Celtic Monasticism and Benedictine Architecture on Iona

IMG_0453 smallThis month we were afforded the marvellous opportunity to visit the early Celtic Christian site of Iona Abbey on the west coast of Scotland. It was founded by St Columba who was a scion of the ruling Uĺ Néill family in County Donegall in the northern part of Ireland and he is the first historical figure in Scottish history whose life is reliably documented. He was well educated, influential and founded several monasteries before he left Ireland because of a political controversy. St Columba arrived on Iona in 563AD with twelve others (some of them from noble families) and founded a monastery when Argyll and its islands were part of Dál Riata. This was a small kingdom incorporating roughly what is now Argyll and the Inner Hebrides, closely related to the Irish kindreds in Antrim. He stayed with and was later gifted the island of Iona by Conall mac Comgall, the king of Dál Riata. Far from being a remote outpost on the west of Scotland it was centrally located on the water-borne route-ways that made long distance communication around the British Isles possible and so was an excellent position from which to exercise influence, while still being independent. The buildings of the monastery would have been timber, turf and reed thatch but little survives of these other than in a very few places original base courses of stones and the vallum or earthwork ditch that surrounded the complex. IMG_0367 small

From the outset St Columba’s monastery was a centre of Celtic learning, art and scholarship, he was himself a gifted writer and illuminator and after his death in 597AD his personal history (Vita Sancti Columbae or ‘Life of St Columba’) was written by one of his monks Adomnán who was Abbott for 25 years in the late 600’s. By that time and probably before this the monastery had a scriptorium for the production of Christian texts used in worship. It became famous for the artistic quality and originality of its illuminated manuscripts and the magnificent Book of Kells (now in Trinity College Dublin) was written there in about 800AD. Traces of large-scale metal working, wood working, leather working and waste from glass making have been found on the site indicating that it was it was a very active farming and crafting community as well as a spiritual one. In 634AD the Northumbrian king Oswald invited Ionan monks to found a monastery on Lindisfarne. The monastic rites and leadership of Iona were respected throughout much of Scotland for centuries after this and its leadership in theological scholarship was a beacon of civilisation in Western Europe. While much of the artwork and illuminated manuscripts that characterised this outpouring of creativity have been lost, there remain a large number of stone crosses, beautifully carved which hint at the full force of this creativity. Some of these are still outside the abbey and others are in the abbey’s museum. Beautifully and evocatively displayed and interpreted. Iona Banner #1

In 1200 Ranald, Lord of the Isles invited Benedictine Monks ‘Black Monks’ to Iona to revitalise the community under his patronage and at the same time established a community of Augustinian nuns. They (the Benedictine’s) started a programme of rebuilding of the Abbey, probably completed around 1450. The plan followed a normal Benedictine monastic layout, with the new church occupying the site of the previous one. The chapter house with its Romanesque arches and the Michael chapel date from the earliest phase of Benedictine occupation with later phases developing in architectural style as one would expect. Iona Banner #2

By 1250 the presbytery had been extended to the east, creating space for the choir stalls to extend beyond the crossing tower and a subterranean crypt was added under the high altar to house some of Columba’s relics. In the late 1200’s work began to greatly enlarge the south transept, adding three vaulted side chapels, the outline of which can be seen in the grass to the south-east of the church. In the mid 1400’s the nave was widened to the south and a new west front was constructed. The north aisle was reduced in size and converted into a sacristy. In 1560 the Reformation meant the abandonment of the abbey but in the mid 1600’s there was a failed attempt to restore the eastern part to serve as the Cathedral of the Isles. By 1874 the abbey buildings were derelict and ruinous apart from the east end of the church and its tower. The 8th Duke of Argyle commissioned the Scottish architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson to consolidate the ruins and in 1899 he transferred the ownership of them, the Reilig Oran and the Nunnery to a newly established Cathedral Trust. The restoration of the church was completed (with some historical controversy) under the direction of the architects Thomas Ross, John Honeyman, and P. Macgregor Chalmers and completed in 1910. The restoration of the monastic buildings was begun in 1938 and finished in 1965 and in 2000 the Iona Cathedral trust gave the abbey, Reilig Odhrain, St Ronan’s Church and the nunnery into the care of Historic Scotland. Iona Banner #3

What the visitor now sees is a real working community with a constant flow of tourist visitors providing an income to the economy in much the same way that pilgrims would have done in centuries past. It is a busy place of Christian worship and many of the visitors arrive there for that purpose.

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Posted in Churches and Ecclesiatical, Medieval, Museum Installations, Pictish / Insular Art | Leave a comment

Radicalism and Architecture in Tudor England

Left - Portrait of Thomas Tresham, 1563 at Boughton House; Middle - Rushton Triangular Lodge 1593-1597; Right - 3D digital model of Rushton Triangular Lodge created by the DBHG at De Montfort University, England

Left – Portrait of Sir Thomas Tresham, from 1563 and now at Boughton House; Middle – Rushton Triangular Lodge 1593-1597; Right – 3D digital model of Rushton Triangular Lodge created by the DBHG at De Montfort University, England

Rushton Triangular Lodge is one of the most curious buildings of the late Elizabethan period. Built between 1593 and 1597 by Sir Thomas Tresham who was father of one of the Gunpowder Plotters, Francis Tresham its located on his familay estate near Rushton, Northamptonshire, England about 23 miles south of the Digital Building Heritage Group’s offices at De Montfort University in Leicester. It is a monument to Catholic faith in the face of political oppression and in particular to the Trinity with the number three being used throughout both in the overall form and in the decoration of the building. There are three floors, three walls 33 feet long, each with three triangular (trefoil) windows and three triangular gables on each side. Many of the texts, dates and inscriptions have numerological significance with the number three. Even Sir Thomas Tresham’s name was imbued with significance. Over the door, beneath Tresham’s coat of arms, is the Latin inscription: Tres testimonium dant , which can be read as “The number three bears witness” or “Tresham bears witness.” Tres was the pet name his wife used for Tresham in her letters.

Detailed 3D modelling of the interior and exterior of Rushton Triangular Lodge by the Digital Building heritage Group at De Montfort University, England.

Detailed 3D modelling of the interior and exterior of Rushton Triangular Lodge by the Digital Building heritage Group at De Montfort University, England.

It’s been a regular destination for our MA and MArch student field trips for a number of years because quite apart from its inherent beauty and curiosity, its geometric and textural complexity makes it a challenging building to represent from a digital heritage point of view. Recently we’ve been looking more closely at the social history of buildings like Rushton Triangular Lodge and the way that the contested nature of interpretation of radicalism in 16th and 17th century historic buildings can be innovatively explored using digital interpretation. Part of this examination is to see how digital models can be manipulated in various ways to “reveal” the hidden, allegorical, semiotic and numerological associations behind the histories and designs of the buildings they represent and in doing so illuminate the motives of the people involved with them, the social and cultural context in which they lived and the relationships of these to our preoccupations today.

Rushton Triangular Lodge is a Grade I listed building on the National Heritage List for England, is in the care of English heritage and is open to the public.

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The Borders Textile Towerhouse

Textile Towerhouse Banner #1A recent visit to Hawick in the Scottish Borders was an opportunity to visit the oldest building in this charming county town of Roxburghshire. The Black Tower as it once known was built by James Douglas of Drumlanrig in the 1550’s when he became warden of the Middle March and Baron of Hawick. It was an L-shaped tower and was possibly an enlargement of an earlier rectangular structure. A barrel vaulted ground floor supported at least two further floors above with chambers, in the normal Scottish towerhouse manner. The tower later came into the hands of the Scott family and in 1703-08 Anne Scott, Duchess of Buccleuch extended the old tower by filling in the “L” to create a comfortable town-house. In 1773, the building became the “Tower Inn” a local watering hole, a mail coach stop and centre for political discussion, and social gatherings. Textile Towerhouse Banner #2

The building is now the Borders Textile Towerhouse, opened in 2009 celebrating the Borders’ textile industry. Textiles, garments, artefacts, paintings and documents describe 200 years of innovation in textile production in the local knitwear and tweed industries. There is also a temporary exhibition space which shows the best of the Scottish textile artists, historical and contemporary costume, fashion and design. In the barrel-vaulted ground floor there’s a small exhibition of the tower’s history. Running on a single display monitor is a ten minute documentary on the development of the building’s architecture and the social and political context in which it grew. There are a few artefacts including some 16th century cannon breeches and also an architectural scale model of the building representing the period in the mid-16th century when it was being constructed. This a remarkably useful model since it is big enough to represent real detail and appears to be architecturally accurate. The use of physical architectural models to explain historic buildings should not be underestimated, they have particular advantages of longevity and low maintenance that are often absent in digital or virtual forms of representation. They also become artefacts in the own right in due course and are permanent and tactile reminder of previous generation’s interpretation of their history.

An architectural scale model of the "Black Tower" now the Borders Textile Tower House, showing it as it probably looked when under construction in the mid 15th century.

An architectural scale model of the “Black Tower” now the Borders Textile Tower House, showing it as it probably looked when under construction in the mid 15th century.

Posted in Medieval, Museum Installations, Museum Installations, Scotland, Tudor | Leave a comment

Reconstructing St Mary’s Vicarage at the time of Leicester’s “Riot” in 1524

Last year (2016) the DBHG undertook a large digital reconstruction of the Newarke area of Leicester, looking at its development since the Late Medieval period. This extensive animated reconstruction is now on show in De Montfort University’s Heritage Centre  which is open to the public. The Newarke is the area which now forms De Montfort University’s campus and was fist established by the Dukes of Lancaster in 1330 with a hospital named after the Holy Trinity for the care of the elderly and infirm. It was subsequently enlarged by them with a chantry church for their dynasty and made a collegiate foundation dedicated to St Mary from at least 1360. As a hospital college it would have been a seat of learning as well as (to couch it in today’s parlance) a source of primary health care. It had a large number of other buildings within its high walls as well at the church and hospital themselves, everything from gate-houses, kitchens, bakery, brew house and guest lodging to houses for the Dean, twelve Canons, and twelve Vicars, six choristers and servants for all of these, a chapter house, refectory, stables, lavatories, laundry, treasury, library and store-houses as well as other ancillary buildings. The only above ground remains of these buildings are the chapel of the Trinity Hospital, some of the arches from the main hospital hall and what is now known as St Mary’s Vicarage, a diminutive single story stone building on the corner of The Newark and the Gateway.

St Mary’s Vicarage: Left - as it is today, now called the “Chantry Building”, it’s used as the offices for DMU Global. Right – as it was at the end of the nineteenth century, with two additional storeys, the top-most is probably a later addition) - Courtesy of Leicestershire County Council Record Office.

St Mary’s Vicarage: Left – as it is today, now called the “Chantry Building”, it’s used as the offices for DMU Global. Right – as it was at the end of the nineteenth century, with two additional storeys, the top-most is probably a later addition) – Courtesy of Leicestershire County Council Record Office.

This was once a house for a Canon and Vicar of the Collegiate Church of St Mary of the Annunciation (they lived in pairs) and was probably built no later than the mid fifteenth century, the exact date is uncertain. There would have been at least twelve such houses within the Newarke, probably of two storeys in height built-in well-dressed stone, with twin chambers above, a stone stair up and kitchen / store and reception room below. They had indoor toilets, large fireplaces and were well-lit with glazed windows. They were high quality houses much better than those in the rest of Leicester out with the Newarke which were generally less durable and less fire-proof timber frame with lath and plaster walls.

It was in all probability in one or more of these well-built stone houses in the College precinct of the Newarke that Mary 4th Baroness Hungerford and her second husband Sir Richard Sacheverell lived in the early 1500’s. Sir Richard had been receiver-general to Edward Hastings, 2nd Baron Hastings, who died in November 1506: less than three years later Sacheverell married his widow, Lady Mary. He thus became the senior representative of the most powerful family in Leicestershire. He was later to be a Member of Parliament (MP) for Leicestershire in 1523 and 1529. Described as a “wealthy West Country heiress,” Mary Baroness Hungerford shared her late husband Edward, 2nd baron Hastings dislike of the Grey family of Bradgate, the two families of the Greys and Hastings were rivals at court and at home with both families having extensive landholdings in Leicestershire and elsewhere in England. By 1517 and probably before this date Lady Mary and Sir Richard lived in apartments within the College of St. Mary in the Newark. The best of these apartments would have been houses like St Mary’s Vicarage, if not this building itself, a possibility that has prompted our historical and architectural interest. Having recently reconstructed in some detail the ecclesiastical buildings of the college, the opportunity to reconstruct a small residential building like St Mary’s Vicarage to show how the people of the college would have lived was an attractive option. Fortunately there is good evidence on which to start a reconstruction. In 2005 Neil Finn, at that time with University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) carried out an archaeological survey of the building in advance of De Montfort University’s conversion of it into offices and an audio studio. Neil’s published report on his investigation provides an interesting insight into the now hidden parts of the interior but as with many ancient buildings raises questions of interpretation because of ambiguous or missing evidence. Neil very graciously agreed to talk us through his up-to-date understanding of the evidence he found in 2005, insights which are now helping the Digital Building heritage Group inform the development of a 3D digital reconstruction of the building.

An initial “body-map” drawing by the DBHG’s Ahmed Hassan who is studying for an MA at DMU of St Mary’s Vicarage, Leicester as it was in 1524 based purely on the written evidence in the 2005 ULAS archaeological report. This configuration was used as a starting point to develop though expert discussions further evidence sources and interpretations which have altered a number of aspects of this initial configuration.

An initial “body-map” drawing by the DBHG’s Ahmed Hassan who is studying for an MA at DMU of St Mary’s Vicarage, Leicester as it was in 1524 based purely on the written evidence in the 2005 ULAS archaeological report. This configuration was used as a starting point to develop though expert discussions further evidence sources and interpretations which have altered a number of aspects of this initial configuration.

The current form of St Mary’s Vicarage belies the fact that it has undergone a number of transformations in the last five hundred years not least of which was the demolition of its upper two storeys, the removal of several windows and chimney breasts to the point where the current external is very different indeed from the original. Fortunately the position of original windows and doors were still partially visible from the stripped interior during the 2005 survey. There is also some evidence of wooden mouldings on surviving floor beams and stone mouldings around windows and doors. There are of course examples of other priests’ houses in colleges in England from around this time many of which appear close in design to the form suggested by the evidence at St Mary’s Vicarage. There were some surprises, not least of which was a decorative and large chimney on the west face of the building which is now completely absent.

Some of the sources of similar buildings being used for reconstruction of St Mary’s Vicarage, Leicester. Left – Vicars lodgings at Wells cathedral, in particular the large and ornate chimney, evidence for a chimney of similar size was found at St Mary’s Vicarage. Right – Rupert’s Gateway, one of number of similar structures built at the same time as St Mary’s Vicarage which used to form part of the defensive boundary wall around The Newarke. Many of the window and door details are similar to those found in St Mary’s Vicarage.

Some of the sources of similar buildings being used for reconstruction of St Mary’s Vicarage, Leicester. Left – Vicars lodgings at Wells cathedral, in particular the large and ornate chimney, evidence for a chimney of similar size was found at St Mary’s Vicarage. Right – Rupert’s Gateway, one of number of similar structures built at the same time as St Mary’s Vicarage which used to form part of the defensive boundary wall around The Newarke. Many of the window and door details are similar to those found in St Mary’s Vicarage.

We hope to be able to use this reconstruction to tell a more complex and detailed story about a series of events in the late 1490’s and early 1500’s in the town and county of Leicestershire which reflected at a very immediate level the power politics being played out nationally and internationally at the court of King Henry VIII. In Leicester these focussed on the Grey and Hastings Families. The Greys were based at Bradgate where they built an extraordinary new minor palace, Bradgate House and the Hastings were based in Ashby de La Zouch Castle which they substantially expanded but they also controlled the town of Leicester with their headquarters here in the Newarke. Mary 4th Baroness Hungerford and her second husband Sir Richard Sacheverell took up residency in the College in the early 1500’s – it is not clear how but would most likely have involved inheritance or a significant bequest. It seems as if they treated the college and its precinct of the Newarke as their own fiefdom, that is until the appointment of the Lord George Grey as Dean of the college of St Mary of Annunciation in the Newarke from 1517-1530. This appointment of one of the leading sons of their most antagonistic rivals the Greys to a position of highest authority in the college precipitated a decade of what started as petty squabbles but eventually led to deadly quarrels between the two families in Leicester. Lady Hungerford, according to Mary L. Robinson’s essay, “Court Careers and County Quarrels,” let her dogs run free in the chapel, organized bear-baiting on the grounds, and allowed her servants to be rude to Grey’s supporters. Both factions retained more men in arms than the law permitted and in 1516 Cardinal Wolsey himself intervened by summoning the principals to appear in the Star Chamber in London to give bonds for good behaviour. Early in 1519 he ordered the parties to discharge their forces and to avoid the county courts and quarter sessions which were occasions for lawlessness. This had little real effect, there was an action by the Greys for murder against Sacheverell’s servants and the rivalry grew so heated that by the spring of 1525, Lady Hungerford and her husband took an armed escort of nearly two hundred men whenever they travelled outside of Leicester. Lady Mary and Sir Richard retained scores of liveried servants who in July 1524 were involved, along with hundreds of Leicester townsfolk in a “riot” with Grey supporters at the high cross in Leicester, a town traditionally loyal to the Hastings, at which several of Lord Thomas Grey 2nd Marquis of Dorset’s men were forcibly ejected. Lord George Grey (Thomas’s brother and the Dean of the College of St Mary in the Newarke) accused Sacheverell of profiting from the sale to the college of the manor of Ashley in Wiltshire and of obtaining leases without fine in the dean’s absence. The matter was taken to the Council but its settlement was remitted to Bishop Longland of Lincoln: the judgement is lost but Sacheverell and his wife appear to have gone on living in the College until their deaths. Lady Mary died sometime between 30th June 1530 and 10th July 1533 and Sir Richard died on 14th April 1534. They were laid to rest in tombs in the collegiate Church of St Mary of the Annunciation under a pillar in a chapel off the south transept.

This colourful period of Leicestershire’s history has more than local relevance as the dynastic rivalries acted out in the town and county also played out at a greater scale in the Royal Court of Henry VIII in London with Mary’s son George Hastings, 1st Earl of Huntingdon (whose wife Anne was the Henry VIII’s mistress in 1510) battling it out with Lord Thomas Grey 2nd Marquis of Dorset and master of Bradgate House for power in court and abroad. We think that a reconstruction of one of the houses that formed the backdrop to these events in Leicester and further afield, the interiors in which the politics, power and personalities were discussed, where plans were made and history was played out might be of interest to a wider audience and this is what we hope to achieve with the St Mary’s Vicarage reconstruction.

Posted in 3D Digital Modelling, Archaeology, Medieval, Tudor | 3 Comments

Stirling Castle – Jacobean Fortification & Renaissance Palace

0Stirling Castle is lies at the most the strategically important location in Scotland, guarding the main north south route between the highlands and the lowlands and the east west route from the Clyde valley to the Forth estuary and controls the main crossing of the river Forth to the East. Fortifications had existed on this site and as a royal residence long before King James the IV of Scotland decided to begin the replacement of the older timber, earth and rubble fortification with a new and enlarged stone one that befitted his status as a European prince. The “forework” or fortified entrance (see above) was the main outward face of this re-building and was originally 5 storeys high with 4 towers capped with conical roofs and was designed to impress. This led into the outer courtyard or “Close” around which King James IV and James VI created  a sumptuous royal complex of buildings, the Kings old building, the Great Hall, the Palace and Chapel Royal. In doing so they departed from previous royal building in adopting continental renaissance ideas. James V’s French queen was Mary of Guise and it is largely due to her influence that artisans and craftsmen came over from the continent to create what James wished people to view as a “Palace of Princelie virtue”, a demonstration of his culture, erudition and power written in stone and wood. 3

The palace, which contains the Royal Apartments is decorated externally with statues which were at their inception revolutionary in scale and subject in Scotland. They represent an elaborate tableau of allegorical and mythical figures intended to celebrate virtues endorsed by the King. In the castle’s visitor’s centre there is a good audio-visual reconstruction of the how these sculptures would originally have been polychrome and the building covered in stucco, presenting a very different and much more colourful aspect than it does today. 6

The interiors of the main apartments have been lightly restored with a focus on the decorative schemas of ceiling and wall paintings, tapestries, bed-hangings and some replica furniture. Together they convey in the parts where they are more complete an indication of the vernacular sumptuousness of the sixteenth century Scottish Royal apartments. James the V died in 1542 and may never have seen his Palace fully completed. The subsequent turmoil of the minority of his son James VI and invasions by King Henry VIII of England meant it probably took several years for the apartments to be fully completed and so the partial or light restoration they exist in the moment is intended to reflect this period in the 1540’s when they were still being worked on. The exception is the ceiling of the Kings Inner hall, where the famous “Stirling Heads” have been copied and replaced in situ. They were commissioned by James V in about 1540 and were carved in the new Renaissance style by French craftsmen at the time of his second marriage to Mary of Guise. Several different carvers executed the heads, some of them more skilled than others and it is thought that local carvers may have worked under a French master, Andrew Mansioun. 2

The original “Stirling Heads” have their own gallery and museum on the upper floor of the Place and are very well presented under low light conditions. Fully coloured reproduction copies assist in places in understanding the artistic intention of the artists and craftsmen and the whole exhibition is set out in such a way that the beauty and history of the originals are equally revealed. 5

Opposite the Palace on the other side of the inner courtyard is the Chapel Royal. This was built in 7 months in 1594 under the orders James VI on the site of a previous a chapel. It reflects the aesthetic preferences of the new protestant religion, relatively plain and day-lit, designed for hearing the word of scripture rather than observing the mysteries of the Catholic faith. The doorway and widows were inspired by classical Renaissance designs and it’s believed that the ceiling was decorated with gold leaf and the walls were embellished with baptismal scenes. The chapel fell into disuse when James the VI became James I of England and moved the court to London in 1603 but it was redecorated by Valentine Jenkin in 1628-9 for Charles I’s coronation visit to Scotland in 1633. The painted frieze around the upper parts of walls is best preserved along with a trompe l’oeil window painted on the west end. 4

The castle also has a visitors centre housed in some enclosed embrasures near the entrance. In it you can see reconstructions of a man and woman probably killed in battle and buried beneath the floor of the old chapel probably in the 1300’s. The man appears to have come from the south of England and this may date from the period when Stirling Castle was captured by Edward III in 1336 and its defences improved. It was retaken by the Scots in 1342. Other artefacts such as artillery and other arms are of interest as is a large model of the castle which gives a useful overview of its overall contemporary form and layout, which is sometimes difficult to grasp when inside it. Overall this a well thought through and engaging visitor experience. It is not dumbed down and on the other hand it is not too esoteric. The presence of costumed staff in character adds much to the experience and one comes away with the sense that real history and real historic architecture and interiors have been glimpsed.



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The 14th Century Master Mason John Lewyn and the Durham Episcopal Throne

durham-banner-0a-smallA recent visit to Durham was a welcome opportunity to re-examine its Cathedral, one of the finest early Norman buildings in England. Much has been written about its seminal place in the development of English medieval architecture but it was Bishop Hatfield’s tomb which was of interest on this visit because it is also the Bishop’s throne or cathedra. The episcopal seat at Durham Cathedral is unique amongst ecclesiastical memorial monuments in Britain in that it combines both a throne and a tomb. It is located in a prominent position on the south side of the quire between the choir stalls of the convent to the west and the high altar and tomb of St Cuthbert to the east. Even in the late mediaeval period it was described as “sumptuosissime construxit” and stands out as an unusual and highly decorated survival of medieval architectural design. At 12.2m high it is squeezed between the Romanesque piers of the quire and nearly touches the arch of the nave arcade. The fact that the tomb survives at all is because it was largely spared the renovating predations of the 18th century architect James Wyatt but it did not escape modification by others entirely. There was originally some kind of vertical termination to the steps up to the throne at the east end, this was removed at an unknown date, replaced with a copy in the 19th century that included a decorated balustrade (now absent) and had new lower steps, the upper ones are the original medieval. hatfield-tomb-banner-1-small

It’s also probable that the upside down angels on the open cusping of the tomb’s south façade are not original either, but other than these changes the rest of its form is much as it would have been at the end of the 14th century (it was built sometime between 1362 and 1381). As Tracy and Budge note in their “Britain’s Medieval Episcopal Thrones” (Oxbow Books) http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/ The tomb comprises three main parts: 1) the tomb chest with the recumbent effigy of the occupant, 2) The canopy with associated wall paintings and 3) the outer façades to the choir and the south choir aisle. These façades are all highly enriched with “Pinched” ogee trefoils (which appear similar to those at the reredos of the Lady Chapel at York Minster) and plentiful crocketting, double cusping, marvellous foliate decoration, heraldry and arms. There are also a number of similarities in the Bishops tomb to micro-architecture at Beverley Minster e.g. the canopies of Beverley’s Sedilia from the 1330-40’s, but while of the same design, those canopies over the Bishop’s tomb are most probably not by the same hand, they are less dextrous in execution. Above the tomb chest is a lierne vault with substantial foliated bosses and the walls of the vault were originally decorated with figurative paintings of Christ, angels and a representation of the soul of Bishop Hatfield. The top of the tomb vault is a flat platform 7 ft x 11 ft in size, which supports the bishop’s throne or Cathedra – in this case comprising a canopied screen of three vertical parts. The whole screen is keyed into the Romanesque round piers on either side. Much of the detail of the screen is reminiscent of the East front of York Minster and it’s possible that one or more York masons were responsible for its execution. However it is significant that the tomb and the screen share few similar decorative characteristics which raises the question – was Bishop Hatfield’s tomb and screen the work of one architect who could design in two different styles (a relatively common skill in architects of the 14th century and later) or was it the work of two architects, one on the tomb, one on the screen? img_9325-banner-5

We can look to another Screen at Durham for an insight on this. The magnificent stone reredos, known as the Neville Screen, divides the sanctuary from the feretory. It is placed a little to the east of the centre of the easternmost bay of the quire. It was a bequest of Lord John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby (c.1337 – 17 October 1388). Despite the loss of the 107 alabaster sculptures that originally adorned it, it remains intact but without its polychromy. The second and third bays of the south aisle form the Neville chantry and here is the monument of the benefactor Lord John Neville (d. 1386), and his wife Maud Percy (d. before 18 February 1379); the tomb has canopied niches with weepers, all round, separated by trefoiled panels containing shields which bear alternately the Neville saltire and the Percy lion rampant. The screen was made in London between 1372 and 1380, probably by Henry Yevele and was shipped to Newcastle by sea and thence by cart to Durham. It has much in common with the Hatfield throne screen, e.g. the sloping vaults of the weeper canopies and the squared trefoil heads, but is profoundly different in overall design and detail from the diapering and ogee-arches of the Hatfield tomb and the Neville tomb. The Neville screen shows the understanding required for delicate open tracery work whereas the Hatfield screen does not. The Neville screen is of a far superior order of execution and it has been suggested that the designer of Bishop Hatfield’s screen (who was probably local) was possibly less experienced but may have known of or even seen the Neville screen being made in London in the 1370’s. Documentary evidence places the execution of the Hatfield tomb and screen between 1362 and 1381, during the majority of this period John Lewyn (fl. 1364-c.1398) was the foremost master mason at Durham. He was referred to as “the bishop’s mason” and Harvey describes him as “…the most important provincial architect of medieval England of whose career we have adequate details.” He was enormously busy as a professional architect, involved in castle building as well as ecclesiastical work and travelled widely across northern England. However in 1375, right in the middle of the period framing the execution of Bishop Hatfields tomb, John Lewyn was in serious financial dispute with the Bishop and in 1375 a commission was appointed to enquire into monies given to Lewyn to carry out work for the crown at Bamburgh Castle. It has been suggested that this may have affected the relationship between the two men with the Bishop bringing in other craftsmen which would account for the variation in style between the tomb and the throne screen.

img_9363-croppedAs Tracy and Budge state; “There can be little doubt that the detailing of the throne screen [at Durham] was undertaken by a mason who was subsequently responsible for the tomb of John Neville. Given their disparate designs and detailing, the Hatfield tomb was most likely the work of a different mason or supervising architect, one who drew his inspiration, but probably not his workforce from the east end of Beverley.  That mason could well have been John Lewyn, completing or at least starting the tomb in the mid-to-late 1360’s, before his incarceration at the hands of the bishop.” It is also possible that it was Lewyn that was responsible for the design of the support system for the screen but its execution of the detail was left to a mason who had recently worked on the east end of York Minster. Another possibility is that it was accession of King Richard II in 1377 and a renewed campaign of castle building in the north rather than a schism with the Bishop over outstanding payments which may have taken John Lewyn away from ecclesiastic works like the Bishops tomb and throne screen to supervise military work elsewhere. It would have been normal practice for an architect like Lewyn to leave a trusted subordinate master-mason in charge at Durham under these circumstances. Malcom Hislop, an acknowledged expert on Lewyn (http://dx.doi.org/10.1179/jba.1998.151.1.170 ) has shown that within the area Lewyn practiced in the counties of York, Durham, Cumberland, Northumberland and Roxburgh there were several schools of mason-craft each with its own distinctive characteristics contributing to considerable differences in decorative detailing. He is also clear that very senior maser masons like John Lewyn at the top of their profession would as a matter of course delegate work to trusted subordinates who could come from any number of these schools. It is possible that Lewyn as a master mason acted as a kind of patron with regards to the design establishing an overall schema into which his trusted subordinates would operate in their own style. The point here is that trying to deduce the provenance and authors of ecclesiastical architectural work like this based on stylistic grounds alone is fraught with difficulties because of the plethora of differing artistic traditions or schools, even within one region that existed in England in the fourteenth century and the practice of a master like Lewyn in employing craftsmen form them for executing their own designs and perhaps playing to their strength. Harvey hints at this in his 1954 Biographical Dictionary of English Architects when he states that Lewyn, “…was probably responsible for the throne above bishop Hatfield’s tomb, and he may have had something to with the Neville Screen…Stylistic evidence suggests that the [Neville] screen, which had been put in hand by 1376, was designed by Henry Yevele.” Harvey goes on to say that, “[Lewyn’s] strength lay in his grasp of construction, and the splendour of massive structural work, properly carried out…but although there is little purely decorative detail in his known works, it cannot be doubted that he had beauty as well as utility in mind…

Teasing out the complex procurement of internationally important works of art like Bishop Hatfield’s tomb and the episcopal throne at Durham Cathedral is important in understanding the creative processes of artists and craftsmen of 14th century Europe whose motives and practices were strikingly contemporary. This is important not least because the result of their work has endured and continues to intrigue and inspire another generation of artists and architects 630 years later. A better understanding of how these historic masterpieces were created and by whom can give us much better insights into design that may be useful today. dutham-banner-1-small


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Eilean Donan Castle – Models and Projection Mapping

eilan-dona-bannerVisiting historic buildings rarely comes more spectacular (in a rugged grandeur kind of way) than a visit to Eilean Donan Castle This 13th century icon of Scottish medieval architecture sits on a tidal island in Loch Duich near the Isle of Skye and is the home of the McRae family and administered by them through the Conchra Charitable Trust. Bought by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap in 1911 as a ruin over the following 20 years it was renovated and re-built with an ethos heavily influenced by arts and crafts ideas of individual labour and crafted detail. The castle has a visitor centre on the landward side of the bridge which connects it to the mainland. This mainly provides retail and a tea and buns opportunity, the main interest of course is in the castle itself where a small entrance chamber has been given over to a modest exhibition which includes a projection mapping table and some physical models. The castle was originally the stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae, and the projection mapping table very usefully illustrates the evolution of the building complex in a series of phases over the intervening seven hundred years during their ownership (see Wikipedia for a synopsis and site plans)

eilean-donan-banner-2The castle was destroyed in 1719 by British naval ships during the Jacobite Rebellion of the “Old Pretender” . Led by the Earl of Mar, it was an attempt to restore the exiled James Stuart, the “Old Pretender”, to the throne. The vessels HMS Worcester, HMS Flamborough, and HMS Enterprise bombarded the castle on 10-11th May 1715, succeed in capturing it from the mixed Spanish and Scottish defenders and then used 27 barrels of captured gunpowder to demolish it, or at least render it beyond military use. This historical narrative is colourfully played out at a modest level in the entrance exhibition and is sufficient to give the visitor a reasonably clear understanding of the timeline of the building and the people associated with it. The sequence of architectural development is complex and not entirely understood so presents a challenge to the visitor but in brief the building starts as a curtained walled structure in the 13th century, then contracts into a more compact plan of connected buildings in the 15th century and then develops a “horn-work” or projecting bastion to the east in the 16th century. A number of small physical models are presented, scattered through the building showing it at various stages of these evolutions and one wonders whether more could not have been made of these to make the evolutionary sequence more apparent. img_9091-models-small-banner

The early twentieth century rebuilding after the castle had lain ruined for two hundred years owes more to the romantic sensibilities of late Victorian and early Edwardian architects drawing on interpretations such as those of MacGibbon and Ross in their “Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland” in the late 19th century than on archaeological authenticity. The interior of the principal apartments (where no photography is allowed) is entirely a stage set of baronial pretension, random rubble walls, well-formed oak beams resting on corbels, a plethora of window seats and sitting places concealed in the massively deep window reveals and tortuous winding stairs and passages. The latter are of interest in that on the piano nobile (if one can describe the upper floor with the family rooms as such here) there is a clever attempt at separating servant access from family access, all the more so because of the very tight planning and spatial constraints.


Externally the complex interpenetrating massing creates a series of interlinked external spaces which appear to be designed to take full advantage of the southern aspect of the site, looking over Kyle Rhea. Even on a chilly autumn day the sun-traps created invite the visitor to linger and reflect both outwards towards the seascape and inwards towards the buildings and this is perhaps the most memorable and persuasive aspect of the visit, the building itself in its seascape.

Posted in Arts & Crafts Architecture, Jacobean Architecture, Medieval, Military Architecture, Projection Mapping | Leave a comment

All Saints Church at Harewood, West Yorkshire

all-saints-harewood-banner-1-smallAll Saints Church at Harewood, West Yorkshire was a small family church in the grounds of Harewood House in West Yorkshire and is now only occasionally used and is looked after by The Churches Conservation Trust. In many ways it is typical of many English churches in having an Anglo-Saxon antecedent, a priest was resident on this site as early as the 10th Century and a fragment of Viking carving and the Norman font still survive but the first record of foundation was by William Cuci in 1116. The gift of the living was given by his wife to the Canons of Saint Sepulchre of York Minster. It is said that the church was destroyed by the Scots in 1307 (the year of Edward I’s death in Cumberland)  but more likely the destruction was in In the years from 1314, when Robert the Bruce took a Scots army through northern England against Edward II, plundering and demanding cash for local truces. The church was rebuilt in 1330 and was rebuilt again upon the same ground plan in 1410 by Elizabeth and Sibyl de Aldeburgh of Harewood castle. It underwent several alterations in the 1780’s including the steeple, the addition of ’Gothick’ battlements and a clock tower. Further alterations were made from 1862 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. However it’s most remarkable feature is possibly England’s best collection of late medieval alabaster table tombs most of which date from between 1419-1510. This was the high point of the art of English alabaster carving and there are six fine examples here together at All Souls in Harewood which are the tombs of:

Sir William Gascoigne (d.1419) and his wife Elizabeth Mowbray of Kirklington

Sir William Ryther (d.1426) and his wife Sybil Aldburgh (d.1440) of Harewood Castle

Sir Richard Redman (d.1426) and his wife Elizabeth Aldburgh (d.1434) of Harewood Castle

Sir William Gascoigne (d.1465) and his wife Margaret Clarell of Aldwark

Sir William Gascoigne (d.1487) and his wife Margaret Percy, daughter of 3rd Earl of Northumberland

Edward Redman (d.1510) and his wife Elizabeth Huddlestone (d.1529) of Millom, Cumberland

all-saints-harewood-banner-3What is remarkable about this astonishing collection of fifteenth century tombs is the vivacity of the carving, the detail of dress and artefacts and of course their survival. All carved in Chellaston alabaster, despite the predations of generations of subsequent casual defacement including some noteworthy graffito, these effigies and their accompanying architectural ornaments present a remarkably lifelike and engaging party of distinct personalities allowing one to speculate on the mores and preoccupations of the occupants, or at least the way the artists would have them. To find them in what has become a lesser known country church is a delight. Before the wider use of painted portraiture, an effigy on a tomb would have been one of the few occasions on which minor or middle ranking aristocracy would have had any semblance of their personal appearance preserved. This kind of art in architecture appears to be lost in the contemporary, modern world just as the way memorialisation, even of the famous, rarely matches these kind of sculptural and artistic heights. The fact that over 500 years ago such art was practiced on a wide basis and that unlike many other churches it has survived here at Harewood and forms part of the architecture of this delightful church should be a salutary reminder of the real value of art in architecture, its potential for longevity and the delight and reflective thought it can bring to subsequent generations over hundreds of years. all-saints-harewood-banner-2-small

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New Offices for the Digital Building Heritage Group

IMG_8280 smallHappy to say we’ve finally moved into our brand new offices at De Montfort University’s new VJ Patel Building. We’ve even got a great shared kitchen, storage, ceiling projection and truly outstanding views from our 180 degree wrap around glazed wall that looks down over the campus. This new £56M building in which our offices and tech facilities are now located houses the art and design subjects at De Montfort University. The Digital Building Heritage Group has its office in the POD, the research wing of the new building. The POD concentrates a range of research groups together to maximise the opportunity for cross-disciplinary working and is attached by a 5 storey atrium with “Harry Potter” staircase (see pics) to the main undergraduate and post-graduate teaching spaces. The atrium has casual seating areas, with electrical plug sockets and café style seating and computer screens that provide convenient points for incidental meetings and conversations. It’s also a place that will be used for exhibitions and events, to see and be seen. At the top floor is a large casual seating area and an outdoor sun-terrace that looks west over the city and the river Soar. On the ground floor are the workshops and labs with glass internal walls onto the circulation corridor and reception so that visitors can see the great work that’s going on inside and of course there are large open plan teaching studios for all the creative disciplines in the faculty. Banner 1 small


External works are still going on not least of which the demolition of some low-rise buildings to create a large, grassed parkland space directly in front of the building and on the other side of which is the university library and the award-winning environmentally designed Queens Building. This grassy sward will go all the way down to the river, paralleling our new building and there will be a canalised river-bank where at some stage where there will be boats or punts to go on the river. We are glad to be once again at the heart of the DMU campus and sharing this building with such a wealth of research talent. Important matters such as the weekly tea cakes have already been established and are guaranteed to get the neighbouring research groups round for a lively chat. Old friends and new are welcome to come and visit, phone , e-mail and web addresses remain the same. The postal and satnav address is now:

Digital Building Heritage Group, Room VPPD2.13, The Gateway, Leicester, UK, LE1 9BH

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What is really great is that the new building is right next to the historic heart of DMU’s campus and a wealth of history and architecture which is one of the things that makes De Montfort such a good place to study digital building heritage. The combination of the old and the new is an asset with modern facilities and state-of-the art accommodation situated beside examples of great historic architecture that we can see and use every day.

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Touch Screens, Bling and the Word at Lichfield Cathedral

Turning the pages British Library Lichfield Banner #1It was a delight to return to Lichfield Cathedral recently as a visitor to re-appreciate the wonderful architecture, sculpture and atmosphere of this ancient English cathedral. Helpfully the Dean and Chapter have provided touch screens in the building to assist the visitor in understanding this great English Cathedral. This may seem anathema to some but the installations are so low-key and unobtrusive as to have no deleterious effect on the Cathedral’s sanctity or general ambience. In addition to this I was pleasantly surprised to find in the Chapter House a beautifully presented display of the St. Chad’s Gospels (c730AD), a treasure of the Cathedral, sometimes also known as the St Teilo Gospels. This magnificent volume comprises 236 surviving folios, eight of which are illuminated and another four that contain framed text. They are in a remarkably good state of preservation and it sends a shiver up the spine of any real bibliophile to be close such an ancient and beautiful example of the illuminator and scribes’ art, in this case one that is over 1200 years old, older than the Book of Kells. The gospels themselves had an accompanying touch screen display running the British Library’s ‘Turning the Pages™’ software which allows the visitor to “leaf through” the virtual pages of the St Chad’s Gospels and explore the text and images. The combination of the real artefact and digital representation together worked very well, the fidelity and resolution of the digital version being particularly good. When we were there the St Chad Gospels were open at St Matthews’ Gospel, Chapter 26 verses 27-42. In these pages Jesus predicts Peter’s denial and that the disciples will fall away on account of him. ‘But’ Jesus says, ‘after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee’ which can be seen at the bottom of the left hand page, in Latin: sed cum resurrxero praecedam vos ingalileam. The touch screen system is invaluable for non-Latin readers to make sense of the text, and lends much to the enjoyment of the exhibit. Staffordshire Hoard Banner Lichfield #1

The St Chad’s Gospels were accompanied in this small exhibition in the Chapter House by some magnificent pieces from the Staffordshire Hoard (www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk ) which was discovered in a farmer’s field near Hammerwich in 2009, only 4 miles away and is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found in England. The pieces on display are all ecclesiastical and of exquisite workmanship, such as this unusually large pectoral cross or pectorale (from the Latin pectoralis: ‘of the chest’) which would have been suspended from the neck by a cord or chain. It would have been worn by senior clergy (bishops and abbots) as a sign of their office, or by wealthy Christian lay people. Artefacts like this give a glimpse of the decorative splendour of early medieval Christianity in England and the wealth with which it was endowed. Herkenrode Glass Lichfield Banner #1

Another area in which the touch screens are very successful is in interpreting the unique Renaissance Herkenrode stained glass windows, viewed by some as one of Europe’s greatest artistic treasures. Rescued from destruction during the Napoleonic Wars they were installed in the Cathedral in 1803 and they have recently (starting in 2010) undergone a 5 year renovation at the Barley Studio (http://www.barleystudio.co.uk/ ). The touch screens give an excellent sense of the luminosity and light characteristic of stained glass and allow the visitor to see the detail of the windows which otherwise would be far too distant and small, high up in the chancel to discern with any clarity. Again the interactivity of the touch screens allows a useful and silent interrogation of their history without disturbing other visitors or the quietude of this sacred space. In this Lichfield seems to have got the balance absolutely right, unobtrusive but reliable and nowadays simple technology deployed sparingly where it is needed and can be used to best effect. If any criticism could be made it is that the touch screens have clearly been heavily used and their casings here and there are showing signs of wear, but this can be easily refurbished and does not detract from the understanding or functionality of these digital assets. It is interesting to speculate what the next stage of unobtrusive and sensitive digital interpretation of cathedral spaces and artefacts in-situ could be as both technological capabilities and public expectations move on. Lichfield Moulding Banner #1

Posted in Anglo Saxon, Churches and Ecclesiatical, Display Screens, Medieval, Museum Installations | Leave a comment