- Date of Brass:
- Rochester, St Margaret
July’s brass usually resides in a hinged wooden frame on the east wall of the north aisle of the church of St Margaret of Antioch in Rochester, Kent. However it is not there at present as it is currently being conserved. The brass is palimpsest, i.e. it is engraved on both sides and the hinged frame allowed both sides to be viewed. Various vicissitudes overtook it in the nineteenth century and the metal is so thin that it can hardly support its own weight. As R..A..S. Macalister said when he spoke to the Society in 1891 (C.U.A.B.C. Transactions Vol. I, part 10, p. 11) “…it is now impossible to rub this brass as it has been enamelled, framed and glazed, and hung against the church wall”. At some stage the glazing was taken off, so removing some of the support, and when the brass was checked recently it was found to be in a very fragile condition. It has therefore been removed for conservation. What brought this about?
The brass is palimpsest due to a fifteenth-century mistake, either by Thomas Cod himself if he ordered it before his death, or by whoever commissioned the memorial. It was quite a serious blunder, enough to cause the brass to be turned over and a different version engraved on the reverse of the brass plate. This was because the priest it commemorates was depicted in the wrong vestments. Instead of being shown in the processional vestment the almuce, (figure 1) he was depicted in the Eucharistic vestment, the amice (figure 2).
This re-engraving greatly reduced the thickness of the brass so that when an ill-judged attempt was made to make a copy in lead, damage was almost inevitable. The correspondent C.S., writing to The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1840, takes up the story:
“In consequence of such ill-advised proceeding, the head of the figure was torn from the body, and having been delivered into the charge of .the present rev. incumbent that gentleman kindly permitted me to inspect it. On examining the back of the plate I observed some faint indications of lines, and having caused it to be cleaned from the mass of pitch in which it had been imbedded, discovered the delineation of the head of an ecclesiastic in such fine preservation that the marks of the sand or tool with which the surface had been smoothed remained perfect and uninjured. The sight of a relic, fresh as it were from the hands of some artist who existed nearly four centuries ago, exciting a desire to ascertain whether the same characteristics might not also remain on the other portion of the memorial which yet lay within the church, I applied for, and obtained, leave to take up the brass, and was not disappointed in my anticipations respecting it: The whole affords a half-length representation (16 inches by 11) of a priest, vested in a capa serica, or festival cope, the orfrays of which are richly ornamented with arabesque foliage and circles, containing on the right side of the garment the sacred letters ih'u, and on the left the letters m'cy, forming, together, the precatory legend so frequently to be observed on ancient brasses…..The Rev. Mr. Drage, the present vicar, and the churchwardens, with equal judgment and good taste, have resolved upon having this brass of an ancient incumbent and benefactor, which is greatly decayed, securely placed in an oaken frame, which will be attached by hinges to the wall of the church in such a manner that the future inspection of either side of this venerable relic will be an easy matter to the inquiring antiquary.”
C.S. also took up the inscription and found that the reverse was blank, so that part of the commission had been correctly fulfilled. (Figure 5). He notes that it is made of copper, adding in a footnote that this confirms..”the already well supported supposition that the brass plates (i.e. the effigies) were imported from Flanders, ready engraved, while the inscriptions would be generally cut at home”. How long this erroneous view had prevailed is unclear but the publication eight years later of Herbert Haines’ Manual of Monumental Brasses would have quickly dispelled it. The inscription plate certainly has a ‘coppery’ look to it but it may simply be brass with a higher than usual copper content.
The story then moves to The Ecclesiologist of 1845 which reported that Mr S.J. Carlos had restored the brass, which was broken in three pieces, and supplied pieces which had been lost. He also blackened the lines and filled the orphreys of the apparels with red wax; the red wax also appearing in the upper case letters in the inscription, the lower case in black.
The extent of the new metal inserted by Mr Carlos can be seen in figure 1, where it will also be noted that the blue coloured mastic in the reverse figure shows through, an indication of the extreme thinness and fragility of the metal. Carlos had used “butterfly” wedges (figure 3) to join new metal to old and these had become loose, and one lost. The demi-effigy was then secured in a brass frame and fixed by dainty trefoil brackets. Mill Stephenson, in M.B.S. Transactions Vol. IV, 154, suggests that a new head had been added but close examination of the brass does not bear this out, and is somewhat contradicted by C.S. in his description of the finding of the palimpsest reverse. Some later repairs have left unsightly solder on the obverse (figure 4) which will be tidied up during conservation.
The inscription (figure 5) is mounted on the east wall of the north aisle, below the frame for the effigy. It reads, with translation kindly provided by Fr. Jerome Bertram:
Cod thom(a)s dict(us) sac(erdos) jacet hic nece victus,
A priest called Thomas Cod lies here, defeated by death
Vicarius gratus huic eccl(es)ie q(ue) beatus,
A pleasant vicar, and a blessing to this church
Ecclesie (Christ)i multu(m)q(ue) profuit isti,
He was of great advantage to this church of Christ
Et ca(m)panili succurrit tempore vili.
and came to the aid of the bell tower during vile weather.
Anno milleno quat(er). C. L. deno q(ue) q(ui)no,
In the year 1,000 + 50 + (4 x 100) + 10 + 5
Noue(m)bris mense sat(ur)nini nece vere,
In the month of November, truly on the death of Saturninus (29 Nov.)
Obiit hic T. C. sibi s(is) Jh(es)u miserere,
This T.C. died, Jesus be merciful to him.
O sac(er) andrea, sibi p(ro)fer ab hoste t(ro)phea,
O holy Andrew, bring trophies over the enemy to him, (feast 30 Nov)
Pro cunctis meritis illi sit vita p(er)ennis.
For all his merits, may eternal life be his.
The mention of St Andrew refers to his patronage of the Cathedral, Monastery and City of Rochester, still recognised in the St Anrew’s Cross on the Diocesan heraldry.
Thomas Cod was vicar of St Margaret’s from 1448 to 1465. The brass was recorded by John Thorpe in his Registrum Roffense of 1769, (p. 727) as the brass “of a man in the nave on a gravestone” and gives the inscription. The church was rebuilt in 1823-4; the bell tower to which Cod rendered aid is the only surviving fabric of the medieval church. The indent of the Cod brass disappeared beneath the new pulpit and reading desk.
When the conserved brass returns to the church it will be reunited with its frame, and will again be sandwiched between sheets of glass for both support and protection.
With grateful acknowledgement to Alan Moss of St Peter with St Margaret P.C.C., Rochester.
Thorpe, John, Registrum Roffense (1769) p. 727.
The Ecclesiologist Vol. iv, (1845) p. 143
C.U.A.B.C. Transactions Vol. I, pt. 10, (1891) p. 6 (design of orphreys); p. 9-10 (condition of brass); p. 13 (prayer).
Gomme, G.L. The Gentleman’s Magazine Library (1895) “Topographical History of Kent and Lancashire” pp. 185-7.
M.B.S.T. Vol. IV, 154 (Mill Stephenson list of palimpsests).
Boutell, Charles. The Monumental Brasses of England (1849) p. 24, illus. pl.
Clayton, H.J. The Ornaments of the Ministers as Shown on Monumental Brasses (Alcuin Club Collections XXII, 1919), p. 134, fig. 60.
© Leslie Smith 2008
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