inquire; but since such restoration of the primitive colouring offends one less in churches that still preserve the more ornate furniture of the Roman Ritual, it is at least a moot point.
The triple lancet east window at the end of the Lady Chapel was filled formerly with stained glass, representing "The Resurrection," after a design by Sir Joshua Reynolds; it is now replaced by modern glass in memory of the late Dean Lear. An altarpiece, composed of fragments of the destroyed Hungerford and Beauchamp Chapels, was set up here by Wyatt. It has lately been replaced by a triptych designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield, with very beautiful panels painted by Mr. Buckeridge. The seven-branched candlesticks in black-wood, silver mounted, are by the same architect. The altar frontal, designed by Mr. Sidney Gambier Parry, and worked by Mrs. Weigall, is so good that it must not be overlooked. The altar itself is of stone from an old altarpiece. Under the windows runs a series of niches, once in the Beauchamp Chapel. Above these rich and delicate canopies, with foliage and fan-tracery springing from corbelled heads, runs an exquisitely sculptured frieze.
The monument known as Lord Stourton's, removed from the east end of the Cathedral, is next in order. Its three apertures on each side are said to be emblematic of the six sources of the river Stour, which rises at Storrhead, the ancient family seat, from whence the name is derived. The whole shape of the tomb is so unusual that in spite of the theory that it represents the six sources of the Stour, the curious arched openings appear as if pierced to exhibit something behind them. Yet this could not have been an effigy, for the interior is divided by a solid partition of stone. The pillars which stood between the arches are gone. Lord Stourton, to whom it is attributed, was hanged with a silken cord on March 6th, 1556, in the Salisbury market-place. The tragedy is too long to give in detail, as it is told in the country histories and elsewhere, here a brief summary must suffice:—When his mother became a widow Lord Stourton attempted to induce her to sign a bond promising that she would never re-marry. The family agents, a father and son named Hartgill, sided with Lady Stourton and seemed to have influenced her in declining to assent to the scheme. The Hartgills after much physical maltreatment at the hands of Lord Stourton's mercenaries, took legal action against him, with the result that he was fined and imprisoned for awhile in the Fleet. When let out on parole he invited the Hartgills to meet him that he might pay them the fine. Upon their appearance at Kilmington Churchyard, the appointed place, they were seized by armed men, carried away and murdered in cold blood in full sight of Lord Stourton himself the same night. For this he was committed to the Tower, tried at Westminster and hanged with four of his men at Salisbury. So late as 1775 a wire twisted into a noose was suspended above his tomb.
Hidden for a long time underneath some seats near the pulpit, this monument was brought to light in 1680, and moved to its present position. At first it was covered with a wooden box; for which later on, owing to the great curiosity shown by the public, the strong iron grating which now protects it was substituted.
Notwithstanding that the ceremony of the Boy Bishop was observed at Salisbury for many centuries, there is no reasonable proof that this effigy has any connection therewith. Even John Gregory, whose famous treatise on the Boy Bishop is printed in "Gregorii Posthuma," 1649-1669, admits there that it might well seem impossible to everyone that either a bishop should be so small in person or a child so great in clothes. Thomas Fuller also echoes the same objection when he writes: "But the curiosity of critics is best entertained with the tomb in the north of the nave of the church, where lieth a monument in stone of a little boy, habited all in episcopal robes, a mitre upon his head, a crozier in his hand, and the rest accordingly. At the discovery thereof, formerly covered over with pews, many justly admired that either a bishop could be so small in person or a child so great in clothes; though since all is unriddled; for it was then fashionable in that church (a thing rather deserving to be remembered than fit to be done), in the depth of Popery, that the choristers chose a boy of their society to be a bishop among them from St. Nicholas' till Innocents' day." If the effigy represents a boy it is hard to explain why it is not life-size. Stothard in his "Monumental Effigies," in common with most later authorities, favours the idea that it is a miniature representation of a real bishop. Canon Jones suggests probably Walter Scammel, Henry de Braundeston, or William de la Corner. Mackenzie Walcott inclined to the belief that it represented Bishop Wykehampton, who died 1284. A small figure of Bishop Ethelman, 1260, about the same date, is in Winchester Cathedral; there is also one 14-½ inches long in Abbey Dore Church, Herefordshire, one at Ayot, St. Lawrence, Herts, 2 feet 3 inches, and other small effigies of knights and civilians elsewhere. According to Digby Wyatt the custom of burying different portions of the body in different places was common in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; from which he infers that probably these figures commemorated the place of sepulture of the heart.
Whether the monument in question be connected with the Chorister Bishop or not, there are so many records of the function with which popular credence has associated it, that a short digression is almost unavoidable. The pamphlet by John Gregory is elaborately minute and much too long to be quoted fully, yet some of the facts he brought together may be briefly noted. It seems that on the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, the choir-boy elected one of their number, who from that day to the feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28th, bore the rank and exercised the functions of a bishop, the other choristers being his prebendaries. During his term of office he wore episcopal vestments. On the eve of the Holy Innocents he performed the entire office, excepting the mass, as a real bishop would have done. At Salisbury on that day the boy-bishop and his boy-prebendaries went in procession to the altar of the Holy Trinity, taking precedence of the dean and resident canons. At the first chapter afterwards the boy bishop attended in person and was permitted to receive the entire Oblation made at the altar during the day of his procession. The names of many of the choristers and the amounts of the oblations offered for the boy-bishops are the subject of many entries in the capitular registers of both English and continental churches. Bishop Mortival in his statutes, still preserved among the cathedral muniments, orders that the bishop of the choristers "shall make no visit (some commentators consider this has been misinterpreted, to infer that elsewhere he held visitations), nor keep any feast, but shall remain in the Common Hall, unless he be invited to the table of a Canon for recreation." The order of service in use in this diocese has been preserved (MS. No. 153 of the Cathedral Library); in it we find as a special collect, "O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings," etc., not, however, quite in the form in which it appears in the Prayer Book of Ed. VI.
The spectacle was so popular, and attracted such great crowds, that by special edict it was prescribed that the penalty of the greater excommunication should be incurred by those who might interrupt or press upon the boys during their procession or in any part of their service.
In spite of the doubts thrown upon the monument at Salisbury, it is distinctly recorded that if a boy-bishop died during his term of power, he was to be buried in his vestments and have his obsequies celebrated with the pomp pertaining to an episcopal funeral.
This custom was not confined to this cathedral, but practised at many others in England and on the Continent, where we find records of much greater power being exercised by the boy-prelate, extending even to the presentation to prebends. At Winchester it was certainly observed. So far back as 1263 we find it described at St. Paul's Cathedral as an ancient custom. Several sermons preached by the boy-bishops are still preserved; one is reprinted in the Camden Society's "Miscellany," vol. vii. Dean Colet (once a prebendary of Sarum) in his statutes for St. Paul's school directs: "All these children shall every Childermas day come to Paules Church, and here the Childe-bishoppes sermon, and after be at high masse so each of them offer one peny to the childe bishoppe. And with the maisters and surveyors of the scoole in general procession when they be warned they shall go tweyne and tweyne togither soberly, and not singe oute, but saye devoutly tweyne by tweyne seven psalmes with letany." (Add. MS. 6174.) At York the mock prelate held office longer, and wielded far more power than his fellows of Sarum.
In 1299, on December 7th, a boy-bishop at Hoton, near Newcastle-on-Tyne, said vespers before Edward I., then on his way to Scotland.
At Salisbury in 1542 Henry VIII. forbade the ceremony by royal proclamation. It was revived under Queen Mary, and finally abolished on the accession of Queen Elizabeth.