20 Chapters
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8. Location and Orientation

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

In the middle ages, the techniques and traditions of craftsmanship were taught according to the traditional guild system, through which ancient skills and wisdom were transmitted directly from master to apprentice. The creation of artefacts was in no way separated from the spiritual dimension of existence. Techniques had been developed continuously from the beginning of the respective crafts, and had come unchanged in essence through changes in prevailing religion, being based upon transcendent true principles. The sacred principles embodied in building craftsmanship were essentially the same whether employed in making temples, churches, mosques or synagogues. In medieval times, craftwork was made mindfully of God, manifesting as far as possible what was seen as His divine harmony. Whatever was created was primarily for use, instruction or delight, made with a loving and respectful spirit for the service of God and the community.

In medieval Europe, then, no church or mosque was built merely as an ornamented shed, its dimensions deter mined by the amount of money available, or even the size of the plot upon which it was to be built. The ‘shed’ way of building is the common, profane form of building in modern times, but this careless way of making is alien to the spiritual arts and crafts practised by medieval craftsmen. King’s College Chapel is something different from careless modernity. It is the epitome of a sacred building. Its site was investigated for its spiritual qualities, and in its dimensions it reflected a sacred language translated into number. Number, in turn, ruled the system of proportion and linear dimensions to which the chapel was constructed.

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8 Masterworks of a Superior Order

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

No person can in this life reach the point at which he is excused from outward works.

Meister Eckhart.

Although every London church of the era was built according to sacred geometry and classical proportions, and founded with customary rites and ceremonies, there is not space to describe each one individually. St Paul’s Cathedral is, without doubt, the major London church of this period, and my work on it will appear in a subsequent publication. This chapter is a selection of the more notable examples of the work of three architects: Wren, Hawksmoor and Gibbs. The principles embodied in these churches reveal the character of the others not described here. They all embody structure and symbol in a masterly way, emulating a superior order that emanates from the creative intelligence that is the source of all. This commonality of purpose is the thread that links them all.

The London architects of this era understood and acknowledged continuity. Many new churches were built on the sites of earlier ones, themselves having replaced, it was believed, Pagan temples of the ancient Britons and Romans. These architects acknowledged pluralistic sources in Pagan, Jewish and Christian spiritual traditions, and understood their basic principles well enough to create unified ensembles. Inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek and Latin acknowledge these multiple sources of spirituality, whilst mathematical, mythic, emblematic, symbolic, astrological and craft traditions also have their often unobtrusive places. Clearly, these structures expressed something of the aspirations of their builders, and possess a soul of their own.303

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1 Legend, Precepts and Principles

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

My Streets are my Ideas of Imagination
Awake Albion, awake! And let us awake up together.

William Blake

Legendary history is the foundation of all ancient traditions. It forms the mythological basis for all religions, as well as national stories throughout the world. Each land, each faith, has its own particular foundation myth and particular named individuals associated with it. Mythic ancestral parental couples like Bor and Bestla, Beli and Anna, Askr and Embla or Adam and Eve vie for priority with more individualized characters such as Aeneas, Brutus, Einiged, Woden, Noah, Romulus and Remus, Hengest and Horsa. Along with sagas, lays, genealogies, legendary chronicles, myths and histories, these characters and stories make up the spiritual basis for individual cultures, the particular legendarium that defines a faith, a nation or a people.

London’s classical tradition is an expression of the city’s legendarium,5 a component of what William Blake called “The Acts of Albion” (otherwise ‘The Matter of Britain’). The basic elements of the legendarium come through ancient writings that, when they were written, had the authority of having been handed down from what was even then great antiquity, rooted in the eldritch world. These myths tell us about our cultural roots, expressing no less than the character and inner principles of British identity. British legendary history was recorded chiefly by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1136), Matthew of Westminster (1307) and Matthew Paris, who used earlier sources including the writings of Gildas and ancient Welsh redactions of Brut. Thus medieval writers acknowledged the pre-Christian origin of the British nation. Later it was re-framed by Raphael Holinshed in his Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland and features in the inspired works of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Milton and William Blake.

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6. Internal Fittings, the Chantries and Alterations

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

The west window was glazed with plain glass, as money for stained glass had run out on Archbishop Fisher’s imprisonment for opposing Henry VIII’s divorce (October 1530). Only in the years 1878–79 was it finally glazed with coloured glass by the company of Clayton and Bell, with the theme of the Last Judgement. In the early 1530s, once most of the painted glass was in the windows, the next job was installing the interior fittings. At this point, the original Perpendicular architecture was abandoned, and a wooden screen in the Renaissance style was made and erected by foreign craftsmen, probably Italian, between June 1533 and May 1536. A high altar, carved with images by Magistro Antonio, was delivered in 1554–55.

The screen is as wide, and in the same position, as the stone one stipulated by the founder. The money for it was provided by Henry VIII after a petition from the college to complete a great deal of the outstanding work. This included the high altar and sixteen others, of stone; the entire paving; the screen; the metal fittings; stalls; doors; images and painting and gilding the main vault. To ft the wooden screen, some of the heraldic stonework was smashed. The cost was estimated at 2,893. The oaken stalls, also Renaissance in style, date from between 1536 and 1538.

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5. The Almost-Sainted King and Glazing the Chapel

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

King Henry VII desired the Church to canonize King Henry VI. Although several kings of pre-conquest England had become saints (Ethelbert of Kent; Ethelbert and Edmund of East Anglia; Oswald of Northumbria; Edward, King and Martyr), no post-conquest king had been made into a saint. France had St Louis, and, the argument went, ‘why should not England receive the like favour, being no less beneficial to the Church of Rome?’ The fact that King Henry had been deposed was deemed no hindrance to canonization, ‘for God’s best servants often suffer the worst afflictions’. Henry VII seems to have believed that Henry VI had prophesied his elevation to the throne, with the story that when the civil wars between Lanca ster and York first began, Henry VI, seeing the young future Henry VII, remarked to his courtiers: ‘See this youth will one day quietly enjoy what we at this time so much fight about.’ This prophetic claim echoes the story told about Henry V.

Fuller claims that this ‘made the King with much importunity to tender this his request unto the Pope. A request the more reasonable, because it was well nigh forty years since the death of that Henry, so that only the skeletons of his virtues remained in men’s memories, the flesh and corruption (as one may say) of his faults being quite consumed and for gotten’.

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