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EARLY PLACES OF WORSHIP ON ITS SITE. ERECTION OF THE PRE
SENT EDIFICE. - SCENES AND CEREMONIES IN IT.- POETS' CORNER. CHAPELS OF ST, EDMUND, ST. NICHOLAS, ST. PAUL, EDWARD THE CONFESSOR, ISLIP, HENRY TILE SEVENTH.-CLOISTERS.- JERUSALEM CHAMBER. CHAPTER HOUSE.
WILLINGLY would we enter into a detailed history of Westminster Abbey, and dwell at leisure on its ancient monuments, its architectural magnificence, its host of romantic and historical associations. But volumes might be written on the subject, while the character of the present work compels us to restrict ourselves to a brief history of the venerable pile, and the principal objects of interest which are contained within its walls. Perhaps there is no other religious structure in the world which awakens so many heart-stirring emotions, or which can boast so many exquisite specimens of ancient art, or so many interesting monuments to the illustrous dead. Who is there who has ever found himself beneath the roof of Westminster Abbey, without being struck with feelings of admiration and awe, or without being sensitive of the influence of the sublime ? Who is there who has ever wandered among its tombs of departed kings and warriors, of statesmen and poets, without becoming
the moralist of an liour; or who has ever quitted its walls, without being impressed with sensations of not unpleasing sadness, in which the selfishness of the present hour is entirely absorbed in memories of the past.
“When I look,” says Addison,“ upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies within me: when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tomb-stone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for
those whom we must quickly follow; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago,
I consider that great day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together.” Such are the reflections which many have felt in wandering through Westminster Abbey, but which none have so beautifully described.
Unrivalled work of ages that have gone,
Come, then, let fancy weave the idle strain,
Rise from their marble tombs and live in rhyme.-J. H. J. The earliest notice which we find of there having been a place of worship on the site of the present Westminster Abbey, is the account given by Sporley, one of its monks, who dates its erection to about the year 184, when King Lucius is reported to have embraced Christianity. Usher informs us, on the authority of Fleta, that even at this early period it was “specially deputed for the burial of kings, and as a treasury or repository of their royal ornaments.”
According to the old monkish writers, the church built by King Lucius continued to be a place of Christian worship, either till the persecution of the Christians in Britain in the reign of the Emperor Dioclesian, or till the irruption into the island of a large body of Pagan Saxons, about the fifth or sixth century, when, on one of these two occasions, it was converted into a temple of Apollo. In this state it is said to have remained till about the year 610, when, having been flung down by an earthquake, Sebert, King of the East Saxons, erected a new church on the ruins of the Pagan temple; Mellitus, Bishop of London, instigating him to persevere in
his pious work. In connection with the consecration of the new church, a curious legend is related, which, for centuries, obtained universal credence. Every preparation having been made for the ceremony, St. Peter, to whom the church was intended to be dedicated, is said to have descended on a stormy night, on the Lambeth side of the river, and to have prevailed upon one Edric, . a fisherman, to ferry him over to the opposite side. Desiring the fisherman to wait for him, the Saint proceeded in the direction of the Abbey, which was shortly afterwards miraculously illuminated, accompanied by the voices of angels singing choral hymns.
On his return to the fisherman, St. Peter desired him to tell the Bishop that the church had no need of further consecration; and, in proof of the truth of the man's story, the chrism, and droppings of the wax candles, were found the next day in the church. The Saint further desired Edric to cast his nets into the water, who, having done so, drew them out again loaded with a miraculous draught of salmon. St. Peter told him also, that neither he nor his successors should ever want salmon, provided they presented every tenth to his new church. It is curious to find this custom kept up as late as the end of the fourteenth century; the fishermen still continuing to bring salmon to the high altar, and having periodically the honour allowed them of sitting at the same table with the prior.
The accounts of the monkish writers, as regards
the antiquity of the site of Westminster Abbey as a place of religious worship, as well as to its having been the site of a temple of Apollo, may very possibly be as much without foundation as the legend of St. Peter appearing to Edric the fisherman. It is quite impossible, indeed, to reduce to anything like fact the confused accounts given us by the old chroniclers, and, with the exception of the certainty that there existed a monastic establishment here in the early part of the seventh century, we are left almost entirely in the dark as to its real history, till Edward the Confessor pulled down the old building, and erected on its site a structure worthy of the religion to which it was dedicated.
The Confessor appears to have taken the deepest interest in the new pile which he so piously re-constructed, “pressing on the work,” says Sulcardus,
very earnestly, and appropriating to it a tenth of his entire substance in gold, silver, cattle, and all other possessions.” This church, which was commenced in 1049 and completed in 1066, appears to have been one of the first built in the shape of a cross, and, according to Matthew Paris, became an example much followed in the construction of other churches. Not content with its architectural adornment, the pious Confessor filled it with all kind of relics. Here, says Dort, were “part of the place and manger where Christ was born: some of the frankincense offered to him by the Eastern Magi ; of the table of our Lord; of the bread which he blessed; of the seat where he was presented in