English Cathedrals and Antiquities

‘The Most Remarkable Things’:

English Cathedrals and Antiquities.


The Study of our National Antiquities is a Subject so noble in it self, and of such extraordinary Use and Advantage, that it may and ought to be thought something strange, that ‘tis not more cultivated and encourag’d…

John Marsham, Monasticon Anglicanum (London, 1655), preface.


The Antiquities of this Church, upon my first searches into them, appeared to me so very remarkable…They are not to be look’d upon as only a bare Narrative of what has happen’d to be done in one particular Church, but may be made sure of as Materials towards a General History of our English Church.

Nicholas Battely, The Antiquities of Canterbury (London, 1703), preface.


Monasticon 38 (also for postcard)

Illustration of a cathedral, page 38 of the 1655 edition of Sir William Dugdale’s Monasticon Anglicanum. Dugdale includes several detailed drawings of cathedral exteriors in his work.


From Henry VIII’s split with Catholicism between 1532 and 1534 to religious persecution across Britain led by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), instability has plagued religious life in England throughout history. As religious tensions and warfare increased in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, antiquarian scholars hoped to protect England’s religious past from destruction through the documentation of cathedral structures, histories, and original papers. They believed that the study of religious orders and worship sites did not necessarily suggest a desire for a return to Catholicism, but instead a hope of preserving and learning from the past.


Indeed, Catholicism is an essential element of English history, due not only to high-ranking Church officials’ association with royalty, but also to the Church’s influence on everyday citizens. Catholic cathedrals were not solely structures of worship, but rather economic, governmental, religious, and educational centers of cities and towns. Almost all elements of town life – lands, markets, court systems, schools – fell under the control of Church leaders. Even after the dissolution of English monasteries by Henry VIII and the conversion of many cathedrals to the Church of England, these religious centers continued to play a similarly large role in English life. The combination of the cathedral as a structure of beauty and as a center of everyday life likely led antiquary Simon Gunton to deem them some of “the most remarkable things.”


The Edward Worth Library contains copies of several books that describe religious history in England and demonstrate the essential role it played in creating English society as we know it. These works often contain items such as descriptions of cathedrals, lists of Church leaders, explanations of religious orders, and copies of documents in the possession of the Church. Many of these books also include illustrations. This exhibit documents these works and shows the important part they play in English history.


Monasticon Anglicanum (1655): The Launch of a Field of Research


William Dugdale - wiki commons

Sir William Dugdale (1605-1686), author of the Monasticon Anglicanum, a book that would revolutionize monastic study. (Wiki Commons, available online at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_Sir_William_Dugdale_by_Sylvester_Harding.jpg)


In 1655, Sir William Dugdale (1605-1686), an antiquary from Warwickshire, published his first book: a collection of short histories, images, and charters relating to English monasteries and religious orders. He likely did not know that this publication, known as the Monasticon Anglicanum, would be remembered centuries later for dramatically altering both religious research and greater views of English history.


Until the publication of the Monasticon, English society viewed monasteries as a subject of taboo. During the Elizabethan Era (1558-1603), English citizens, glad to be free of the turmoil present during the rebellion led by the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), generally saw monasteries as symbols of the problematic “old religion.” Monasteries evoked connotations not of religious devotion, but instead of superstition and laziness. Due to this negative reputation of monasteries, antiquaries in the Elizabethan Era rarely allowed their findings to reach the printing press.


At the same time, religious structures faced the threat of destruction. As the seats of bishops, cathedrals were obvious targets for violent iconoclasts. In addition, many monasteries and cathedrals had already been damaged or financially weakened by troops of King Henry VIII (1491-1547) and his chief minister Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540), who hoped to eliminate Catholicism. Dugdale, like other antiquarians, feared that similar events would occur under future Protestant rule.


Motivated by a desire to preserve the history associated with religious buildings, Dugdale, accompanied by a draughtsman named William Sedgwick (1610-1669), began a mission to document the locations, histories, and antiquities of English monasteries, cathedrals, and priories. After visiting these sites, Dugdale enlisted the help of antiquarian Roger Dodsworth (1585-1654) in order to gain access to additional monastic records. After years of research, Dugdale had enough material to publish two folio volumes, both of which compose the Monasticon.


Dugdale includes a variety of information within his work. He splits the Monasticon into numerous sections, each dedicated to a different Catholic religious order. He gives a brief history of each order as well as descriptions and lists of associated cathedrals, priories, monasteries, nunneries, deans, bishops, and prebendaries. He also provides copies of original deeds and charters in the possession of these orders. The Monasticon includes several images, generally of monks in religious garb, cathedral exteriors, and cathedral floor maps.


Monasticon Monk edited

Illustration of a Benedictine monk, from the first few pages of the 1718 edition. Dugdale provides numerous images of monks and nuns in traditional religious garb.


The Monasticon did not receive a warm welcome in English society. It had a small audience and evoked protests from scholars and politicians who claimed that Dugdale hoped to reinstate Catholicism. These accusations may be understandable, as readers of the Monasticon see that, although Dugdale never directly condones Catholicism, he does use “Catholic-friendly” phrasing such as, “Who will not admire that 30 English Saxon Kings and Queens, contemning the Allurements of the World, should, within the Space of 200 Years, embrace a religious Solitude? Who does not admire their magnificent Profusion in founding of Monasteries?”


Despite this initial outcry, the Monasticon became known as one of the greatest antiquarian works of all time. It established monastic history as a legitimate topic of study. Thanks to its inclusion of many church documents, it revealed the importance of charters as a primary source for understanding medieval history. In addition, it provided readers with a better understanding of the huge role monasteries played in everyday life as well as the large scale of their territorial possessions. Dugdale reveals that the study of monasteries is not a study of superstition, but rather of an essential aspect of English history.


The Edward Worth Library houses two copies of the Monasticon: a Latin original in three volumes, the first published in 1655, and an abridged English version published in 1718. The translator who published the English version, antiquary John Stevens (c. 1662-1726), claims that his work contains a word-for-word translation of all the information relating to the histories of various orders and their major sites of worship. However, he acknowledges in the preface that the inclusion all charters and deeds would create too lengthy of a book. Therefore, although the translation contains many of the titles and important sections of charters, it is not an exact replica of the original.


For more information on the Monasticon Anglicanum, please see our Book of the Month exhibition for August 2016.


Continuing Monastic Study: A Supplement by John Stevens (1722)


stevens facing 303 edited

Floor plan of Chester Cathedral, facing page 303 of volume I of Stevens’ work. Notice the detailed key and scale.


Dugdale’s work not only revolutionized many scholars’ view of monasteries, but also started a trend of monastic study. Shortly after translating the Monasticon into English, antiquary and translator John Stevens published a two-volume supplement entitled The history of the antient abbeys, monasteries, hospitals, cathedral and collegiate churches. This work, formatted in the style of the Monasticon, contains 500 additional monastic charters in English translation. Unlike Dugdale, Stevens discusses the mendicant orders and includes biographical accounts of monastic writers. He also is the first author to reject the separation of monastic history into pre- and post-Reformation categories.


In this work, Stevens presents information, but does not give an interpretation of the right and wrong of monasteries and/or Catholicism. As an open Jacobite, Stevens likely recognized that any sign of bias would lead English citizens to regard his work as a piece of propaganda reflecting his personal favoring of Catholicism. By copying the almost scientific format of the Monasticon and avoiding obvious statements of opinion, Stevens maintains his stance as an objective writer.


Stevens’ work did receive criticism in another form. Many academic purists disapproved of Stevens’ translation of original Latin documents into English. However, the presentation of documents in English allowed these primary source materials to reach a wider audience, including citizens who were not religious scholars.


Like Dugdale, Stevens gives a brief description and history of his featured religious orders. He then provides lists and some descriptions of worship sites and key leaders.


stevens 45 edited

Catalogue of monasteries, priories, nunneries, hospitals, and cells of the Diocese of York, page 45 of volume I. Stevens includes similar catalogues for all major English dioceses. The extensive length of these lists demonstrates the large influence of the Church.


The work contains numerous images, mainly drawings of monks and foldouts of cathedral exteriors and floor plans.


stevens facing 89 postcard

Illustration of a Franciscan friar, facing page 89 of volume I. Like he does here, as Stevens catalogues each religious order, he provides a sample image of a monk and/or nun in traditional clothing.


Stevens also includes several church documents, such as charters and inventories. These items help explain the Church’s role in the community as well as the extent of its wealth. For instance, the inventory shown below illustrates the large amount of wealth associated with one cathedral. In addition, because the inventory includes items such as farmland, it demonstrates that the Church’s influence extended beyond cathedral walls. Many churches took similar inventories between 1538 and 1542 upon the request of King Henry VIII, who hoped to divide up Church lands in order to weaken Catholicism.


stevens 486 edited

Sample inventory, page 486 of volume I. This inventory lists the possessions of a Benedictine monastery prior to its dissolution by King Henry VIII. Although the items shown on this list are mainly articles of clothing, similar inventories may include other items within the cathedral and/or exterior landholdings.


Narrowing the Focus: The History of the Church of Peterburgh (1686)


peterborough back of book edited

Illustration of Peterburgh (now known as Peterborough) Cathedral, final page of book. Notice the coat of arms in the upper right corner. Cathedrals often possessed individual coats of arms, usually for identification purposes.


After the publication of the Monasticon, which legitimized monastic study, several religious leaders and antiquaries published works describing the antiquities of individual monasteries and cathedrals. For instance, The history of the Church of Peterburgh, written by Simon Gunton (bap. 1609, d. 1676) and Simon Patrick (1626-1707), focuses on the establishment now known as Peterborough Cathedral. In the preface of the book, Gunton explains that this book, inspired by the Monasticon, aims to preserve the monuments and inscriptions of one cathedral. If we view Peterborough not just as a singular point of interest, but also a piece of the greater history of the Church of England, this book gains great importance.


The process of writing this book began when, as a child, Gunton began copying the monumental inscriptions and records of Peterborough Cathedral. As the son of William Gunton, the diocesan registrar of the cathedral, young Gunton had easy access to these writings. Many years later, after becoming an ordained priest at Peterborough, Gunton continued this project. At his death in 1676, he left a large manuscript collection of notes on the Cathedral.


Patrick, dean of Peterborough and a well-known defender of Anglicanism, picked up Gunton’s project in the 1680s. He edited and extended Gunton’s work until it was ready for publication in 1686. This type of collaboration was not uncommon among antiquaries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many of which preferred receiving shared credit for a book, even posthumously, rather than letting their work go unpublished.


Patrick explains that the writing of this book was not an easy task for either author. He writes in the preface that no one will ever read the “best monuments, the Records of the Church” because they were burned by the “Barbarity of those ignorant people; who took upon them the glorious name of Reformers.” These “Reformers” are the supporters and soldiers of Oliver Cromwell, who, in an attempt to firmly establish Protestantism in England, raided and burned numerous cathedrals during the 1640s. Records from the cathedrals of Worcester and Salisbury also present in the Edward Worth Library tell of similar destruction.


However, even though Gunton and Patrick worked with limited resources, they produced an extensive description of Peterborough Cathedral. The book covers topics including the history of the monks and nuns of Peterborough, lists of officers and leaders within the church community, the structure and interior design of the church, and church inventories.


peterborough 104 edited

Description of a the stained glass art on one of the Cathedral’s windows, page 104.


The book also contains an extensive collection of copied charters. These documents are mainly grants from kings regarding subjects from monastic establishments to deforestation rights. The original charters are preserved in the cathedral library, of which Patrick provides a catalogue.


peterborough 146 edited

Copy of a charter by King Richard I (1157-1199) for a fair in Peterburgh. The Church played an active role in sponsoring fairs on feast days. By charging traders to participate in the fair, the Church could use these events as a source of revenue. All medieval fairs required a franchise granted by the King or the authority of Parliament.


A noteworthy aspect of Peterborough Cathedral is that it is the burial site of two famous women: Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) and Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536). Although Gunton does not provide a description of Catherine’s tomb, he gives a thorough description of the execution, burial, and tomb of Mary. Gunton demonstrates his bias in favor of Catholicism by stating that Mary was executed “by barbarous, and Tyrannical cruelty.” This description exemplifies that, although Dugdale attempted to remain unbiased while writing the Monasticon, many authors of books on Catholic atniquities do not share his objectivity.


peterborough 80 edited

Inscription on a tablet placed above Mary, Queen of Scots’ tomb in Peterborough Cathedral. This writing praises Mary and criticizes the “Tyrannical cruelty” of her death. Her son, King James I (1566-1625), ordered the exhumation of her body in 1612 in order to move her remains to Westminster Abbey, where they remain today.


A fascinating element of Edward Worth’s copy of The history of the Church of Peterburgh is the provenance, or statement of ownership, present on the first page of the book. The provenance lists the name “William Henchman” alongside the years 1668 and 1686, between which he was a prebendary of Peterborough. According to the Alumni cantabrigienses, Henchman, the son of a baker, was a sizar at Cambridge at age 15. Little additional information is available about Henchman as he, surprisingly, is not listed in the Clergy of the Church of England Database. The database lists him only as a possible brother of a prebendary of Salisbury, Thomas Henchman. However, upon examination of Thomas’ life, it becomes clear that these two men were certainly not brothers and were likely unrelated.


peterborough provenance edited

Provenance of William Henchman, prebendary of Peterborough between 1668 and 1686, front page of book.


The Antiquities of Canterbury (1640): A Text in Two Editions


Canterbury map edited

Illustration of the town of Canterbury, front pages of the 1703 edition. Notice the tower of Canterbury Cathedral in the center of the drawing.


canterbury before interior title edited

Map of Canterbury, facing page 1 of the 1703 edition. Notice the key highlighting important features of the town, such as lanes, wells, gates, and worship sites.


The Edward Worth Library contains other books that focus on individual cathedrals. One is The Antiquities of Canterbury, written by antiquary and Anglo-Saxon scholar William Somner (bap. 1598, d. 1669) and later expanded by Nicholas Batteley to become known as the Cantuaria Sacra. It is important to note that Somner published the first edition of this book in 1640, prior to the release of the Monasticon in 1655. This publication date demonstrates that, even though scholars often consider the Monasticon to be the “granddaddy” of monastic study, antiquaries researched cathedrals many years beforehand. The Monasticon holds more fame mainly due to the comprehensiveness of its information.


Somner was profoundly dedicated to the preservation of Canterbury Cathedral. He spent his childhood in Canterbury and, after training with his father as a clerk, became the registrar of the Cathedral’s ecclesiastical courts. Thanks to encouragement from his colleague Méric Casaubon (1599-1671) and inspiration from his patron William Laud (1573-1645), archbishop of Canterbury, he found the means and motivation to record the history of the Cathedral, its physical structure and interior, its former and current leaders, and the parish churches and land within its possession. Not only did Somner preserve the Cathedral through his writings, but he also made attempts to conserve its physical structure and property by hiding muniments from iconoclastic parliamentary soldiers and saving pieces of the front of the cathedral smashed by Cromwell’s soldiers for reconstruction in 1660.


Although it appears that Somner had real emotional ties to his hometown Cathedral, his reasons for writing The Antiquities of Canterbury are not entirely selfless. Somner dedicated the book to William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 to 1645 and religious advisor to King Charles I (1600-1649), likely as an attempt at flattery for personal gain. Dedicating the book to Laud was a controversial choice, as Laud was a polarizing figure famous for his love of ceremony and persecution of Puritans in order to unify Christianity. Therefore, Somner’s dedication reveals not a desire to please the public, but instead an aim to flatter his patron.


Somner not only dedicates the book to Laud, but also writes in a Laudian style. For instance, he praises the Cathedral’s shrine of Thomas Becket (c. 1119-1170) as the “glory” of Canterbury “cut down” at the Reformation. Knowing that Laud supported the worship of saints, Somner likely hoped to flatter his patron with this wording.


After the initial publication of The Antiquities of Canterbury, Somner began making corrections and additions to his manuscript in hope of producing a second edition. However, he died before completing this project. A few years after his death, antiquary Nicholas Batteley (bap. 1648, d. 1704) took an interest in Somner’s unfinished work. Batteley had recently moved to Canterbury after his brother became the archdeacon of the cathedral. Batteley took an interest in the history of the city and the cathedral. His relation to the archdeacon allowed him to access the Cathedral archives without payment. He was therefore able to encounter and add to Somner’s unfinished manuscript, eventually publishing a second edition entitled Cantuaria Sacra in 1703.


The second edition contains a few notable changes. Batteley does not alter Somner’s original work other than by inserting footnotes, many of which are extensive. However, he does add his own survey of the cathedral and other religious sites within the city and its suburbs. Readers may find that Batteley seems to repeat much of Somner’s information, especially with regard to the cathedral’s structure.


Batteley also inserts a large appendix containing extracts from archives and church documents. He justifies this addition in the preface, claiming that he wants to preserve the records in case of destruction by fire or deterioration due to old age. He argues that these records are not trivial, but rather representative of the history of the English Church. He states, “…the following History will treat; and in these we shall have, as it were, a Specimen of the ancient State and History of our Church.”


The Edward Worth Library houses a copy of both The Antiquities of Canterbury and Cantuaria Sacra. The first edition contains occasional pencil marks and writing by John Worth (1648-1688), dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and father to Edward Worth.


canterbury 311 (1) edited

Notes written in pen in text by John Worth, page 311 of the 1703 edition.


For more information on The Antiquities of Canterbury, please see our Book of the Month exhibition for September 2016.


A Piece of History


At first glance, the four works present in this exhibit may appear to consist of histories and lists that have little importance in today’s world. However, these books are a piece of the puzzle of English history. Thanks to these works, we can see the influence that Catholicism had on English civilization. Through items such as descriptions of elaborate cathedrals, long lists of citizens associated with the Church, numerous charters allowing for the Church to play a role in town life, and inventories revealing the Church’s great wealth, we can see that the Church’s role in English history extended far beyond cathedral walls.




British Broadcasting Corporation. “Thomas Becket (c.1120 – 1170).” Accessed July 21, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/becket_thomas.shtml.


British Civil Wars Project. “Archbishop William Laud, 1573-1645.” Accessed July 21, 2016. http://bcw-project.org/biography/archbishop-william-laud.


Biographical Sketches of Memorable Christians of the Past. “William Laud, Archbishop and Martyr.” Accessed July 21, 2016. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/76.html.


Canterbury Cathedral. “Cathedral History.” Accessed July 21, 2016. http://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/conservation/history/.


The Church of England. “Detailed History.” Accessed July 21, 2016. https://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/history/detailed-history.aspx.


Clergy of the Church of England Database. Accessed July 21, 2016. http://db.theclergydatabase.org.uk/jsp/search/index.jsp.


Ekelund, Robert B., Robert F. Hébert, Robert D. Tollison, Gary M. Anderson, Audrey B. Davidson. Sacred Trust: The Medieval Church as an Economic Firm. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Accessed July 21, 2016. https://books.google.ie/books?id=ByFRavb95AYC&dq=medieval+church&lr=&source=gbs_navlinks_s.


Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed July 21, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/.


English Monarchs. “Edward, the Black Prince.” Accessed July 21, 2016. http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/black_prince.htm.


Horn, Joyce M, ed. Fasti Ecclesiae Anglicanae 1541-1857: Volume 8, Bristol, Gloucester, Oxford and Peterborough Dioceses. London: 1996. Accessed July 21, 2016 from British History Online. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/fasti-ecclesiae/1541-1847/vol8.


Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project. “Edward, Prince of Wales.” Accessed July 21, 2016. http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/blackprince.htm.


Medieval Life and Times. “Medieval Fairs.” Accessed July 21, 2016. http://www.medieval-life-and-times.info/medieval-life/medieval-fairs.htm.


New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. “Dance of Death.” Accessed July 21, 2016. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04617a.htm.


Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed July 21, 2016. http://www.oxforddnb.com/.


Pegge, Samuel. Anonymiana; or, Ten centuries of observations on various authors and subjects, by a late divine. Edited by J. Nichols. (London: Nichols, Son, and Bentley: 1818). Accessed July 21, 2016. https://books.google.ie/books?id=5fMIAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.


Peterborough Cathedral. “History.” Accessed July 21, 2016. http://www.peterborough-cathedral.org.uk/history.aspx.


Venn, John Archibald. Alumni Cantabrigienses; a biographical list of all known students, graduates and holders of office at the University of Cambridge. Cambridge: University Press, 1922.


This exhibition was curated by Ms. Nicole Fleming, second year student, Brown University, USA.






Scroll to Top