Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Edward Pugin’s Tomb of Cardinal Wiseman

This article about the tomb of Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman, a work of Edward Pugin, was first published in the November 2015 issue of the magazine of Westminster Cathedral Oremus. The author, Mr Roderick O’Donnell, very kindly submitted it to NLM for republication; it is here reproduced by permission of Oremus, and the editor, Mr Dylan Parry, with our thanks.

Cardinal Wiseman’s tomb is one of the least known works of art in Westminster Cathedral. It was designed by the architect EW Pugin. Since 1907 it has been housed in the crypt of the cathedral, and is placed directly under the high altar.

This is a so-called ‘altar tomb’, set on a plinth and supporting a ‘table’ or mensa, with its recumbent effigy, with narrative panels round the sides. It was clearly meant to be free-standing, and its inscription and sculpture are meant to be read. It can be attributed to the sculptor was RL Boulton, a craftsman much employed by EW Pugin in the 1860s. Pugin would have provided the drawings for the figurative and the architectural sculpture, the sculptor and his workshop being the executors of Pugin’s scheme. As such the work not signed. Wiseman’s figure and other relief sculptures are worked in statuary marble. But the moulding with the inscription and the base plinth are in a red-orange marble, probably Cork Red, with black marble colonettes at the angles, perhaps a Kilkenny black. The framing of the sculpted panels, the projecting niches and the deeply-cut frieze and capitals are in alabaster. Colour contrasts were therefore intended, although the colouring of the carving, such as would have occurred in the Middle Ages, is not attempted.

Around the Mensa top of the tomb is the inscription: ‘Hic in pace Christi requiescit Nicolaus titulo S[anc]tae Pudentianae S.[acrae] R.[omanae] Ecc.[lesiae] presbyter Cardinalis Wiseman/Primus Eccles[iae] Westmonasteriensis archie[piscopus] Natus die 3 Augusti/1802 Defunctus die 15 Februarii 1865 E[pisoco]patus sui anno Vigesimo quinto omnia pro Xto in vita agens omnia per Xtum/in morte sperans cujus animae propitietur Deus’ which translated is ‘Here in the peace of Christ lies Nicholas, under the title of [the church of] St Pudentiana, Cardinal-priest of the Holy Roman Church, Wiseman/ First archbishop of Westminster. Born 3 August 1802, died 15 February 1865 in the twenty-eighth year of his episcopacy in life doing all things for Christ [and] in death hoping all things through Christ, on whose soul may God be merciful.’

The slightly over life–size recumbent figure of the archbishop is vested for Mass with a chasuble worn over a dalmatic and both over an alb ‘apparelled’ with fleurs-de-lys. The vestments are strikingly of the full Gothic form championed by Augustus Welby Pugin and already under the ban of those like Manning who wished to re-introduce the so-called Roman chasuble. He is mitred, gloved and slippered, the tip of his metropolitan cross clasped by a dragon at his feet, with angels at his pillowed head. (EW Pugin particularly complimented Boulton on his angels.) Wiseman also wears the pallium.

On the short return under a cardinal’s much tasselled hat is Wiseman’s coat of arms, with his motto as archbishop, ‘Omnia pro Christo’ (All things for Christ). The other one has a seated, mitred and coped St Nicholas of Myra, his patron, with the three boys he saved (from boiling) in a vat, with a large classical wreath behind. Both are set within quatrefoils.

Narrative panels on either side of seated saints or patrons are found on the long sides. These have a particular point to make, both about Wiseman and about the role of a metropolitan bishop and its relationship to the Holy See. A late source describes them as scenes from lives of the two saints, but the iconography should perhaps be read with a double meaning, with the life of the saint prefiguring or anticipating that of Wiseman.

Chronologically they begin with young cleric in academic dress or religious habit kneeling before a seated and ceremonially hatted cardinal, or perhaps a pope on an X-framed chair; or it might be the student Wiseman. Then, under a projecting niche is seated the Cardinal in alabaster, with the same features of the bishop or pope in the previous panel. It may be St Edmund of Canterbury, to whom Wiseman had a devotion; in 1853 he procured some of his relics from his burial place at Pontigny in France. The next quatrefoil has a kneeling and vested bishop, now evidently a portrait of Wiseman, being receiving a pallium from the pope, as Wiseman did from Pope Pius IX did on 3 October 1850.

The answering long side has the seated bishop as Metropolitan presiding over the bishops seated around, all vested in copes and mitres; or it might be Wiseman presiding at the Synod of Oscott (1852). The niched panel shows the enthroned St Thomas-à-Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, vested for Mass, grasping the sword of his martyrdom, and wearing the so called ‘Becket mitre’ from the Cathedral Treasury, now on loan to the Victoria & Albert Museum.The next quatrefoil has the death of a bishop, clearly not Becket’s death, but Wiseman’s. He lies on a bed with book of the Gospels on his knees. He is dressed with pectoral cross and chain fully looped over his shoulders, attended by his canons and by an acolyte holding his metropolitan cross. The details follow the record of his death made by Canon Morris, his secretary.

The tomb was conceived to stand inside a cathedral to be built in Wiseman’s memory. The Dublin Builder said the architect was to be Edward Pugin. £16000 was subscribed to this end at the first public meeting. However the new archbishop, Manning, had pastoral priorities quite other than cathedral-building, and he allowed the project to stall. Wiseman’s burial took place at St Mary’s Cemetery Kensal Green, where this monument was housed in what the decorous language of the day called ‘a chamber of glass.’

Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875) was a brilliant designer in the small scale, such as altars and tombs, beginning with his father’s at Ramsgate (1853). He would have been aware of his father’s difficult relationship with Wiseman as President of Oscott College and as Vicar Apostolic in the Midlands, and then in London, where Wiseman triumphantly opened Pugin’s St George’s Cathedral Southwark in 1848. In 1852 AW Pugin died, leaving his eighteen-year old son to continue the practice. The young architect might have thought his star ascendant when in 1858 Wiseman invested him with his regalia as Knight of St Sylvester, after winning the competition to build the Junior Seminary at Ushaw. He attended the Cardinal’s soiree receptions and even entertained him at his house St Augustine’s Grange, Ramsgate in 1863. But he wrote candidly to Wiseman in 1862 to complain of lack of work in the new Westminster archdiocese, which he ascribed to ‘the unjust animosity of Dr Manning and the Bayswater clique.’ As Manning was by that time more than Wiseman’s right-hand-man, this was unfortunate. Indeed as Manning’s biographer was to put it, ‘Gothic architecture, together with the Pugins and their traditions, was exiled from the diocese of Westminster.’

Dr Roderick O’Donnell is an Architectural Historian and a member of Westminster Cathedral’s Art and Architecture Committee.

The following images were not included in the original article; they are here reproduced from Oremus’ flickr account, again, with their kind permission and our gratitude.

Card. Wiseman receiving his pallium from Bl. Pope Pius IX 
Card. Wiseman’s arms
Bishops in Council
St Thomas-à-Becket
The Death of Card. Wiseman
The Cardinal in effigy with an angel 
St Nicholas

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