Including the Corona Chapel
MapRounding the ambulatory from the north aisle to the south aisle of the Trinity Chapel, we reach the Corona Chapel – the easternmost point of the Cathedral. Continuing into the south aisle, we find the remaining Miracle Windows and several noteworthy tombs, including that of the Black Prince.
The Corona Chapel (1184)
The Corona, completed by William the Englishman in 1184, is unique in English Cathedral architecture and was built specifically to house the ‘corona’ (the crown, or top part of the skull) of St Thomas Becket.
The clerk Edward Grim’s graphic, first-hand account of Becket’s murder in December 1170 describes how Richard le Breton’s final sword blow severed the crown of Becket’s scalp and snapped the point of le Breton’s sword. The crown was recovered from the crime scene by the monks and preserved in a silver reliquary. Pilgrims visiting the Corona chapel were able to view and, if of sufficient status, also kiss the reliquary.
In recent times, the Chapel has been re-dedicated to the Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time. A Book of Remembrance, naming 21 priests, men and women murdered for their Christian faith since 1916, is maintained here.
Stained glass in the Corona (c.1200-1220)
There are five stained glass windows in the Corona. Much of the original medieval glass, dating from c.1200-1220, was significantly damaged by Puritan iconoclasts during the 1640s. The first three windows were skilfully restored by the Cathedral glazier, the prolific George Austin Jr. during the 1860s.
The Jesse Windows
The first two windows (clockwise, from the left) are called the Jesse Windows – from the Old Testament prophecy (Isiah ch. 11: 1-3): –
“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.”
Jesse was the father of King David and is named among 28 Ancestors of Christ in the gospel of St. Matthew (Ch. 1: 1-17). The Tree of Jesse is represented as an ancestral tree starting with Jesse at the root and ending with Christ himself.
1The first Jesse Window, comprising just two panels of original glass (the panels would have been near the top originally), depicts Josiah in the lower panel and the Virgin Mary above.
2The second Jesse Window is complete, though it is a copy of a 13th century original (since lost) made by George Austin Jr. in 1861. There is uncertainty over exact identities but the figures in Austin’s reconstructed tree, from bottom to top, may be
1 Jesse, with tree and branches, 2 David, 3 Rehoboam, 4 Jehoshaphat, 5 Hezekiah, 6 Josiah, 7 the Virgin Mary and 8 Jesus.
George Austin Jr. removed all the surviving 13th century Jesse Tree glass to his workshop in 1853 in order to make his copies. The two panels that are now seen in the first window, weren’t actually put back until 1954, having been sold in 1906 to a Philip Nelson for £29 and subsequently bequeathed back to the Cathedral in his Will.
The Redemption Window
3The centrepiece of the stained glass in the Corona is the Redemption Window. It suffered considerable damage at the hands of Puritan iconoclasts in 1643 but was skilfully restored by George Austin Jr. c.1853.
Like the two ‘typological’ Bible windows in the North Choir Aisle, the Redemption Window has an educational purpose and, like those windows, draws upon Old Testament stories that are said to foreshadow or ‘prefigure’ events depicted in the New Testament. The theme of the window is the Redemption of man, through the death and resurrection of Christ. The window is organised into 5 groups of 5 scenes, laid out around alternating square and diamond-shaped central panels. The central New Testament scene in each group is surrounded by four prefiguring Old Testament scenes.
The window is described from bottom to top, following the biblical chronology of the events depicted.
Bottom group – Crucifixion
1The offering of Isaac. God tests the loyalty of Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. God intervenes to save Isaac. An angel holds the point of Abraham’s sword.
2Moses strikes the rock and water pours out. (When the side of Christ was wounded, blood poured out). 3*The Crucifixion. Christ on the cross, with Mary Magdalene and Mary, his mother, left, and St Luke and St John, right. 4The Passover. A man paints a “T” or “tau” (prophetic of the cross) above the door. Two men cut the throat of a lamb and its blood gushes into a basin.
5The Grapes of Eschcol. Just as Christ and Simon of Cyrene bore their crosses, spies, sent by Moses, return from the Promised Land, carrying grapes (the Blood of Christ). One (the Jew) refuses to look back. The other (the Gentile) longs to see it. Wine for the Eucharist. The Jews reject Christ. The Gentiles adore him.
Second group up – Entombment
1Samson in bed with Delilah, who tries to entice him to tell the secret of his strength. The Philistines wait outside, hoping to learn the secret. 2Jonah has refused to do God’s will and has run away to sea, where frightened sailors who blame Jonah for the a storm, throw him overboard, where he is swallowed by a whale.
3The Entombment. Two men lower Christ’s body into the tomb, while a third pours on ointment. Mary, mother of Christ, and Mary Magdalene look on.
4Joseph has been cast into a pit, dug by his jealous brothers, on account of the coat of many colours, given to him by their father, Jacob. God saves Joseph.
5Daniel, in Babylon, is thrown to the lions for worshipping God. The lions refuse to touch him. God has intervened.
Third group up – Resurrection
1Jonah comes out of the whale and steps on to dry land.
2*After 40 days, Noah receives a dove, released earlier, bringing an olive branch, proving that there must be dry land nearby 3 *The Resurrection. Christ steps from the tomb, with an angel on either side 4*Michal, David’s wife, helps him escape out of a window when Saul comes to kill him
5Moses walks towards a burning bush with three sheep. God orders him to remove his shoes. This is Holy ground – his feet will not burn.
Fourth group up – Ascenscion
1 The ascension of Elijah into Heaven in a chariot of fire 2 The sundial of Ahaz, with the red globe of the sun, above Isaiah, who stands by the sick bed of Hezekiah
3*The Ascension of Christ. The Apostles and the Virgin Mary stand looking on as Christ’s feet disappear into the clouds.
4 The High Priest enters the Holy of Holies. 5Enoch is seen praying and ascending to Heaven.
Top group – Pentecost
1Christ sitting in Majesty with his right hand raised in blessing.
2Consecration of Aaron, who kneels before Moses, and his sons to the priesthood. The Law is given to Moses. 3Pentecost. The Holy Spirit, shown as tongues of fire, streams down to the heads of the eleven remaining Apostles (Judas has been lost). 4Moses judges the people of Israel in the presence of Jethro, who advises him to delegate power to his advisers.
5Moses receives the tablets of the Law from God in Sinai.
The fourth and fifth windows
4On the right of the Redemption window is a Victorian window, illustrating scenes from the Acts of the Apostles, the work of Alfred Hemming in 1897.
5To the right of that, inserted into a plain glazed window, is a 13th century panel, acquired from Petham Church in 1938, showing Christ in a glory blessing, surrounded by the four Evangelists, Matthew with the Angel, Mark with the Lion, Luke with the Bull and John with the Eagle.
Monuments in the Corona
On the left is the extraordinarily plain tomb of Cardinal Reginald Pole(L) (1556-1558) Cardinal Pole was the last Catholic archbishop, who was the cousin of, and served under, Queen Mary Tudor, daughter of Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII. Mary’s attempts to restore Roman Catholicism to England led to much bloodshed, including the burning at the stake in March 1556 of Pole’s predecessor and mastermind of the protestant Reformation (and Henry’s divorce from Katherine) Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.
On the right is the rather more elaborate memorial to Archbishop Frederick Temple (1897-1902) in bronze and Cornish granite who is shown kneeling in his Archbishop’s cope (as worn at the coronation of Edward VII in 1902). Temple is buried in the Cloister garden, where there is a memorial slab carved by Eric Gill.
The Burial of Christ (c.1982) is a copy in bronze of an original sculpture made by Kenyan sculptor Rosemary Namuli in 1947. It shows Christ’s body wrapped in cloth, as it would be at an East African funeral. The four bearers (possibly representing the Apostles) envelope and protect the body with their large hands as they carry it on their shoulders.
Tombs of Coligny, Courtenay and Walter
Besides the tomb of the Black Prince (see below) there are three other noteworthy tombs in this corner of the Trinity Chapel:
The Tomb of Cardinal of Châtillon, Odet de Coligy (1571)
Wedged in between two columns opposite the Corona is the plainest tomb in the Cathedral – the tomb of Cardinal Odet de Coligny. The Cardinal was a French aristocrat, Calvinist Protestant and brother of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the military and political leader of the Huguenot party of France. He died in 1571 – some claimed he was poisoned – whilst staying as a guest at the Cathedral lodging house. It was a time of political and religious turmoil in France and he was interred here temporarily, until his family could claim the body.
After 452 years, he is still here.
Footnote. A year after Odet’s death, his brother Admiral Gaspard de Coligny was murdered during the notorious St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in August 1572, an uprising that led to the slaughter of hundreds of Huguenots who were in Paris for the wedding of the French King’s sister to a prominent Huguenot. The sectarian bloodshed spread to many parts France and thousands of Huguenots fled to England and, in 1575, Elizabeth I sanctioned the use of the Crypt and the Chapel of our Lady in the Undercroft as a place of worship and work for the Huguenots in Canterbury.
Tomb of Archbishop William Courtenay (1396)
This tomb in Purbeck marble with alabaster effigy, portrays a serene-looking Archbishop, with cherubs at his head and a small dog at his feet. The niches around the base of the tomb would once have contained small anonymous sculpted figures, called ‘pleurants’ or weepers, representing mourners. These figures, beautifully sculpted objects in their own right, were perhaps too collectible for their own good and have long since disappeared.
Courtenay was an implacable opponent of John Wycliffe (c.1330-1384) and other proto-protestants, who argued, amongst other things, that the law of God came from the Bible, which should be made available, in English, to all men who could read. This ran counter to the orthodox establishment view that the Scriptures could only be interpreted by approved clergy. Wycliffe and his followers were disparagingly referred to as Lollards (from the Dutch: ‘mutterers, mumblers’).
Such was Wycliffe’s growing influence that, in 1382, Archbishop Courtenay convened The Synod of Blackfriars (the so-called “Earthquake Synod”) which banned Wycliffe’s teachings and the use of his English Bible and led to further persecution of the Lollards. During the years that followed, many Lollards and other dissenters were burned at the stake as heretics. Wycliffe was posthumously declared a heretic in 1415 and, in 1428, his corpse was exhumed from its grave in Lutterworth and burned, and the ashes cast into the river. The brutal suppression of dissenters continued throughout the 15th century and beyond. It was not until 1539, 155 years after Tyndale’s death, that the Great Bible (based upon translations by William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale) was ordered to be placed in all English churches on the edict of Henry VIII.
Tomb of Archbishop Hubert Walter (c.1205)
On our left, opposite Archbishop Courtenay, is the oldest intact tomb in the Cathedral, that of Hubert Walter (1193-1205), archbishop during the reign of Richard I, “Lionheart”.
This is a substantial tomb in Purbeck marble, with a gable top with six carved heads – one of which (the first on the left, at the front) may be intended to represent Saladin, the Kurdish sultan. Prior to becoming Archbishop, Hubert Walter accompanied Richard I on the Third Crusade and negotiated a treaty with Saladin in 1191, and was even a guest of Saladin in Jerusalem following the negotiation. On his return to England, Walter took command of the realm during Richard’s more or less permanent absences on Crusades and, when the returning Lionheart was taken captive in 1192 and subsequently imprisoned in Mainz, Germany at the behest of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, Archbishop Walter was instrumental in raising the ransom of 150,000 marks to free him.
Tomb of the Black Prince (1376)
Edward of Woodstock (1330-1376), Prince of Wales and elder son of Edward III was the most celebrated and the most feared warrior of his time. His tomb here in the Trinity Chapel (attributed to Master Mason Henry Yevele) is made of Purbeck marble, and his magnificent brass-overgilt effigy shows him in full armour, spurred and helmeted, with a curious animal at his feet. The animal is said to be a leopard, though it has also been described as a small bulldog. Shields around the base of the tomb feature the fleur de lys (signifying the Plantagenet claim to the French throne) and the Prince’s coat of arms – a plume of three ostrich feathers and the motto “Ich diene – “I serve” – a motto which has been adopted by all subsequent Princes of Wales.
The life, marriage and death of the Black Prince
Nobody knows for certain why he became known (though not in his lifetime) as the Black Prince. Some say it was the colour of his armour, others because he was merciless to those he defeated in battle. There is no doubt he was a fearless and ferocious warrior, who won his spurs at the age of 16 alongside his father in the battle of Crécy (1346) and fought in many battles during the Hundred Years’ War with France. After his victory at Poitiers in 1356 he became the most feared military commander in Europe.
The Prince was married to his cousin (for which he needed papal dispensation) Joan “the Fair Maid” of Kent in 1361. He survived many battles but did not outlive his father and died in 1376, aged 45, of a debilitating bacterial infection contracted while fighting in Spain. When the king, Edward III, died a few months later, in 1377, he was succeeded by the Black Prince’s 12-year-old son, who became Richard II.
The Prince’s Will laid out very specific instructions regarding his tomb, which were followed to the letter, apart from his request to be buried in the crypt undercroft, alongside his chantry chapel (now the Huguenot Chapel). The Black Prince was a national hero and therefore was buried here in the Trinity Chapel alongside the Shrine of Thomas Becket.
The Black Prince’s ‘Achievement’
Replicas of the Black Prince’s Achievement are attached to a bar above the tomb and consist of his armorial jupon (a surcoat, made to be worn outside armour), helmet with its chain fastening, cap of maintenance with leopard crest, shield of poplar wood, gauntlets of gilded copper lined with leather, and the scabbard of his sword.
The prince’s sword disappeared long ago, probably during the upheavals of the English Civil War (1642-51) as did his dagger and sporting shield – and all the precious stones set into his helmet. The items on display over the tomb are faithful replicas made in 1954 – a selection of the originals can be seen in the Making History exhibition in the Crypt (subject to rotation for conservation purposes). It had been previously assumed that the achievements were purpose-made to adorn the tomb, but conservation work carried out for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Opus Anglicanum embroidery exhibition in 2016, revealed that the jupon had actually been worn by the prince during his lifetime.
The South Aisle Miracle Windows
As with the windows in the north aisle, the original purpose of the six windows in the south aisle was to depict some of the miracles that were observed at the tomb of Thomas Becket by the monks Benedict and William between 1180 and 1220. The windows here in the south aisle suffered much greater damage at the hands of Puritan iconoclasts in 1643 during the English Civil War, as they were more accessible from the outside. As a result of this, the second and fourth windows and most of the third, contain only plain glass.
The first Miracle Window (s.II)
1The first window in the south aisle (after the Corona Chapel) was probably designed in c.1207 but installed after the monks returned from exile in France in 1213. There are 16 roundels in this window:
1-8 The 8 roundels in the top half of the window were reconstructed in 1893 using fragments of ancient glass and do not relate to any specific miracle, though the borders and background are thought to be original.
9-12 The next 4 roundels in the lower half of the window, tell the story of William Kellett, a carpenter who injures his leg with an axe and is visited by St Thomas. His leg heals miraculously and, after giving thanks at the tomb, he is able to go back to work.
13-16 The bottom 4 roundels tell the story of Adam the Forester who is shot through the neck with an arrow when he comes across two poachers, who make off with a deer. In his sick bed, Adam is shown drinking the Holy Water of St Thomas, and is visited by three bearded friends. Miraculously cured, he is pictured giving thanks at the tomb.
The third Miracle Window (s.IV)
3The two roundels at the bottom of the otherwise plain third window, were introduced by Samuel Caldwell Jr. in 1929. The first roundel contains the often-reproduced portrayal of pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, one riding on a white horse. The second shows pilgrims at the tomb, over which hangs a red sanctuary lamp, with priest in attendance. Caldwell was a master of stained glass reproduction, using both medieval and new glass, and it has been a matter of debate to what extent these panels are “creative reconstructions”, rather than faithful restorations of a medieval original. Recent research by Dr Rachel Koopmans strongly suggests the latter!
The fifth Miracle Window (s.VI)
5The fifth window contains 13th century glass, collected from various parts of the Cathedral or, possibly, made by Samuel Caldwell Jr. in the first quarter of the twentieth century. The window is made up of 16 panels, consisting of 6 central roundels interspersed with 5 half-roundels down either side.
1-4 Starting from the top of the window, the first cluster of four panels tells the story of the groom, John of Roxburgh. His horse bolts and throws him into the River Tweed. He is rescued by St Thomas and crawls out of the River. Two friends in a boat, search for his body, whilst John is happily tucked up by the fire at the toll-keeper’s house.
The remaining panels mainly consist of unrelated scenes. Those that can be explicitly identified are:
9 The 3rd half roundel on the right shows Henry of Beche, lame, barefoot and on crutches, making a pilgrimage with his parents.
13 The fifth central roundel down, shows a girl, possibly Cicely, the daughter of Jordan of Plumstead, sitting up in bed, after recovering from a fatal illness after being given a girdle (held in the background) dipped in holy water from the tomb of St Thomas.
14-15 The bottom two half-roundels depict a young boy, Gilbert, son of William le Brun. On the left, Gilbert sits up in bed, kissing his Father’s bearded face, while his Mother looks on. On the right, Gilbert, accompanied by his parents, is laying a coil of wire on the tomb.
The sixth Miracle Window (s.VII)
6The sixth window contains 22 panels, probably dating from 1214 to 1220. Although the two bottom panels depict the Shrine, they were probably made and installed before Becket’s Translation, in anticipation of the event on 7th July 1220. This window is made up of 11 interleaved rows containing alternating pairs of panels. Starting from the top the first 3 rows (6 panels) are devoted to the story of the unlucky 16-month-old child, Geoffrey of Winchester.
1 shows the child Geoffrey dying of fever in his cradle, while his mother and grandmother look on in anguish. St Thomas appears with a book under his arm, a hand raised in blessing and Geoffrey is cured. 2 the naked child, supported by his mother, puts money into the box, held by a bearded monk…
3 But then, a wall falls on the unfortunate Geoffrey’s cradle and buries him. 4 Geoffrey’s mother and grandmother pray, while father sits, head in hands, among the rubble.
5 Geoffrey’s mother calls upon St Thomas and faints. A servant throws water over the mother, while another tackles the rubble with a mattock or shovel. 6 the child is found unharmed under the rubble. One of the servants points in wonder and the other, shovel in hand, beckons to the father and grandmother, while his mother stoops over him.
7 James, the infant son of Roger, Earl of Clare, who has died of a hernia. As women gather round the bier and, although the Countess of Warwick urged her not to, James’s mother asks St Thomas for a miracle. 8 James’s mother holding his body at the tomb, where the Holy water of St Thomas is applied, the father indicating the place.
9 Edwin of Berkshire at the tomb, lame and on crutches, with arms outstretched. A monk blesses Edwin, while his mother stands back with her hands clasped in prayer. There is a lectern with a book and a prominent money box. 10 Edwin stoops to make an offering, while his mother stands by, holding his crutches.
11 Elias, a monk from Reading, suffering from eye trouble or leprosy, meets two pilgrims and asks for holy water. 12 Elias, cured of leprosy (note the dappled pink spots on his skin), being examined by two physicians, while an abbot looks on and Elias puts his hands to his eyes. (The recorder of the miracles, Benedict, reports that watery eyes are an early sign of leprosy.) The physicians are holding a phial of urine up to the light, making a uroscopic examination, while Elias uncovers his arms and legs to show that his skin is clear. The large number of lepers shown in the miracle windows may be accounted for by the existence of a leper hospital at Harbledown, 1 mile NW of Canterbury.
The next eight panels 13-20 tell the story of William of Gloucester. William was working on the estate of Becket’s arch rival, Roger de Pont l’Évêque, Archbishop of York. No connection with Becket is shown in the window but it may be assumed that he prayed to St Thomas while his rescue was in progress. 13 William is buried when a trench, which he is digging to lay water pipes, collapses on him. 14 The priest is told 15 A woman reports that he is still alive. 16 A bailiff hears groans coming from the trench. 17 The priest organises a rescue party 18 The bailiff tells the priest 19 The villagers arrive with digging equipment. 20 William is exhumed, the hand of God being shown in the clouds above.
21-22 The panels at the bottom of the window show the Shrine when new. It is clear that offerings were expected from all pilgrims.
Ref. David Bell – A Guide’s Guide to Canterbury Cathedral §6.56
The Pilgrims’ Steps
As we leave the south side of Trinity Chapel, via the steps down towards the South Choir Aisle, take a moment to examine the steps themselves. These are the Pilgrims’ Steps. For over 300 years from 1220 (until the Reformation of Henry VIII swept it all away in 1538) pilgrims were expected to climb this last flight of steps to reach the Shrine of Thomas Becket on their knees. The groove worn into the stone steps by the knees of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims is clearly visible.
Take the Pilgrims’ Steps down to the X South Choir Aisle