Church monument

Church monument

A church monument is an architectural or sculptural memorial to a dead person or persons, located within a Christian church. It can take various forms, from a simple wall tablet to a large and elaborate structure which may include an effigy of the deceased person and other figures of familial or symbolic nature. It usually resides immediately above or close to the actual burial vault or grave, although very occasionally the tomb is constructed within it. Sometimes the monument is a cenotaph, commemorating a person buried at another location.

Once only the subject of antiquarian curiosity, church monuments are today recognised as works of funerary art. They are also valued by historians as giving a highly detailed record of antique costume and armour. From the middle of the 15th century, many figurative monuments also represent genuine portraiture.


Medieval period

The earliest church monuments, dating from the early 12th century, were simple stone coffin-shaped grave coverings incised with a cross or similar design. The first attempts at commemorative portraiture emerged soon afterwards, executed in low relief, horizontal but as in life. Gradually these became full high-relief effigies, usually recumbent, as in death, and, by the 14th century, with hands together in prayer. In general, such monumental effigies were carved in stone, marble or wood, or cast in bronze or brass. Often the stone effigies were painted to resemble life, but on the vast majority of medieval monuments, this has long since disappeared. The crossed-legged attitude of numerous mail-armoured knights was long supposed to imply that the deceased had served in the Crusades, but this supposition is unfounded. By the early 13th century, the effigies became raised on tomb-style chests (known as tomb chests or altar tombs) decorated with foliage, heraldry or architectural detailing. Soon such chests also stood alone with varying degrees of decorations. By the end of the century, these often had architectural canopies and figured 'weepers' (often friends or relatives identified by their coats of arms) were popular decorative features. In the 15th century these often became angels or saints and the chest might include a cadaver. The best monuments were made of alabaster. Around the 13th century, smaller two-dimensional effigies incised in plates of brass and affixed to monumental slabs of stone became popular too. These memorial brasses were somewhat cheaper and particularly popular with the emerging middle class.

Early modern period

In the 16th century, church monuments became increasingly influenced by Renaissance forms and detailing (pilasters, wreaths, strapwork, skulls, coffered arches, obelisks, allegorical figures, etc), particularly in France, the Netherlands and, eventually, England. There were major innovations in effigial posture, the deceased often being shown reclining or kneeling in prayer and surrounded by the whole family, as in life. Cadavers were replaced by skeletons. The 'hanging' mural or wall monument also became popular, sometimes with half-length 'demi-figures'; and also the floor-bound heraldic ledger stone. The 17th century saw an increase in classicism and the use of marble. Effigies might be sitting or standing, grief-stricken, shrouded or, unusually, rising from the grave. Busts and relief portraits were popular. High Baroque monuments were some of the grandest ever constructed. Decoration turned to cherubs, urns, drapery, garlands of fruit and flowers. In the 18th century, church monuments became more restrained, placed before two-dimensional pyramids, but more Roman-like, with the deceased often depicted in Roman dress or as a cameo-like 'medallion portrait'. The Rococo style gave more movement to these figures.

Victorian period

The early 19th century brought us Greek Revival monuments, some quite plain wall plaques, some with sentimental and romantically realistic figures (perhaps rising to heaven) or other devices like weeping willows. Gothic Revival followed, with the obvious return to alabaster, tomb chests and recumbent effigies. However, the Victorian age saw many differing styles, until large-scale monuments fell out of fashion at the end of the century. 20th century large-scale monuments are not unknown, but quite rare.

Examples of English church monuments

The church monuments of England, in particular, have been preserved in far greater numbers and, generally, in better condition than those of other countries, and are second to none in artistic merit. Fine examples may be found in cathedrals and parish churches in every county, for example:

* Turvey in Bedfordshire
* Aldworth, Bisham & St. George's Chapel, Windsor in Berkshire
* Chenies & Wing in Buckinghamshire
* Bunbury & St. Michael's, Macclesfield in Cheshire
* Launceston & St. Germans in Cornwall
* Bakewell, Edensor, Kedleston & Norbury in Derbyshire
* Gittisham & Holcombe Rogus in Devon
* Puddletown & Sherborne Abbey in Dorset
* Chester-le-Street & Staindrop in County Durham
* Winchelsea & Withyam in East Sussex
* Chipping Campden & Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire
* St. Helen, Bishopsgate & the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, City of London
* Harefield, Temple Church & Westminster Abbey in Middlesex
* Titchfield & Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire
* Holme Lacey, Much Marcle & Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire
* Bishop's Hatfield & Knebworth in Hertfordshire
* Canterbury Cathedral, Goudhurst & Lynsted in Kent
* Bottesford & Breedon-on-the-Hill in Leicestershire
* Lincoln Cathedral, Spilsby & St. Martin's, Stamford in Lincolnshire
* Tittleshall & St. Nicholas' Chapel, King's Lynn in Norfolk
* Great Brington, Lowick, Stowe-Nine-Churches & Warkton in Northamptonshire
* Langar & Strelley in Nottinghamshire
* Exton & Stoke Dry in Rutland
* Burford, Dorchester Abbey, Ewelme & Rotherfield Greys in Oxfordshire
* Kinlet & Tong in Shropshire
* Hinton St George & Rodney Stoke in Somerset
* Elford & Ilam in Staffordshire
* Framlingham & Wingfield in Suffolk
* Bletchingley & Ockham in Surrey
* Stratford-upon-Avon & St. Mary's Collegiate Church, Warwick in Warwickshire
* Arundel & Boxgrove Priory in West Sussex
* Edington Priory, Lydiard Tregoze & Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire
* Croome D'Abitot & Elmley Castle in Worcestershire
* Beverley Minster, Holy Trinity Church, Hull & Swine in the East Riding of Yorkshire
* Coxwold & West Tanfield in the North Riding of Yorkshire
* Harewood & Kirkheaton in the West Riding of Yorkshire


*Crossley, FH (1921). English Church Monuments AD 1150–1550. Batsford
*Esdaile, KA (1946). English Church Monuments 1510–1840. Batsford
*Kemp, B (1980). English Church Monuments. Batsford

External links

* [ The Church Monuments Society]
* [ Royal Berkshire History: Church Monuments]
* [ Churchmouse: Church Monuments & Other Memorials of Interest] (mostly Lincolnshire)
* [ Medieval Combat Society: Thirteenth and Fourteenth Century Armorial Monumental Effigy and Brass Timeline]

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