January 2016: Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, Winchester Cathedral.

Our visit to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as part of our Holy Land tour has led to an interest (or obsession, as some would say) with places around Europe that are modelled on, or inspired by, that very sacred place. Pages on locations in Bologna, Bruges, Florence (and others) are in preparation; much nearer home is this chapel in Winchester, so to whet appetites here's a short report on it. 


'Easter sepulchres', traditionally used for rituals remembering the Crucifixion and Resurrection, were once common features in English churches and cathedrals. Sadly, very few are left. This chapel is one that remains, and it contains some of the finest early wall painting in the country. 
  The chapel was created under Bishop Henry of Blois (1129 - 1171) And the earliest paintings date from this time. Around 1220 architectural changes necessitated a scheme of redecoration. It has been suggested that another bishop was behind the changes, Peter des Roches, (Bishop 1205 - 1238) who had been a significant figure in the crusades. Peter's interests were military rather than ecclesiastical and he led troops into battle on several occasions, perhaps putting more recent bishops to shame. 
  In the 1960s the 13th century wall paintings were taken down for restoration, and on the east wall the original twelfth century paintings were discovered. The lower painting shows the entombment; above that is the deposition from the cross. The image of Christ on the vault above is from the 13th century. 
  On the west wall the 13th century deposition and entombment are displayed. the problem is that they are almost impossible to see.  The small door to the chapel on the right of the picture above is locked, and however hard you crane over the tomb before the opening on the left,  you can't really see it. However, a plea to a friendly cleric was successful: a verger was summoned, and after some confusion (no-one could quite work out how the lock worked) the door was opened! 13th century images below. 

The south wall of the chapel has more 13th century paintings, showing the entry into Jerusalem, the raising of Lazarus, the harrowing of Hell and Noli Mi Tangere. There isn't a lot left of these, and they are hard to make out. here's the entry into Jerusalem. On the right below, is a particularly interesting detail from the twelfth century entombment - the city of Jerusalem, complete with the Holy Sepulchre.

February: an aside.
In Winchester there is a residential road called Sleepers Hill that has an extraordinary history. The Lanercost Chronicle, a medieval manuscript relating English history, Describes how Bishop Peter des Roches was out hunting (an important duty of Bishops) on Sleepers Hill when he encountered a splendid house he had never seen before. He was invited in, and found King Arthur and his knights at dinner. he was invited to join them. des Roches was worried that no-one would believe him, so Arthur granted him a magic trick: whenever he wanted, he could open his hand and a butterfly would fly out. He was called the 'Butterfly Bishop' from then on.
  The legend that Arthur and his knights sleep here, ready to come and save England when needed, has persisted until quite recent times. What I find interesting is the link between des Roches the Crusader, seeking to reclaim Jerusalem, and the Arthurian legends of Knights seeking the Holy Grail. 


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