W. R. Lethaby. Westminster Abbey and the Antiquities of the Coronation. London: Duckworth, 1911.
W. R. Lethaby. Westminster Abbey & The King’s Craftsmen: A Study of Medieval Building. London: Duckwork, 1906.
While in Special Collections today, I came across a couple of works by W. R. Lethaby (1857-1931) on Westminster Abbey. His name always causes a moment of reflection. I first discovered his writing in an undergraduate class on the Building of London, which examined the city from its ancient beginnings to the Great Fire of 1666. While I had been dabbling in the medieval throughout my undergraduate career, this class firmly cemented my academic studies within this period, though it was probably Beowulf and the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial that ensured I would not stray too far from the British Isles. Though Lethaby’s works have not played a role in my research, whenever I come across one of his works I am momentarily transported back to that class. I rediscovered Lethaby and others like him on the shelves of my graduate school library. They would pop up now and then, while I was searching for something else. I could not help but pause, pull them off the shelf, and thumb through with a smile. I have always enjoyed the serendipity of finds while browsing the stacks.
In the Building of London, I also was introduced to the Westminster Retable. I often find it difficult to identify my favorite building, medieval or not; however, the Westminster Retable is perhaps one of my favorite art works from the Middle Ages. The central architectural frame contains Christ flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John. To the viewer’s left are scenes depicting the Miracles of Christ, and at the end is the figure of St. Peter with his key. The detail that I have found so captivating all these years is the tiny globe of the world held by Christ (a detail is linked here). The abbey itself remains a touchstone within my research, though not the present incarnation but rather Edward the Confessor’s church, the first built in the Norman style in England.