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Let us now turn to the Parish Church portion of this building. When it was added there is no direct record. At what exact time, beside this Chapel, reared for the private devotions and the conventual services of the high-born sisterhood, rose the Church in which the poor might have the Gospel preached to them, is not known; probably not earlier than the beginning of the twelfth century, as already hinted. The circular arch leading from the porch into the Church, which from the depth of its hood-moulding was clearly once an outer door, Norman in shape, but with finer and lighter shafts and dog-tooth ornament, points to the Transition Period which connected the Norman with the Early English style, and would belong to the time of Henry II. It is possible that (as has been conjectured from traces which were discovered at the recent restoration of the foundations of a massive doorway in the middle of the western bay of the north aisle) it originally stood here as the entrance door into the Monastic Chapel, and was removed to its present site when Archbishop Corboil entered on his great work of repair in the year 1130. The goodly array of lofty lancet windows, which must have ranged over the three sides of the Church, certainly belong to that time. Of these one remains on the west gable, two others having been sacrificed to make room for a three-light Perpendicular; three remain on the south; a fourth having given way to a four-light square-headed late Decorated one; while a graceful triplet, recently restored, adorns the east end. But of any earlier work, if such existed, not a vestige now remains in the Parish Church.
The next addition would apparently carry us over two centuries, when the Decorated window in the south wall, already mentioned, and the exquisitely graceful canopy of the Shurland tomb (of which more presently), were introduced.
The massively based tower, which stands at the west end of the Chapel, next demands notice. But before describing this, it should be noted that the tower seems to replace two campaniles or belfries which evidently existed here; one belonging to the Abbey Chapel, and the other to the Parish Church; both of which must have fallen into disrepair towards the close of the fifteenth century, as we learn from
Wills in the Archdeacon's Court at Canterbury, in which are frequent bequests for their repair. Among others is that of one Peter Cleve, who died in 1479, leaving among other legacies a sum of money for the repair of the Chapel of St. John Baptist, and two of £40 each, one for "the campanile on the priory side," and the other for that "on the side of the parish church."* This may account for the two spiral stairs, one on either side of the tower at its junction with the nave; and may help to assign the date for the addition of the tower to the Transition Period, as the character of the building suggests. The loftiness of the arch between it and the Chapel would point to the later years of the Decorated, while the capitals and bases indicate the incoming of the Perpendicular; and the features of the latter are still more pronounced in the square head, and the label, and shields in the spandrils, of the western doorway. Then, too, would have been added the buttresses with their hollowed plinths along the face of the previously plinthless north wall.
But the dark days for monasteries-for this Minster and its Chapel—were drawing near. The time was at hand when their reputed wealth, and also their reputed abuses, were becoming notorious, and helping to accelerate their downfall; when their suppression, and the transfer of their ample and too often misused revenues, were to seal their doom, and to enrich needy and unscrupulous courtiers.
That massive base, supported by double buttresses at each of the western angles, surmounted by a dwarf penthouse or capping tower of wood, tells of a design to erect a stately beacon tower, crowned it may be by a loftier spire, to guide the seafarer up the Thames by day and night; but it now stands as an unfinished monument of the practical munificence of the "monks of old," or rather the "devoted sisters" who had here made their home, and as one of the very many similar evidences of the rapacity of Henry VIII. and his Court.
* "Lego pro reparatione Capelle Sancti Johannis Baptiste xl. d. pro reparatione Campanille pro parte Priorisse xl. li. et pro reparatione Campanile Parochiarum xl. li." (Will of Peter Cleve, iii., 12.)
Before leaving the fabric of the Church, it will be interesting to note some allusions made in divers Wills to sidealtars and images which once existed in the Church and the Chapel. There were the High Altar, the Altar of the Virgin Mary, and also of St. Katherine; there were images of "St. Mary le Pety," of the Holy Cross, and of St. James. These it seems now impossible to localize. Besides the threefold recesses already mentioned as now inserted in the east wall of the Chapel, there are also two recesses in the east wall of the Church, one on either side of the east window, which no doubt were once filled with frescoes; that on the north side has been obliterated by plaster, while the one on the south still retains traces of a figure, and the letters NICH. . . . LAI, indicating that it was designed to represent St. Nicholas, the Patron Saint of Sailors.
Nor must we omit to notice at an elevation of some twelve feet from the floor in the north wall of this Chancel two very elegant lancet-shaped recesses, which some think may have been openings through which the occupants of the supposed gallery in the east end of the Nuns' Chapel might have been able to see the Host in the Chancel of St. Mary; but as there is no trace of any opening extending through the wall, it is more probable that they were merely niches, either for images or for lights.
The architectural features of this Church perhaps possess few points of interest in comparison with those of the Monuments. These are alive with local history. They tell us of the successive families of note which from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries were "Lords of Sheppey ;" for each family has its representative here-Shurland, Northwode, Cheyney.
Taking them in chronological order, the one that claims priority in point of time, and also of artistic and historic interest, is that in the south wall of the Chancel. Here lies a knight in his shirt of mail, over which falls his loose surcoat, his head pillowed on his heaume or casque, his left hand still retaining its grip of the thong of his tapering
convex shield, on which he is lying; his gauntleted right hand (the arm broken away) resting on the hilt of his sword, as though he had just dropped it into its scabbard; his bannered lance laid down beside him, yet within easy grasp; his legs crossed Crusader-wise; while close at his feet (not under them, as in the case of a lion or a dog) sleeps his boy page, his head resting on his arm bent under him, ready to spring up at the slightest touch to attend his lord's behest. The whole group is a perfect study! The knight has fought his fight, and has laid him down to rest."
Who is here represented might be a matter of conjecture but for a singular adjunct to the group in the shape of a horse's head in the background, rising up as it were out of the water, the waves almost touching his nostrils. That horse's head provides the clue, and tells its tale. Towards the close of the thirteenth century the Manor of Shurland was held by one Sir Robert of that ilk, who had taken part in the Crusade of 1271, under Prince Edward (afterwards Edward I.), by whom also he was created Knight-Banneret for gallantry at the Siege of Carlaverock, and rose to high honours. Now divers traditions connect him with a strange scene and a daring exploit on a favourite horse, which saved his life by swimming to shore, where an old woman, seeing him landing after his perilous adventure, in comment on his rashness, warned him that that horse would some day be the death of him.† This had so deep an effect on his super
It is commonly called "The Templar," but the absence of the cross-marked flowing cloak refutes the claim to that order.
One story is that "having buried a priest alive, he swam his horse two miles through the sea to the king, who was then near the island on shipboard, to purchase his pardon, and having obtained it swam back to the shore." Another is that "having obtained a grant of privilege by charter to have wreck of sea' upon his lands confining on the sea-shore, the extent of his royalty being esteemed to reach as far into the water, on a low ebb, as a man can ride in and touch anything with the point of his lance," he had made the effort, and the sudden rise of the tide threatening to overtake him, be owed his life to his horse, which swam in with him to the shore. The third is a much less sensational one that he one day made a wager that his horse would carry him across the Swale from the mainland, when the tide was strong. In each case the climax is the same, and the old woman's remark would be natural, as a warning against his recklessness. (Philipott's Villare Cantianum, p. 382; Seymour's Survey of Kent, p. 388; Brayley's History of Kent, p. 714.) Barham has appropriated the tale, and made Sir Robert the hero of one of his Ingoldsby Legends, "The Grey Dolphin."
stitious mind that to render the hag's prediction impossible he drew his sword and killed the horse on the spot. Some years after, seeing the skeleton lying on the shore, he gave the head a contemptuous kick, and in so doing bruised his foot, of which injury he eventually died; thus unconsciously fulfilling the prediction. To perpetuate the tradition a horse's head was placed on the tomb, and also on the vane of the Church spire; this explains why the Minster is sometimes called "The Horse Church."*
But the interest of this monument does not rest here. The figure lies on a base, and is covered by a canopy, of a much later date than that of Robert de Shurland's death. The elaborate panelling on the face of the tomb, and the bold yet very graceful tracery of the rich Decorated work above it, point to more than half a century after. Grand and beautiful it must have been when its heavily crocketed (but now broken) arch and massive finial rose up to the very roof, from imposts still retaining in wonderful perfection and sharpness the head of a veiled nun on one side, and on the other that of a man whose thick rolling curls suggests the times of Edward III., or Richard II. It has been thought that this tomb was probably designed for some very different effigy; it may have been for some high-born and distinguished Prioress, whose memory the sisters of the Priory desired to honour by lavishing on her tomb all the art and skill of that age. But it would seem that for some now unknown cause the original design was never carried out, and the tomb remained unoccupied, and that when the Chapel or mausoleum (whether it was that of St. Katherine or of St. John Baptist) was demolished, the figure of this grand old knight was found there among the ancestors of the Cheyneys; and it being noticed that the figure would exactly fit the vacant space under this canopy, it was introduced here. This is at best conjecture, but we have it on record that other tombs (that for instance of Sir Thomas Cheyney, of whom presently) were originally in that Chapel, and were removed into the body of the Church, where they
Grose, Antiquities (Kent, 4to, p. 78), where he gives a rhyming account of this legend.