Gilbert Crispin
Field: Abbot
Location in the Abbey: Cloisters, south cloister
Type of material: Marble

The black marble effigy of Abbot Gilbert Crispin is now under an arch beneath the stone bench of the south cloister of Westminster Abbey. This is the oldest effigy in the Abbey and was originally placed in the centre of the cloister walk, together with two other stone effigies of abbots. All of them were moved for better preservation to the side in 1753. So the features are now worn as well as the book that he held but his crozier can still be seen. A modern inscription on the edge of the bench reads:

"Gilbert Crispin Abbot 1085-1117"

In earlier histories a longer epitaph was recorded for him which, translated, was:

"Here, Gilbert, thou liest, illustrious father, highborn, chaste, and aged; the light, the way, the leader of thy people. Gentle thou wert, just, wise, moderate, learned in the quadrivium [ie.the higher division of the seven liberal arts such as arithmetic, astronomy etc] and no less in the trivium [grammar, logic etc.]. Yet, though thus distinguished, on the sixth day of December thou didst render thy breath to heaven and thy bones to earth".

His family had the surname Crispin from the fashion of their hair which stood on end. His father was William Crispin I and his mother Eva de Montfort, a noble family in Normandy in France. His brother was William Crispin II. Gilbert was dedicated at the abbey of Bec at an early age and when he was about 34 years old he was sent by Anselm to Canterbury. During his abbacy of Westminster he completed the building of the cloister and presided at the opening of the coffin of Edward the Confessor in 1102.

A photo of his effigy can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

"Gilbert Crispin, Abbot of Westminster" by J.Armitage Robinson, 1911 (this includes a brief family tree).

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

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