Waltham Abbey church, Essex

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    It was with a sense of surprise that I realised that I had visited Waltham Abbey's historic church many time but I had never photographed it properly. I took these shots last year but this is the first opportunity that I've had to post them.

    Waltham Abbey was founded in 1030 to house a Holy Rood or Cross which became the subject of pilgrimage. Legend says that an Anglo-Danish Thegn called Tovi the Proud found a large black flint crucifix buried at the top of a hill at Montacute, near Glastonbury, following a dream. He loaded the cross onto an ox-cart, but the oxen would only go in one direction and didn't stop until it reached Waltham, a journey of some 150 miles.

    Harold Godwinson (later King Harold II) rebuilt, refounded and richly endowed the church in 1060. Legend says that this was because he had been miraculously cured of paralysis by the Holy Cross as a child. He stopped to pray at Waltham on his way to fight Duke William of Normandy, and the battle-cry of the English troops at Hastings was "Holy Cross". After the battle, Harold's corpse is said to have been brought back to the abbey and buried there.

    www.flickr.com/photos/barryslemmings/sets/72157629315288202/ to see the full set.

    Around 1120 Harold's work was demolished and a new church with crossing tower and transepts was built in the Norman style. In 1177 the abbey was re-founded once more, this time as an Augustinian foundation, by Henry II as part of his penance for the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. 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 crossing were demolished, and a new church, with its own nave, was constructed. The Norman nave was retained as a parish church, divided from the new work by a screen. 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.

    The Augustinian abbey was a popular place for overnight stays with kings and other notables who were hunting in Waltham Forest. It was the last abbey in England to be dissolved, in 1540 as it was said to be a personal favourite of King Henry VIII. Thomas Tallis was the last organist at the Abbey prior to its dissolution. The Holy Cross disappeared without trace. Henry VIII suggested Waltham as one of the new cathedrals for the Church of England, but the proposal was never implemented.

    The Abbey site was leased to Sir Edward Denny and the remnant of the nave became the town's parish church - which it still is today.

    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. Markers on the remains of the walls in the grounds indicate the location, before demolition, of the high altar, (beneath which some believe Harold Godwinson is buried).

    The interior is notable for the massive Norman piers and also for the many carvings of human faces nestling in the stonework left by the original masons. Waltham Abbey is also noted for its 15th-century Doom painting.

    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, a new ceiling painted with signs of the zodiac, a new chancel and significant re-building. Work was completed by 1876. Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner said that Burges's remodelling was carried out "with all the robust ugliness which that architect liked".

    The Abbey's stained glass is also noteworthy, including early work by Edward Burne-Jones in the rose window and lancets of the east wall, and A K Nicholson in the Lady Chapel. However much was destroyed during WW2 bombing aimed at the nearby Powder Mills.

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