Books, Prehistory, Archaeologia Volume 32 Section VII

Archaeologia Volume 32 Section VII is in Archaeologia Volume 32.

Account of the Opening of the Coffin of Joanna de Bohun, in the Lady Chapel of Hereford Cathedral [Map]. By the Very Rev. John Merewether (age 49), D.D. Dean of Hereford. Read llth June, 1846.

Among the many interesting objects which have been brought to light in the progress of the restoration of Hereford Cathedral, a work which, I am proud to say, is entirely worthy of the congratulations and admiration of every lover of ecclesiastical architecture, and its noble achievements of early periods, that which supplies materials for the present communication will not be the least entitled to the notice of the Society of Antiquaries.

In renovating the stone seat which ranges on both sides of the Lady Chapel, it was observed that a thin stone of about five or six feet long was introduced in the masonry, about half way between the top of the seat and the floor, and immediately under the monument of Joanna de Bohun, which consists of an arch in the north wall, containing the full-length recumbent figure of a female, whose identity as the person above named was proved by the coats of arms painted above the spandrels of this arch. seat and the adjacent stones, and on displacing the thin slab already named the coffin, the lid of which is represented in the sketch before you, and which, however rude in execution, is exact in detail, was exposed to view, being deposited in a stoned grave, half the depth of which was above the floor of the Lady Chapel.

It had evidently been covered with dinen of fine texture, strained over the surface. and on it had been tacked with needle and thread three large crosses patées, and eight smaller, the two lowest of which near the feet were plain, and made of white satin. There were three of the smaller size on each side of the coffin, and four iron rings of three inches in diameter, one at each side and each end. On raising the lid, which had become detached from the sides, from the oxidation of the large nails which had confined it, the remains of the benefactress of the Lady Chapel of Hereford Cathedral became visible. They had been enveloped in a sort of sheet, of coarse texture, and apparently woollen, fastened with threads of the size of packthread, which on being pulled were easily detached from the sheet, and retained extraordinary strength, the knots being firm. The bones, as is usually the case in the graves in Hereford Cathedral, had become greatly decayed, for the most part having assumed a crumbling condition, and reduced to a whitish dust composed of crystals of phosphate of lime. The sheet had been folded round and round about the feet; and a ligature of a very close texture, also woollen, which had apparently connected the two great toes, retained its strength probably unimpaired, and the knot was as firm as ever. The bones of the cranium, like the rest, were mostly reduced to the whitish crystals, except a portion of the forehead and upper part of the face. The hair remained perfect, in the form of a wig, the bones having fallen away from it. It was of a yellowish red colour, as usual, and so profuse in its quantity, that it greatly strengthened the notion which from previous observations I had entertained, that the hair not improbably grows to an extent little supposed after death. It had no appearance of having been arranged in any order, but was matted together, as if the winding-sheet had been considered sufficient to supersede the necessity of any such disposition and care. This lady was an heiress of Kilpec in Herefordshire, celebrated for its interesting Norman Church, of which, at the early part of this year I gave some brief notices with reference to its restoration. She married one of the Humphreys de Bohun." Of her it is recorded, that in 1327 she gave to the dean and chapter of Hereford the church of Lugwardine, with the chapels of Llangarren, St. Waynard's, and Hentland, and all the small chapels belonging to them: which donation was confirmed by the King, by the procurement and diligence of Thomas de Chandos, archdeacon of Hereford; and Thomas Charleton, bishop of Hereford, further confirmed it to the dean and chapter by deed dated Sugwas, 22nd July, 1330; and afterwards the bishop, dean, and chapter applied the revenues of it to the service peculiar to the Virgin Mary," because in other churches in England the Mother of God had better and more serious service, but in the church of Hereford the Lady's sustenance for her priests was so thin and small, that out of their respect they add this, by their deeds, dated in the chapter of Hereford, April 10, 1333." Joanna de Bohun, in the lists of obiits in Hereford Cathedral styled the Lady Kilpec, died without issue 1 Edw. III. 1327, and this, being her dying bequest, led to the improvements in the architecture of that part of the building, and which is perhaps the most beautiful specimen of the early-English style in the kingdom, the interior and east end of which is fast recovering its crumbled beauties, by the most accurate and exact process of restoration in all respects.

Without entering into minute details, it may not be trespassing too long on the notice of the Society to remark, that this portion of the edifice affords singular specimens of the gradations of style. Immediately eastward of the choir, in recent excavations have been discovered the foundations and base courses of the original (Saxon) circular apsis in the centre, and at the extremities on either side similar terminations to the aisles. Above these, in the ambulatory subsequently formed, we have in the bases of the columns the early-English feature, the capital of one reverting to the Norman lineament. The arches they bear are pointed, but the ribs of the groining retain the Norman chevron ornament. In the ante Lady Chapel again, amidst clustered shafts and caps of the early-English character, are the two beautiful pointed openings, one on either side, which retain in the soffits of their arches the cable moulding, and the lozenge or chevron form. And this portion, I conclude, represents the features of the whole Lady Chapel at the time of Joanna's bequest, the whole of the exterior displaying, together with and intermixed with the later phase of early-English, the arcades of the Norman intersecting circular arches supported on early English capitals, shafts, and bases. From which I conclude that all eastward of the ante chapel underwent the re-ornamenting, not rebuilding; the funds for which were supplied from the munificence of the Lady of Kilpec. Here it may be wrong to omit a record of a curious discovery which was made in excavating, for the purpose of throwing in concrete, that part of the edifice just described as the ante chapel. On a former occasion it had been necessary to displace certain stone graves which occupied this space, the contents of which displayed nothing very unusual, except that in one of them, that of a priest, there was the latten chalice and paten; in another, that of a knight and his lady, as the brass above declared, there was the remains of a pope's bulla, or leaden seal; and under this grave there was another grave, the stone of which had been turned downwards, but on it were incised the words, in early character, Magister Thomas de Torrinton. Pater noster, ora.... The remains of this person were in situ, but greatly decayed, in fact crumbled into the white crystal already described.

There was no suspicion that below these any remains could be found; but a little to the east of them no less than six graves were discovered: what was very remarkable, they had all been cut through at about the middle, and the west wall of the crypt was built up to them, to make room for which these had been so divided; the remains of the bones of the cranium and half the frame being still in their places, and retaining parts of the enveloping sheet, of which fortunately a little further west and a little lower down a perfect specimen remained, evidently coeval with them, which had been mutilated for the purpose of building the Lady Chapel crypt, and therefore buried here at a very early era. This grave, like the others, was formed of stone tiles set edgeways, and a small recess was provided for the head. The whole body had been enveloped in a winding-sheet of coarse woollen texture; and, although the bones were quite crumbled away, it retained its fourm, and a certain degree of cohesion, having been closely wrapped round the body, and still retaining the form of the head. It is remarkable that this sheet had been fastened down on one side of the corpse with wooden skewers, and it closely resembled two others I had seen in the Lady Arbour on former occasions; in one of which a hazle wand was found, and the stones which formed the grave were remains of Saxon or Norman ornaments.

I am very fearful that I have been led into far too great prolixity, and that the attachment to a subject and a spot which have exercised so much of my anxiety and regard on every account, may have given it more interest in my views than I shall be likely to excite in those of others. You will therefore deal with these remarks as your judgment may deem fit; and either communicate all or such parts as you think may be endured.

I remain, My dear Sir Henry, Yours very sincerely, JOHN MEREWETHER.