Founded in 1135 and dissolved in 1539, Haughmond Abbey, Shropshire, is the ruin of the two-cloistered Augustinian abbey of St John the Evangelist which had been adapted into a private residence in the 16th century. The chapter house is situated on the east side of the northern cloister. The entrance to the chapter house is framed by the sculptures of 8 saints:
- St Augustine;
- St Thomas Becket;
- St Catherine of Alexandria;
- St John the Baptist;
- St John the Evangelist;
- St Margaret of Antoich;
- St Winifred;
- St Michael.
The chapter house displayed the monastic identity of the community through this pantheon of saints.
In the chapter house, abutting the south transept of the church, are a fine collection of 13th/14th-century medieval mortuary monuments collected from amidst the ruins, possibly from the church. Presumably these are among the recumbent grave-covers of wealthy patrons of the abbey, initially installed within the monastic church.
As an assemblage, these mute stones denote a community and its patrons, dislocated and displayed as a museum collection but without specific identities. Individually, they reveal the diversity of memorial stones. One striking one bears a false-relief Lombardic script framed by two crosses.
This is a striking floriated cross with a heraldic shield, slung from the cross by its strap. I really like the physicality evoked by the hanging shield here. I haven’t seen this elsewhere and it is truly distinctive in evoking a displayed piece of armour; testament to the status and faith of the commemorated person.
Now this is the odd thing: the leopard that adorned the shield had been prepared on a different block of stone and inserted into the shield. Perhaps the original beast was the wrong one or was damaged in transit, or during installation, and needed to be replaced? It is now on display in the abbey museum.
There are two sarcophagi, one near intact, one present only through the head-niche end.
Then there is a simple cross upon a rough grave-slab. Even though worn, this is clearly evidence of the less sophisticated memorials that would have once populated the abbey church. There are other rough fragments too.
Together this neat little assemblage operates ineffectually in heritage interpretation terms: there is nothing on site or in the handbook to explain their form or date. Still, together they create a presence of stone identities at the heart of the abbey, hinting to every visitor of the many graves populating the abbey space.