Context 152 - November 2017

C O N T E X T 1 5 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 7 15 Floorscape As we enter a great church our eyes are inevitably drawn upwards to arches, vaults, ribs and sculpture. Feasting our eyes on these treasures, we are too all prone to ignore the ancient floors beneath our feet. But if we do look down, we will see a variety of types of medieval floors, including intricate mosaics, patterned tiles, stone paving and commemorative ledger stones. Medieval floors have suffered a great deal. Commemorative slabs were inserted into earlier pavings. New fashions have had a massive impact, with old paving swept away to accommodate patterned marble floors and, in theVictorian period, encaustic tiles.Worn pavements can be ruthlessly replaced. Nevertheless, a good deal of medieval flooring remains, albeit but a fraction of what once existed.The Ashmolean possesses a tile with a raised relief pattern dating from c1000-1050, which was found near Oxford Cathedral.At Durham, a medieval pavement survives on the platform where St Cuthbert’s shrine stood.The layout of the first phase of sandstone paving stones preserves the apsidal form of the original east end dating from the 1090s. The platform was enlarged and squared up when the Chapel of Nine Altars replaced the original east end.The additional paving stones are smaller and slightly paler, although still formed of the same sandstone. The especially sacred areas of great churches could be adorned with particularly ornate and splendid floors. DAVID HARRISON Floors of the great medieval churches Mosaics, patterned tiles, stone paving and commemorative stones are among the treasures that can be found underfoot, needing to be appreciated and protected, in Britain’s great churches. William of Malmesbury, a contemporary, stressed the beauty of the marble pavement of the early 12th-century choir of Canterbury Cathedral.The choir was destroyed by fire, but according to Christopher Norton parts of the pavement were relaid in the 1180s to form the surround to Becket’s shrine. The most impressive and costly floors created in medieval England are the ‘Cosmati’ pavements at Westminster Abbey, the finest of which is found in the sanctuary in front of the high altar. The pavement has been described as one of the pre-eminent works of art of medieval England. Unlike mosaics, where the stone pieces are all small cubes, Cosmatesque designs feature materials of different shapes fitted together to make a pattern in a style developed in Italy in the preceding two centuries.The materials included decorative stones (marbles and porphyries) and glass, laid in a bed of mortar. Some of the stones were acquired from Roman- period archaeological sites and re-cut to form the pieces. This intricate 13th-century mosaic floor lay hidden under carpet to protect its fragile surface, away from public view for over a hundred years, until a two-year restoration project (2008–10) by the abbey brought it back to life. In the north of England another, less expensive form of geometrical mosaic pavement was introduced in the 13th century in Cistercian monasteries. This consisted of a combination of different tile shapes with alternating The floor of Canterbury Cathedral’s Trinity Chapel with roundels (bottom right) which were probably relaid in the 1180 and (far left) the feretory (area where relics were kept) at Durham Cathedral. The Durham paving preserves the layout of the Romanesque apses.

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