Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic
Our plan initially was to visit Winchester Cathedral but when we checked the opening hours we found that the cathedral was closed all week for university graduations. Instead, we went to Romsey to visit the Romsey Abbey and Mottisfont Abbey.
Romsey Abbey is beautiful though not as big as the cathedrals. It has been a place of worship for over 1100 years with almost 900 years in this building. The original Abbey dates from c.907 and was refounded in 967 as a Benedictine Abbey for nuns. It survived the monastic dissolution when the four guardians of the Abbey bought the church from Henry VIII for £100. The deed of sale is one of the treasures of the Abbey and is on display. Most of the church was built in the Norman style with round arches. Early English arches, three stories high were later added between 1120 and 1250. The Abbey has many chapels.
St Anne’s chapel where, behind the altar, is the older of the Saxon Roods (or crosses) dating from about the year 960. Anne was the mother of Mary.
St. Ethelflaeda’s Chapel is named after the abbess of the abbey in the 10th century and her ancient tomb is here with her crozier down the side. St. Ethelflaeda is one of the saints we came across during the research we did for the Queen’s Robing Room in Westminster Palace, a couple of years ago.
On the right side of St Mary’s chapel is a 12th-century wall painting. The ‘Romsey Rose’ was found behind this painting.
In St George’s chapel is the 2013 sculpture of Christus Rex by Peter Eugene Ball over the altar. The floor tiles were made 700 years ago and some depict crusaders.
In St. Lawrence’s chapel we saw an Italian-style painted reredos from around 1525.
But the most moving chapel for me was the Chapel of St Nicholas which contains the grave of Earl Mountbatton of Burma. This is of particular interest to us as he was assassinated in August 1979 when we were last in the UK. We were walking in Wales at the time. It is one of those poignant moments of your life when you remember exactly where you were always when it happened. On the Broadlands pew there is an image of Lord Mountbatten and his wife and their coats of arms too. This pew was used by Lord Mountbatten until his death and is still used by members of his family. Also in this chapel is the St Barbe monument, a 13th century Purbeck marble effigy and a contemporary sculpture depicting St. Nicholas by Peter Eugene Ball.
Also in the Abbey is a beautifully embroidered curtain designed and made locally in 1961 showing saints and their traditional symbols.
One of the rarest gems in the country in the 11th-century rood (crucifix) which shows Jesus still alive on the cross with the ‘Hand of God’ coming down from above ready to receive him. This is a symbol used in Bayeux Tapestry.
Mottisfont Abbey is a National Trust property just north of Romsey. When Maud and Gilbert Russell arrived in 1934 she cunningly crafted this house from a medieval priory as well as setting out the beautiful riverside gardens. I particularly loved the gilded architraves and the flock wallpaper. The Whistler room was fantastic. The walls are all handpainted and give the amazing effect of being three dimensional. It is not until you get up really, really close that you can see it is really 2D. The velvet curtains add to the effect. Mrs Russell collected and supported the work of many artists. Just before war broke out in 1939, she transformed the original entrance hall into a large saloon. Rex Whistler was commissioned to paint this room in a way that would deceive the eye. The results were spectacular. Painted in a gothic style, the room light-heartedly reflects the building’s origins as a medieval priory.All columns, ledges or moulded plasterwork in this room are cunningly painted illusions, which create an extraordinary three-dimensional appearance. This extraordinary room was his last major piece. Whistler left to fight in 1944, but never returned, killed on active service in France.
An added bonus was an exhibition of Kaffe Fassett’s work. I knew he did fantastically coloured knitting but did not realise that he also does crochet and patchwork. The colours are amazing and inspiring. I particularly loved the frog tapestry. I miss being able to do this kind of work but it will have to wait until we get home.