World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Waltham Abbey Church

Waltham Abbey
Waltham Abbey
Waltham Abbey
Waltham Abbey is located in Essex
Waltham Abbey
Location of Waltham Abbey
OS grid reference
Country England, United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Founded 1030
Dedication The Holy Cross and Saint Lawrence
Consecrated 1060 (present church)
Associated people King Harold; Thomas Tallis, former organist
Architectural type Abbey
Style Norman
Parish Waltham Holy Cross
Deanery Epping Forest
Diocese Chelmsford
Province Canterbury
Vicar(s) The Revd Peter Smith
Curate(s) The Revd Rod Reid
Organist(s) Stephen Bullamore

The Abbey Church of Waltham Holy Cross and St Lawrence is the parish church of the town of Waltham Abbey, Essex in England. It has been a place of worship since the 7th century. The present building dates mainly from the early 12th century and is an example of Norman architecture. To the east of the existing church are traces of an enormous eastward enlargement of the building, begun following the re-foundation of the abbey in 1177. In the late middle ages, Waltham was one of the largest church buildings in England and a major site of pilgrimage; in 1540 was the last religious community to be closed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It is still an active parish church for the town.

The monastic buildings and those parts of the church east of the crossing were demolished at the dissolution, and the Norman crossing tower and transepts collapsed in 1553. The present-day church consists of the nave of the Norman abbey church, the 14th-century Lady Chapel and west wall, and a 16th-century west tower, added after the dissolution.[1]

Harold Godwinson is said to be buried in the present churchyard.


  • History 1
    • The first church at Waltham (7th century) 1.1
    • The second church (8th century) 1.2
    • The legend of the Holy Cross 1.3
    • The third church (King Harold's foundation) 1.4
    • The fourth church (Norman) 1.5
    • Fifth church (the Augustinian Abbey) 1.6
    • The Dissolution 1.7
    • Later architectural history 1.8
    • The mystery of King Harold's tomb 1.9
  • Organ 2
    • Organists 2.1
  • Other burials 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Archaeological investigations between 1984 and 1991 have revealed a much earlier origin of the site than had previously been believed. There is evidence for five distinct churches at Waltham.[2]

The first church at Waltham (7th century)

Traces of the flint rubble foundations of a 7th-century wooden church have been found under the choir of the present building; an associated burial has been radiocarbon dated to between 590 and 690. A proposed date of circa 610 would place its construction in the reign of King Saebert of Essex who was noted for his church building activities.[3] Other finds included a 7th-century Kentish jewellery book-clasp depicting eagles grasping a fish.[4]

The second church (8th century)

During the reign of King Offa of Mercia, whose rule extended to Essex in the late 8th century, a building of Barnack stone was constructed around the earlier wooden church. It was half the length of the present building, and was a porticus-type church with chambers along each side of the nave.[5] It was intended as a minster serving several communities in the area.[6]

The legend of the Holy Cross

At the beginning of the 11th century, the church and manor of Waltham were held by an Anglo-Danish Thegn called Tovi the Proud. A legend, recorded in the 12th century De Inventione Sanctœ Crucis Nostrœ ("The Discovery of our Holy Cross") or "Waltham Chronicle", relates that, in about 1016, the blacksmith at another estate belonging to Tovi, at Montacute near Glastonbury, found a large black flint (or marble) crucifix buried at the top of a hill, after a dream. Tovi had the cross loaded onto an ox-cart, but the oxen would only go in one direction and continued every day until they reached Waltham, a journey of some 150 miles.[7] This Holy Rood or Cross was installed at the church and soon became the subject of pilgrimage.[8] Tovi is said to have rebuilt the church, but modern evidence suggests that he probably retained the 8th century fabric of the building.

The third church (King Harold's foundation)

After Tovi's death, his son fell into debt and the estate passed to King Edward the Confessor. He then gave it to Harold Godwinson (later King Harold II), who rebuilt, refounded and richly endowed the church, which was dedicated in 1060; a legend says that this was because in his childhood, he had been miraculously cured of paralysis by the Holy Cross.[9] The new church was placed under the control of a dean and a college of twelve married priests. Evidence suggests that stone and some of the foundations of the previous church were re-used for the new building, which had a nave the same length as the present one, aisles, a large transept and a small eastern apse.[10]

The fourth church (Norman)

Starting in about 1090, Harold's building was demolished and a new church with crossing tower and transepts was begun in the Norman style. It reused the Saxon foundations and some of the stonework, with additional stone from Reigate, Kent and Caen in Normandy. The church was cruciform, with a tower at the crossing and two smaller towers at the west end. The nave had typically massive Norman pillars with incised decoration and semi-circular arches supporting a triforium and clerestorey above. A long eastern chapel may have housed the Holy Cross.[11] The rebuilding, which had started at the eastern end, was completed by about 1150. Although there is a marked stylistic resemblance to Durham Cathedral, a recent study of the features of the church and comparison with other sites has concluded that the master mason at Waltham was trained in .[12] This construction is mainly the fabric that has survived to the present.[13]

Fifth church (the Augustinian Abbey)

The surviving bridge and gatehouse of the abbey

In 1177, the abbey was re-founded once more, this time as an Augustinian priory with 16 canons, by Henry II as part of his penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. The rebuilding, in the Early English style, made the abbey far more extensive than the original Norman establishment, as can be seen today from traces in the abbey grounds. Those parts of the Norman church east of the Norman crossing were demolished, and a new church, with its own nave, a second pair of transepts and a further tower at the new crossing, were constructed. The Norman nave was retained as a parish church, divided from the new work by a screen. The whole building was now longer than Winchester Cathedral.[14] A cloister was built to the north of the new nave. A short passage that led into the cloister still exists; this, and a fourteenth-century gatehouse, are the only surviving monastic buildings.[1]

In 1184, Henry raised the status of the church to an abbey; he appointed an abbot and the number of canons was increased to 24. The completed abbey was finally re-dedicated on 30 September 1242, by William, Bishop of Norwich.[15] The Holy Cross attracted many pilgrims and the Abbey became a popular place for overnight stays for kings and other notables hunting in Waltham Forest. Henry VIII was a frequent visitor and is said to have had a house or lodge at Romeland, adjacent to the abbey.[16] During their summer progress of 1532, Henry and Queen Anne Boleyn stayed at Waltham Abbey for five days.[17]

The Dissolution

Waltham was the last abbey in choir master) in the autumn of 1538, was awarded 20 shillings in outstanding wages and 20 shillings "reward". Tallis went on from Waltham to a post in the choir at Canterbury Cathedral.[19] The Holy Cross disappeared without trace at this time. King Henry suggested Waltham as one of the new cathedrals for the Church of England, but this proposal was not implemented.[20] In 1541 the king leased the manor of Waltham to Sir Anthony Denny, a prominent member of the Privy chamber and a confidant of the king. When Denny died in 1549, his estates passed to his widow Joan and in 1553 she bought the manor of Waltham outright; she died in the same year. The manor then passed to her son Henry, who died in 1574 leaving two sons; the eldest, Robert, died in 1576 and was succeeded by Edward Denny, who became Baron Denny of Waltham in 1604 and Earl of Norwich in 1626.[21] Edward reused the stones from the demolished Gothic choir and chancel (the fifth church) for the sumptuous Abbey House which he built to the north of the churchyard; the Norman remnant of the nave continued in use as the town's parish church.[22]

Later architectural history

In 1553,[1] shortly after the demolition of the 12th-century choir, crossing and chancel, the 11th-century Norman tower at the east end of the nave collapsed. It was replaced by a new tower at the opposite end of the church, abutting the 14th century west wall and straddling the main doorway. Work commenced in 1556 and was completed in the following year; it was the only church tower built in England during the reign of Queen Mary I.[23]

Waltham Abbey depicted in 1851, before the rebuilding works

In 1859 the architect William Burges was appointed to undertake a restoration of the site and a refurbishment of the interior. The restoration was extensive; the removal of pews and galleries from the south and west sides, a new ceiling (painted with signs of the zodiac as at Peterborough Cathedral), a new chancel and significant re-building. The designs were exhibited at the Royal Academy. Work was completed by 1876. In the view of Burges's biographer, J. Mordaunt Crook, "(Burges's interior) meets the Middle Ages as an equal." The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner said that Burges's remodelling was carried out "with all the robust ugliness which that architect liked".[24] The revised 2007 edition of his book takes a more sympathetic view, describing Burges' work as "pioneering (and) powerful".[1] Further, more sensitive, restoration was undertaken in 1964.[25]

Burges's East Wall and Zodiac Ceiling

The Abbey's stained glass includes early work by Edward Burne-Jones in the rose window and lancets of the east wall, and Archibald Keightley Nicholson in the Lady Chapel. The Lady Chapel has three windows by Nicholson, depicting the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Work on a fourth – intended to depict the Epiphany – was interrupted by the Second World War and never resumed. In April 1941, a 500 kg German parachute mine exploded in a field nearby at Romeland, destroying most of the windows on the north side of the church. In March 1945, a V-2 rocket landed in Highbridge Street, destroying the "Bellringers Window" in the tower; a detailed hand-tinted photograph of the window, discovered in 2007, may eventually allow the window to be recreated.[26]

Waltham Abbey is renowned for its 15th-century Doom painting.

The mystery of King Harold's tomb

Harold stopped to pray at Waltham on his way from the Battle of Stamford Bridge to fight William of Normandy; the battle-cry of the English troops at Hastings was "Holy Cross". According to Gesta Guillelmi, an account of the battle written by William of Poitiers in the 1070s, Harold's body was handed over to William Malet, a companion of William the Conqueror for burial; Duke William refused an offer by Harold's mother, Gytha, to exchange Harold's corpse for its weight in gold. The account also relates that some Normans remarked "in jest" that "he who guarded the coast with such insensate zeal should be buried by the sea shore", but does not say that this was actually done. Another account, the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, thought to have been written only months after the battle, says that he was buried under a cliff top cairn, but this version does not appear in any other account.[27]

Reputed tomb of King Harold II under the site of the High Altar

William of Malmesbury wrote in the Gesta regum Anglorum in 1125, that the refusal to accept Gytha's gold simply meant that Harold's body was handed over without payment, and that it was taken from the battlefield to Waltham for burial. This version is supported by the Roman de Rou, written by Wace in the 1160s. The final and most detailed medieval account comes from the Waltham Chronicle. The author describes how two canons from Waltham, Osgod Cnoppe and Aethelric Childemaister, accompanied Harold from Waltham to Hastings. After the battle, they asked permission to recover Harold's body, which could only be identified by his concubine, Edith Swanneck, who recognised "secret marks". From Hastings the body was brought to Waltham and buried under the floor of the church. This story was related to the author of the Chronicle when he was a boy, by the elderly Sacristan Turketil, who claimed to have himself been a boy at Waltham when Harold arrived en route from Stamford Bridge, and later witnessed the interment of the king. The author himself claims to have seen Harold's body being disinterred and moved twice during the rebuilding work which started in 1090.[28]

In 1177, the Waltham became an Augustinian foundation, and the new incumbents published Vita Haroldi ("The Life of Harold") soon afterwards, which records a legend that Harold survived the battle and retired as a hermit to either Chester or Canterbury; it is thought that the motive for this was to distract attention away from Harold's tomb in the church, as he was still a politically sensitive figure to the Norman ruling class.

In the 18th century, the historian David Hume wrote that Harold had been buried by the high altar in the Norman church and moved to the choir of the later Augustinian abbey. Visitors were shown a stone slab bearing the inscription "Hic iacet Haroldus infelix" ("Here lies Harold the unfortunate"), although it had been destroyed when that part of the abbey was demolished at the Dissolution.[29] Hume's source is unknown.


At the Dissolution in 1540, an inventory states that there was "a lyttel payre of organes" in the Lady Chapel and in the Choir, "a great large payre of organes" and also "a lesser payre". The parts of the Abbey that housed these instruments were demolished shortly afterwards.[30] The church currently contains a large 3 manual organ. A plaque on the organ case has the inscription, "Flight & Robinson 1827, the gift of

  • Church site
  • Abbey gatehouse and bridge page at English Heritage
  • Adrian Fletcher's Paradoxplace – Waltham Abbey Page
  • Waltham Abbey Reflections Of the Past
  • Waltham Abbey Genealogy site
  • Waltham Abbey Historical Society
  • for Waltham Abbey Church.

External links

  • Crook, J. Mordaunt (1981). William Burges and the High Victorian Dream. John Murray. 
  • Hagger, Nicholas (2012). A View of Epping Forest. O Books.  
  • Pevsner, Nilkolaus (1965). The Buildings of England: Essex. Penguin.  
  • Bettley, James; Nikolaus Pevsner (2007). The Buildings of England: Essex. Yale University Press.  


  1. ^ a b c d Bettley, James; Nikolaus Pevsner (2007). The Buildings of England: Essex. Yale University Press. pp. 807–9.  
  2. ^ Huggins, P.J. and Bascombe, K.N. (1992). "Excavations at Waltham Abbey, Essex, 1985–1991: Three Pre-Conquest Churches and Norman Evidence'".  
  3. ^ Huggins (p.12)
  4. ^ Huggins (p.17)
  5. ^ Huggins (pp.10–12)
  6. ^ The Five Churches of Waltham. Bookends. 1984. pp. 1–2.  
  7. ^ Watkiss, Leslie; Marjorie Chibnall (1994). Waltham Chronicle. Oxford University Press. 
  8. ^ "Waltham Abbey". Retrieved 2014-06-06. 
  9. ^ "Programmes - History - Channel 4". Retrieved 2014-06-06. 
  10. ^ Huggins, P.J. (1989). "Excavations of the Colligiate and Augustinian Churches, Waltham Abbey, Essex, 1984–1987". The Archaeological Journal 146: 476–537). 
  11. ^ Huggins (p.5)
  12. ^ The Romanesque Church of Waltham AbbeyJournal of the British Archaeological Association, Volume 138, Number 1, 1985 , pp. 48-78(31) - Fernie, E. C.,
  13. ^ Hagger 2012, p.174
  14. ^ Hagger (p. 177)
  15. ^ A History of the County of Essex: Volume 2 – Houses of Austin canons: Abbey of Waltham Holy Cross. Victoria County History. pp. 166–68. 
  16. ^  
  17. ^ Starkey, David (2004). Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. Harper Perennial. p. 454.  
  18. ^ Ogborne pp. 180-182
  19. ^ Here Of A Sunday Morning - Thomas Tallis (c.1510--1585)
  20. ^ History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. pp. 170–180. 
  21. ^ History of the County of Essex: Volume 2. pp. 151–162. 
  22. ^ Epping Forest District Council – History of the District
  23. ^ New, Anthony (1985), A Guide to the Abbeys of England and Wales, Constable and Company Ltd, ISBN 0-09-463520-X (p.405)
  24. ^ The Buildings of England: Essex (1965)
  25. ^ New p. 405
  26. ^ Barden, Daniel (13 July 2007). "A window into the Abbey's past". Epping Forest Guardian - Local History. 
  27. ^ Rex, Peter, 2009 Harold II: The Doomed Saxon King, Tempus Publishing Limited, ISBN 0-7524-3529-9 (p.254)
  28. ^ Rex p.255
  29. ^ John Murray, London 1884 (p.92)The Student's Hume: A History of England, based on the History of David HumeBrewer, J S, (Editor)
  30. ^ Edmund Horace Fellowes, English Cathedral Music from Edward VI to Edward VII, Methuen 1945, (p.6)
  31. ^ : Volume 1, Bucknell University Press 1983 ISBN 978-0838718940 (p.318)Organa Britannica: Organs in Great Britain 1660–1860James Boeringer, Andrew Freeman,
  32. ^ Waltham Abbey Church – Waltham Abbey Music – The Organ
  33. ^ A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.
  34. ^ Waltham Abbey Church – Waltham Abbey Music – Waltham Abbey Church Heritage Organ Appeal


See also

Other burials

  • Thomas Tallis.
  • Polly Thompson.
  • William Hayman Cummings, 1847–1853.
  • Mr. Gibbons..
  • Mr. Banks.
  • Joseph Chalk, from 1859.
  • Norman Rimmer.
  • Jamie Hitel.
  • Stuart Nicholson.
  • Stephen Bullamore, 2005–2013
  • Jonathan Lilley, appointed 2013

Its organists have included:



This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.