Alan Crosby: Gloucester Cathedral's faces from the past

By Jon Bauckham, 18 June 2015 - 4:12pm

After last week's visit to Manchester Cathedral, Alan travels south to Gloucester Cathedral, where he spots some remarkable monuments

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 18 June 2015
Alan Crosby
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The monument to Thomas Machen and his wife, Christian, located inside Gloucester Cathedral (Photo: Alamy)

Visiting Gloucester Cathedral this week I spent some time studying the fine collection of monuments.

Edward II is there, a splendid alabaster figure looking much more peaceful than his turbulent life would imply. He was allegedly murdered at nearby Berkeley Castle in 1327, by a peculiarly horrible means – I won’t go into details!

And William the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert, Duke of Normandy, is also there. He died in Cardiff Castle in 1134, after 28 years as a prisoner of his youngest brother Henry I. He has a brightly-painted 13th-century wooden effigy.

But the monument I really liked was that of Thomas and Christian Machen, on the wall of the north aisle. Thomas, an alderman of Gloucester and three times mayor of the city, died on 18 October 1614 aged 74 and his wife followed him on 29 June 1615, aged 70.

Touchingly, the inscription notes that they “lived in the estate of marriage 50 yeares and had issue 7 sonnes and 6 daughters”. At the foot of the monument are four figures of young men and four of young women, all kneeling and wearing ruffs and black gowns, with other tiny figures representing those who died in infancy.

Above, lifelike statues of Thomas and Christian gaze at each other. He is red-faced, grey-haired and full-bearded, with a huge ruff around his neck and clad in the fine red gown of a city dignitary. Christian is serious-looking, wearing a black cap and black gown of mourning, and with a no less impressive ruff (how uncomfortable it must have been to wear them!)

The images look as though they were sculpted by somebody who knew them personally. Two old people whose faces hauntingly come down to us, three-dimensionally, from 400 years ago. Incredible.
 

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities

 

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