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The Medieval Chantry in England ed. by Julian M. Luxford and John McNeill (review)

From: The Catholic Historical Review
Volume 99, Number 3, July 2013
pp. 540-541 | 10.1353/cat.2013.0176

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Reviewed by
The Medieval Chantry in England. Edited by Julian M. Luxford and John McNeill. (Leeds, UK: Maney Publishing and the British Archaeological Association. Distrib. David Brown Book Company, Oakville, CT. 2012. Pp. x, 313. $88.00. ISBN 978-1-907975-16-5.)

The chantry was a foundation and endowment of a Mass by one or more benefactors, to be celebrated at an altar, for the souls of the founders and other specified persons. The religious basis for the foundation of a chantry concerned medieval beliefs in the afterlife, specifically the idea of purgatory, which by the late-medieval period had come to dominate both the religious beliefs of medieval society and its artistic and architectural representations. The study of chantries and chantry chapels has much to offer the student of medieval history and religion, and overall this volume has much to contribute here. Eleven essays are presented in this volume and lead the reader through a wide spectrum of monuments, foundations, and patterns of patronage. Individual papers include a consideration of the earliest evidence for chantry foundation, the origins of stone-cage chapels, royal patronage and commemorative architecture, the role and impact of chantry foundation in the late-medieval parish, and the provision of music and textiles. A series of papers focuses on specific and particularly impressive monuments and includes those founded for William and Abbot Islip's monument at Westminster Abbey. The book concludes with an important reassessment of the eventual dissolution and suppression of chantries in the mid-sixteenth century, and the wider implications for both church and society.

Overall, this well-illustrated book offers a scholarly and fresh approach to the historical and architectural study of medieval chantries. It is admittedly a little staid in places. There is, for instance, perhaps too much focus on some of the more impressive monuments that are largely unrepresentative of the majority of medieval foundations. The volume also largely ignores much recent work that has tended to focus on archaeological, theoretical, and spatial applications to chantry chapels and has revealed much about how such monuments worked in practice, as well as their wider relationship to church space and lay piety. The editors' claim to examine chantries "in the round" is perhaps a little misleading since a more balanced volume might have reflected the broader academic interest in medieval chantries beyond the bounds of architectural history. For example, further contributions [End Page 540] might have considered these monuments as cultural resource, a subject that has received very little attention. Many lesser-known (and studied) chapels, particularly those languishing in rural parishes, are in a high state of disrepair, often neglected academically as well as in terms of care, conservation, and preservation. Since this volume is published under the auspices of the British Archaeological Association, this might be deemed particularly appropriate. These caveats and limitations aside, however, the volume provides a valuable art-historical study of an important medieval religious monument and is a useful contribution to the wider body of recent work on the subject.

Simon Roffey
University of Winchester