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Guild Chapel Stratford face

Face to face with the past at the Guild Chapel

This post features the Guild Chapel in Stratford, one of many fine old buildings in the town. It is situated next door to Shakespeare’s last house ‘New Place’ on the corner of Chapel lane and Church street.

R0013708_Nash's House & New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

(Photo taken by Traveller‧旅人 on Flickr : Picture shows Guild Chapel on the left, Nash’s house is to the right & the garden area in the middle is where Shakespeare’s house used to be. The black and white beamed building on the other side of the road is the Falcon Hotel which I can recommend!)

The Guild Chapel dates from 1269 when the Bishop of Worcester allowed the establishment of  a Chapel and hospital. In the following centuries the Guild of the Holy Cross grew in size and influence, becoming a significant landowner in the town of Stratford and attracting many followers.

Postcards - Stratford

(Photo of old postcard showing Guild Chapel taken from mrpb27 on Flickr )

Hugh Clopton.

The chapel took on much of its present form in the 1490’s when an ex-resident paid for extensive re-building. Hugh Clopton was born in Clopton near Stratford in about 1440, he was apprenticed as a mercer in London in 1456 and by 1491 he had achieved the position of Mayor of London.

Despite his success he never forgot his roots in Stratford and he was responsible for building New Place which was purchased by Shakespeare in 1597. He is also credited with building Stratfords stone bridge over the Avon which still bears his name.

Clopton Bridge

(Photo of Clopton Bridge by Nickscape on Flickr : also see his website here)

Clopton funded  extensive development of the Guild Chapel in the 1490’s when the tower and nave were built  and the wall paintings were competed.

The wall paintings

Prior to the reformation, Church interiors in England would have looked quite different to those we see today, being full of colour and religious drama. Ordinary people were active in the maintenance and management of the Church and reading about these times one gets a feeling that this was an important part of community life.

The Guild Chapel would have been no different – imagine how it would have looked when brightly painted with coloured images of saints favoured by the local people.  The most impressive painting was above the chancel arch – this showed a picture of doom with its vivid images of heaven and of sinners falling into hell.

This account from Simon Schama’s history of Britain gives a good idea of how many churches would have changed at this time.

In 1573 the Guild Chapel was attacked , many of the Statues were smashed ( is this where the expression to ‘de-face’ originated?) and the wall paintings were painted over. In churches throughout England, religious wall paintings were being replaced by the Queens coat of arms, ones loyalties in future were expected to be directed towards the Tudor State.

William Shakespeare was aged 9 at the time the Chapel was defaced, one wonders how his family who were surely familiar with the Chapel, must have felt about the changes being imposed upon it.

The Chapel today

As mentioned at the top of the post, the Chapel is well worth a visit today. Although the ravages of past neglect are still apparent, one can easily make out the outlines and colours of many of the original wall paintings. With a little imagination it is possible to get a feel for how things used to be (Nash’s House – next to New place contains illustrations of how the chapel would have looked).

A face from the past that survived the attempt to erase it

I have added some pictures to the post so that you can get an idea of what it is like here. It is possible to see the outlines of figures and to make out faces still vaguely present on the walls. If  you want to see more about the chapel then there are some links below – if you visit then do remember to add a donation to the Chapel funds and help to preserve this for future visitors.

I am keen to find more defaced images – if you know of any, please let me know.

Photo montage : Guild Chapel

Photo montage : Guild Chapel - click image to magnify (takes a second or two to download)

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The Friends of the Guild Chapel Stratford-on-Avon

Guild Chapel Paintings virtual reconstruction project

See also

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