Monday, May 15, 2006

The Abbot's Chair

I recently took a trip back to my home town of Wells in England. While there, I visited the Bishop's Palace which is open to the public. One of the many interesting things I saw there was this chair, believed to have been made around 1600 CE.

The guide book describes it as "a fine example of wood turning and would have had a swivel writing table fixed to the arm rests."

It is an unusual three legged chair with many connecting stretchers and spindles. It is highly decorated with 'finials' added to the side of many of the structural components, and captive rings incorporated in many of the short horizontal spacers. It must be a nightmare to keep clean and polished. I wish I could ask my grandmother who was a domestic servant at the Palace when she was young.

The history of this chair is a little uncertain. The guide book says it was made sixty years after Abbot Whiting was martyred (1539) and handed down from the Abbot's sister. In 1824 it was given to Bishop Law as an heirloom to the See and has been at the Palace ever since.

I find the connection and date to the Abbot's sister difficult to believe. He was nearly 80 at the time of his death, so sixty years later it is unlikely that any sister of his would still be alive. It would be really nice to be able to track down any original references to this chair to learn more about its construction.

Abbot Whiting's death was rather gruesome. Having fallen foul of the Crown during the dissolution of the monasteries, he was dragged on a hurdle to Glastonbury Tor where he was hanged, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered. His head was stuck on a spike above his abbey gateway, and his quarters, boiled in pitch, were displayed in nearby towns.

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