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This church is one which I may call peculiarly well adapted for a lecture of the present kind. The changes which it has undergone are certainly of a very extraordinary kind, and have resulted—irrespective of later mutilations—in an entire transformation of its original plan and character, so that the first appearance of the church is thereby rendered not a little puzzling and contradictory. But a little further examination will show that they tell their own story pretty satisfactorily, and only require to be pointed out to carry their evidence with them. I am not driven, as at Llandaff and Dorchester, to leave many points still open to doubt and controversy, nor shall I be obliged, as at St. David's, to request your assent to propositions, which, were they not confirmed by undoubted architectural and documentary evidence, you might feel inclined at once to cast aside as paradoxical or impossible. The history of Leominster Church is curious indeed, but in no way difficult.
In treating of this building it will be desirable to adopt a less formal course than has been done on previous occasions. At Llandaff and St. David's, on account of the numerous and intricate changes which they have undergone, it was found necessary to keep the description and the history distinct; here, as at Malmsbury,2 the changes being of a much simpler description, the two may well be kept together. I shall therefore, after a brief notice of the general appearance of the church, proceed to a combined description and history of its several portions.
§ I.—General Outline, &c.
The West Front.—I had myself some general notion of what Leominster Church was like, before I had actually the pleasure of seeing it; but I think I should take a malicious delight in witnessing the successive puzzlings and changes of opinion which would assuredly
2 Ecclesiologist, xiii. p. 154.
be the lot of one who approached it in absolute ignorance of what he-was going to find. The first approach could hardly fail to be from the south-west; the eye of the visitor would be first caught by a large and stately west front, comprising a north-west tower, a huge central window, and on the south side what looks almost like the stump of another tower. A second glance will perhaps show that such is not the case, but he will still regret that the designer did not consult uniformity by the addition of so desirable a finish. He may by this time have perceived that the front he is contemplating is a mixture of various dates and styles, but he will as yet perceive nothing that will explain its real nature and history; he will still consider that the enormous central window is the west window of the nave, and that the tower terminates the north aisle; a small lean-to to the north may perhaps, among so many far more magnificent objects, pass altogether unobserved, at any rate it will not be looked on as more than a double aisle or similar excrescence. But upon that lean-to depends our visitor's chance of finding the key to the history of the building; if, as is most probable, attracted by the splendour of some of the noblest Decorated work in England, he takes the turn to the south, he must still for a while remain ignorant of it. He will there pass along a range of windows of almost unparalleled splendour, till he comes to the east end of the aisle, where, instead of a goodly chancel stretching beyond, his aspirations will be cut short by a dead, ugly wall, with two or three unsightly windows irregularly pierced in it. It requires no long process of thought to discover that the church is imperfect; but the destroyed portion might well have consisted of a choir prolonged from the central portion of the west front, and continuations of the Decorated south side and of that terminated by the tower might well figure as aisles by the side of it. The arrangements of the churchyard will now compel him to retrace his steps, and pass along by the west front, to reach the north side. He will now perceive that the lean-to excrescence which he had so cavalierly passed byis of somewhat more importance than he was at first inclined to allow to it; it is at least as old as anything in the church, clearly belonging to the Romanesque lower portion of the tower. Turning round the north-west corner, a new light will flash upon his mind: the lean-to is hardly a double aisle, the building terminated by the tower is hardly an aisle at all; at least it rises above the lower one with unusual bulk and majesty, furnished withal with a genuine Norman clerestory, no very common adjunct to a subordinate portion of a church. Our inquirer will now begin to understand, what a visit to the interior will make positively certain, that the building terminated by the tower is the real original nave, and that it is the splendid structure to the south of it and not the humble lean-to cowering under its shadow to the north, which forms the true anomaly and excrescence. In short, Leominster Church consists of the western limb of a large cruciform conventual church, whose southern aisle has given way to a magnificent structure almost entitled to be considered as, what it practically is, a distinct, and, in some respects, more beautiful church. The tower stands engaged at the west end of the nave, the original aisle, with its lean-to roof, remaining to the north of it.
§ II.—The Norman Church.
Date And Extent.—The first event in the history of Leominster which concerns my present subject is the restoration of the monastery by Henry I. in 1125. Previous to that event the house had gone through various vicissitudes, it had changed its order and even its sex, and appears to have been twice altogether suppressed, first during the Danish wars, and again shortly after the Norman conquest. King Henry re-founded it as a cell to his new abbey of Reading, and we may be perfectly sure that the oldest portions of the present church were erected in connexion with that foundation. Indeed the church appears to have been built with unusual rapidity, as several minor altars are mentioned as having been consecrated shortly after 1130. Yet, as these would probably be in the eastern part of the church, we may still put the completion of the nave, and especially of the west front, where, as we shall see, the style is somewhat later, ten or even twenty years later. In so saying I am sorry to have to run counter to the authority of an anonymous guide-book which I purchased during my stay in Leominster, where the author soars quite beyond King Henry in the twelfth, and even King Merwald in the seventh century, arguing against certain comparatively reasonable antiquaries who had attributed to this part of of the church an Anglo-Saxon origin, and assigning it to some indefinite period before St. David's removal from Caerleon.3
3 "The two parts of which that style of building now called 'Saxon' is composed existed in this island centuries before their arrival. The round arch was the ingenious contrivance which distinguished the architecture of the Romans, who left behind them many beautiful specimens of it: to the Britons England is indebted for the massive circular column, the art of constructing which they imported with them from Asia, their original country. So that although the exact time in which the back aisle, or the old church of Leominster, was erected cannot now be ascertained, yet, instead of being referable to a Saxon origin, it is, strictly speaking, an assemblage, or a union, of two of the most ancient styles of architecture ever practised in Great Britain, and may vie, for the honour of antiquity, with the oldest religious edifice now existing in this island. The gable-roofed windows in the north side are of British construction, and resemble the windows of churches in Wales, which are known to have existed prior to the commencement of the Saxon heptarchy. This circumstance, joined to others, gives an air of plausibility to the traditionary report, which assigns to this church, Llan-llienu or Llan-lleonau, not only an aera contemporary with the archiepiscopal or metropolitan church of Caerleon or Caer-lleonau, but also a presidency over the suffragan churches of the northern, as the latter had over the southern, district of Gwenta, or Venta, resembling it as well in the dignity of its appropriation, as in the etymology of its name. Be this as it may, it is certain that the old church of Leominster existed many years before the foundation of the present cathedral of Hereford was laid, and is said to have been the capital or mother church of this district, so far back as the year 670, when Wulphere, after whose name this hundred is supposed to have been denominated Woolphy, reigned over Mercia."—pp. 147, 8.
The Romanesque church, as erected by, or at least through, Henry I., was a minster of the second order, of the complete cathedral type, and of considerable size, the nave measuring about 125 feet. It may rank, in point of size, with such churches as Romsey Abbey and Oxford Cathedral. The nave now alone remains, the transepts and choir having been destroyed at the Dissolution, so soon indeed that they had vanished before Leland's visit to the town. That writer speaks of the "church of the priory" having joined to the east end of the "parish church" and having been " but a small thing." I think this expression has been misunderstood, as if the priory church and the parish church had been two distinct structures. I conceive that by the parish church Leland means the nave and its appendages; and by the "church of the priory" the choir and other parts east of the rood-loft; it is simply the old story of the nave forming the parish church, while the choir formed the exclusive possession of the monks. The parochial part in such cases was left untouched at the dissolution, while the monastic or collegiate portion shared various fates according to the disposition of thoseinto whose hands itcame. Thus at Waltham, Malmsbury, Fotheringhay, and we may add Leominster, it was altogether destroyed; at Howden and Monkton simply ruined; at Dorchester and Tewkesbury, purchased and added to the parish church. And in the case of Dorchester we find an exact parallel to Leland's expression of "the church of the priory" to denote the choir: Richard Beauforest in his will bequeaths "the abbey church"4 to the parishioners, though I believe there is no doubt that his benefaction extended solely to the choir, and that they were already in possession of the nave.
From Leland's expression that this priory church was "a small thing," I think we may infer that the eastern limb, as in many Norman churches, consisted merely of a short presbytery. If it had no greater projection than those of Kirkstall or Buildwas, it might well be called
* Addington's Dorchester, p. 98.