Monks of Westminster
Location in the Abbey: Chapel of st benedict
Type of memorial: Tablet
Type of material: Stone

In the chapel of St Benedict in Westminster Abbey is a stone tablet set beneath the carved head of a monk. The sculptor was Albert Siegenthaler and the memorial was given by Bernard Petitpierre in memory of his wife Gwendoline who died in 1961. The stone is Gris d'Alesia and the inscription reads:

"In memory of the monks of Westminster 1065-1540: 1556-1559 this figure was placed in the chapel of St Benedict 1968".

The Benedictine monastery at Westminster was dissolved by order of Henry VIII in January 1540 but was revived during the reign of Mary I for a short while.

Monks who died of the Black Death

The main cemetery for the monks was outside the Chapter House. But several early Abbots were buried in the south cloister including Vitalis, Herbert, Gervase de Blois, Walter of Winchester and William Postard. Near the three remaining effigies of Abbots Laurence, Gilbert Crispin, and William Humez is a very large black marble stone. Because of its size it was thought at one time to be the grave of a semi-legendary giantess called Long Meg of Westminster who lived in the reign of Henry VIII. Later it was suggested it covered the graves of 26 monks who died of the Black Death.  Dean Stanley in the 19th century inscribed the following words on the stone "Beneath this stone are supposed to be interred twenty six monks of Westminster who died of the Black Death in 1348". When the stone was lifted to be re-cut in 1972 no bones were found beneath it, only one coffin to Henrietta Pulteney who died in 1808. It could be that any bones found were removed in the 1750s when pipework was laid down the centre of this cloister. At that time the three effigies of abbots in the centre were moved to their present position under the bench against the wall. A number of skeletons, young and old, were found in the cloister garth (the grassed area) in the 19th century so maybe the bones were re-buried there. A new inscription was cut in the 1970s:

"Dean Stanley records that beneath this stone are interred twenty-six monks of Westminster who died in the Black Death in 1348"

Abbot Simon de Bircheston also died of the plague in 1349 and was buried in the east cloister opposite the Library entrance.

Other monks

A learned monk, Ralph Selby, who died in 1420, was buried in the south ambulatory of the Abbey near Abbot Langham's tomb. He was a favourite of Henry IV and Henry V and his grave formerly had a brass on it. William Amundesham who died in the same year is also buried in this area but his gravestone cannot be identified.

In the north ambulatory is the indent of a brass to two monks Robert Humphrey (died 1509) and Thomas Brown (died about 1514).

A photo of the bust and of the large stone can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

"The monks of Westminster" by E.H.Pearce, 1916.

A list of Abbots of Westminster can be found on the History section of the website. Many of these who are buried in the Abbey have entries on Famous People.

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