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mitres ; four hangings of arras-work, for adorning—no doubt on festival days, the sides of the space where the high altar stood, and two hangings to be placed, as a canopy over it, “ of flowrid damask.”
But I have been insidiously drawn away from my subject, and we will now recommence our survey, which ended in the vestry up stairs at the end of the south transept. - Below the vestry is a long, narrow, vaulted passage, leading from the cloister court to the burial ground, on the south side of the choir. The doorways at each end have long been walled up, so as to form the place into a gloomy apartment, formerly filled with tesseræ and paving tiles. In the course of the excavation, however, it became necessary to take down the wall which separated it from the cloister court; and then, under rubbish that had tallen from the vaulted roof above, was discovered a mass of human bones, sufficient, according to a careful computation, to have formed not less than four hundred skeletons. When they were torn from faithless graves, or gathered, after barbarous exposure, by some friendly hands into this common tomb, is now entirely forgotten. They were removed, on the day when they were found, to a grave prepared for them, at the west end of the nave; and, during the process of removal, I could not refrain, in most vivid retrospection of the imposing treasures of gold and silver and jewels that were so long hoarded but a few feet above, and of the richly decorated robes of state in which many of these once consecrated bones were invested, from reflecting, with Jeremy Taylor, that it was “a copy of the greatest change from rich to naked—from ceiled roofs to arched coffins—from living like gods to dying like men ;” and from feeling, in the memorable words used by Sir Thomas Browne in his “Hydriotaphia,” that they were “vain ashes, that, in the oblivion of times, persons, names, and sexes, bad formed to themselves a fruitless continuation, and only arise unto late posterity as emblems of mortal vanities.”
And there and thus, in the rapid state of decomposition in which this little city of the forgotten was found, must its poor elements now for ever rest. In an embrace that no mortal hand may sever, we left the servant free from his master-the rich and the poor changelessly interchanging one common dust. There, without mass, or orbit, ur ceremonial—the warlike and the peaceful—the fortunate and the miserable the forgotten qualities of age and strength—of the proud and of the powerless—of the energy of man and the devotion of woman, were, for the last time, dismissed from a scene in which they once moved, as influential facts and exponents; there we sowed again the tares, that shall remain ungathered from the wheat until the morning of universal doom.
By the excavation of the nave little information was obtained. In the urgent necessity to obtain space for the chantry chapels, it had been so divided and traversed by massy wooden screens, as to render the introduction of the larger windows on the south, and that noble one at the west end, a matter of necessity rather than of taste. Besides the chapels thus formed in the side aisles, the main body of the nave was crossed by not less than four screens, thus affording space for at least eight altars. During the time when this eastern portion of it was cleared out, nothing was observed on the surface, except a few stones that had formed the base of a screen that had been fixed in front of the last bay of the nave. Some little time, however, afterwards, when the iron tramway that had been used in the excavation was being removed, the wheel of a cart that was passing over this part suddenly sunk a foot or more deep in the earth, and on being raised, it was found that the slip had been occasioned by the fracture of a large earthenware vase that was buried immediately below the surface. As it had evidently been placed there at à remote period, the soil around was particularly examined, when it was discovered that, on the east side of the screen, and divided by the processional pathway, were two spaces of the form of the Roman letter L walled on the sides and flagged at the bottom. In that on the south side nothing was observed ; but in the other, a large quantity of charcoal ashes; and to the astonishment of all who have seen them, nine vases or jugs of rude earthenware, each sufficiently capacious to have contained nearly two fluid gallons, fixed on their sides within the walls of the space, and also partially filled with charcoal. These ashes may have been cast here from the adjacent furnace, where the lead stripped from the house had been evidently melted into a marketable shape at the time of the dissolution ; but why the vases should have been introduced is, so far as I can understand, on precedent, a case unique and unaccountable. Speculation on an object that is hourly visited has, I doubt, hitherto proved more amusing than instructive, and I must confess that, after a most minute examination of this and many other monastic and ecclesiastical structures, I can only occupy your time with equally baseless conjectures.
Besides these vases, and the bases of three altars attached to
on the southesied on the sides o spaces of the
the house had the adjacent furnace. These ashes n
the pillars, no particular objects of interest were observed in the nave, except that towards the west end two blocks of limestone, each two feet three inches square, with a circle incised on the surface, were found inserted in the floor, which led to a more particular examination, ending in the discovery of fifty of similar character, occupying the space and arranged in the form expressed on the plan just published in the last edition of my “Guide.” They marked the positions observed by members of the convent, before they moved in procession on high days to meet their patrons or benefactors. On the store immediately in front of the great west door, which is larger than the rest, stood the mitred abbot, clad in his lustrous cope of cloth of gold, and with his magnificent crosier in his hand. Before him, on each side, with the space of about three feet between, were ranged twenty-five of his brethren, each, too, habited in some of the copes, and bearing some of the relics, or shrines, or crosses, or images I have mentioned ; and, immediately in front, preceding all, was placed the cross-bearer, who led the long-drawn procession into the choir. The faces of the stones were, however, so crumbled and decayed, with the exception of the two which occasioned the discovery of the rest, that the turf has been continued over them, so that, to an uninformed observer, there remains little trace of an interesting arrangement of which something similar was to be seen on the ancient pavement at York Minster before it was destroyed in the last century.
At the east end of the south aisle, and on the left hand of one passing from the church to the cloister court, was found, fixed to the foundation of a screen that had divided this part from the transept, the moulded base of a stoup or holy water basin of very good work of the thirteenth century, which will be rendered of particular interest, if it can be proved—as I think it may—to have supported the very beautifully carved marble basin now used as a font in the adjacent chapel of Aldfield, which is distinctly remembered to have been brought from Fountains.
Nothing more, I think, now remains to be told of the excavation of the church, except that the great staircase leading from the south-west end of the nave to the dormitory has also been opened and cleared out. The side walls were found to have been broken down, and the steps all but entirely torn away; yet it is not uninteresting to gaze musingly on the path by which so many generations of holy men crept, in the breathless solitude of midnight, from their cheerless cells, with aching hearts and shivering limbs'; while the assurances of that faith, whose rites they were about to administer, mingled with the relentless peal of the warning bell, and associated the white habits in which they were arrayed withủ those spotless robes in which, having passed through this a great tribulation,” they should at last be invested, and sing the songs of never-failing praise in the eternal temple of heaven.
After the excavation of the church was completed, the rubbish that had accumulated at the west end of the nave was removed. In laying down previously the railroad which traversed this space, when the works within the building were in progress, some traces of a foundation wall were observed parallel with, and at a distance of fifteen feet from, the great entrance; but as they were thought only to have supported a wooden porch, little further notice was taken of them at the time. When this space, however, has now become entirely cleared, it appears that towards the close of the twelfth century a vestibule or Galilee, co-extensive with the front of the nave, has been added to it, and also somewhat altered in the succeeding century. In its elevation it has not apparently risen above the base of the present western window, and from an examination of the stones found in the rubbish, has had an open arcade, supported on double shafts, on each side of the doorway; but the north and south ends have been only of plain masonry. It seems, like similar porches elsewhere, to have been chosen as a place of burial, since there were found within it six graves, covered with large slabs. Of the four to be seen at the south end, nothing is to be particularly observed, except the mode in which the graves are connected; but in the opposite extremity is a remarkably fine and perfect slab—still fixed by massy leaden clamps to the coffin—which bears the device of a processional cross of the early part of the thirteenth century.
There was found, also, within this unexpected appendage to the church, a large image of the Blessed Virgin,
“With her Almighty infant in her arms,” that had been thrown down from the niche that it occupied above the great western window, bearing the date of 1494. Both figures are headless, and there is little in the composition to attract admiration ; yet these might be, even now, not inaptly restored to a position, whence, for three centuries, they have been, ignominiously deposed, that emblem of the great patroness of the house, to which generations of faith have directed their eyes with feelings of piety or veneration.
Part of the preceding verse still remains inscribed on the Tower
(1) Apocal., ch. vii., v. 13. of Fountains.
Several well-sculptured architectural fragments, which may hereafter, when better examined, prove useful in investigating the history of the building, were also found here ; but it would be uninteresting now to allude to them; though I must mention, that in their company were discovered two of those small perforated plates of lead-exceeding in elegance of design and intricacy of pattern those discovered at Sawley Abbey-which, no doubt, were inserted in windows for the purpose of ventilation.
The removal of the deep rubbish that has accumulated on the north side of the nave is now in progress, and will occupy the rest of the present season. No discoveries of foundations or of curiosities can reasonably be anticipated ; but, from the increase of elevation which the long-buried part of the structure will receive, and the more picturesque points of view in which it will become generally accessible, if the pathway is directed nearer the rocks, a very gratifying result will assuredly be obtained.
And now, having exhausted every topic on which I have endeavoured to instruct or to amuse, it is a pleasing mitigation to the regret with which I quit my occupation, that I am enabled to gratify you with the intelligence, that the Earl de Grey has recently directed that all such statues, sculptures, mouldings, brackets, capitals, or other ornamental portions of the building as are suffering decay, shall be carefully cast in plaster; and that a copy of each, when the original ought not to be removed, shall be kept, together with all the curiosities that have been found during the excavation, in the court room, which is to be fitted up for their reception. Many objects that are easy of access have been cast already; and during the present week, a scaffold has been erected before the tower, so that authentic copies may be taken of the statues that decorate the niches on its sides. I had hoped that I might have exhibited to you, to-day, some sketches of these objects, but I find that a little time must elapse before this can be accomplished ; and, therefore, however imperfectly the pencil may illustrate the observations which you have heard, I will substitute these representations of the changed aspect of the church that have become unattainable, since the avaricious miscreants who perpetrated its ruin abandoned to the hands of avarice and the tooth of time
“ Things that were holy, and are holy still.”
NOTE. The vases, to which Mr. Walbran alludes on p. 155, were for acoustic purposes, as he himself subsequently discovered.