Pershore, a name derived, it is said, from the great number of pear-trees in the vicinity, is delightfully situated on the northern bank of the Avon. The origin of the town is probably to be dated from the foundation of the abbey here in the seventh century, by Oswald, one of the nephews of Ethelbert, King of Mercia. The patrons of the establishment seem to have had some difficulty in making up their minds as to what particular religious community should be permanently settled in it, for at one time we find secular clerks at Pershore, then monks, then seculars (females) again, and lastly, from 984, Benedictine monks. Legend has been busy concerning the early history of Pershore. One Duke Delfere usurped the possessions, and in consequence—so it was generally believed—died eaten up by vermin. Oddo, another Mercian duke, to whom the estates had passed, was so moved by Delfere’s miserable fate, that he not only restored the lands, but made a vow of celibacy, in order that no son of his should ever be guilty of the sacrilege of endeavouring to obtain repossession. There remain of the abbey, some vestiges of the monastic buildings, a part of the entrance gateway, and considerable portions of the church, as in the tower, the southern part of the transept, and a chapel, all included in the existing church of the Holy Cross. (Fig. 707.) Near the gateway we have mentioned, stood the small chapel of St. Edburga, to whom the abbey was dedicated. This lady was a daughter of Edward the Elder, and distinguished herself even in her childhood by her scholastic and pious tastes. Her father one day placed before her a New Testament and several other books on one side, and some fine clothes and rich jewels on the other, and desired her to choose. The princess at once took the books. The king, thinking, no doubt, he was bound to obey what he esteemed such decisive tokens of her proper position in life, immediately placed her in a nunnery at Winchester, where she died, and where her bones were preserved for ages after, as invaluable relics.

No one need be surprised at the magnificence of the ancient priory of Christ Church, Hampshire (Fig. 712), as that magnificence is attested to the present day by the church, when the circumstances related of the erection are considered. The first establishment of the house is lost in the darkness of antiquity, but in the twelfth century we find Ralph Flambard, that turbulent and oppressive, but able and zealous prelate, busily engaged rebuilding the whole, and obtaining the necessary funds by seizing the revenues of the canons, allowing each of them merely a sufficiency for his subsistence. We may imagine the confusion, the dismay, the uproar, though, unfortunately, no Sydney Smith was then among the oppressed to record their feelings and sentiments as on a somewhat similar occasion in our own time. The Dean, Godric, resisted the bishop with all possible energy, but was, in consequence, degraded from his office, and obliged to seek refuge on the continent; and though he was ultimately allowed to return, it was only in a spirit of due obedience to his superior. Flambard, having removed all opposition, levelled the old buildings to the ground, and raised the new ones, of which considerable portions exist to this day: these are to be found in the nave, the south western aisle, and the northern transept. But let it not be supposed that Flambard obtained all the honours of this mighty work. According to a legend told by the monkish writers, he had supernatural assistance. Whenever the workmen were engaged in their labours, there was observed one workman of whom no one could tell from whence he came, or what he was, except that he exhibited a most extraordinary indefatigability in the business of raising the monastery, and an equally extraordinary liberality in declining to be paid anything for what he had done; at the times of refreshment, and of settlement of wages, he was ever absent. And so the work progressed, until near completion. One day a large beam was raised to a particular place, and found, unfortunately, to be too short. The interrupted and embarrassed workmen were unable to remedy the defect, and retired to their dwellings for the day. The next morning, when they returned to the church, there was the beam in its right position, longer even than was required. The strange workman immediately occurred to every one’s thoughts; and the general conclusion was, that the Saviour himself had been the supernatural assistant. The dedication of the pile to Christ was in later ages attributed to this circumstance, and hence comes the name of Christ Church. Nay, if there are any persons very anxious about the legend, we believe they may yet find some who will show them in the church what they hold to be the very miraculous beam itself. It is probable that Christ Church was originally founded in the earliest days of Christianity in England, on the site of a heathen temple, the usual mode in which the shrewd missionaries of Rome at once attested the triumph of the new over the old religion, and reconciled the people to the change, by adopting their habitual places of worship. In the course of the last century there was discovered, in the Priory foundations, a cavity about two feet square, that had been covered with a stone cemented into the adjoining pavement, and which contained a large quantity of bones of birds,—herons, bitterns, cocks and hens. Warner, a local antiquarian writer, observes that, among the Romans, “many different species of birds were held in high veneration, and carefully preserved for the purposes of sacrifice and augural divination. Adopting the numerous absurdities of Egyptian and Grecian worship, their tolerating conquerors had affixed a sacredness to the cock, the hawk, the heron, the chicken, and other birds; the bones of which, after their decease, were not unfrequently deposited within the walls of the temple of the deity to whom they were considered as peculiarly appropriated.” Portions of the Priory yet remain, and a visitor to the neighbourhood occasionally hears of the Convent Garden, now a meadow, of Paradise, the appropriately named place of recreation for the scholars of Christ Church school, and forming also a relic of the Priory,—of vestiges of fish-ponds and stews. But the church is the only important part of the Priory now existing, which apart from its architectural characteristics, exhibits many interesting features. Including St. Mary’s Chapel at the eastern end, and the Tower at the western, the Church extends to the distance of three hundred and eleven feet. The parts of the building which may be separately distinguished are the Norman remains already noticed, the Porch or principal entrance, and the Tower, with the Great Window nearly thirty feet high. On the under sides of the benches of the stalls, are a series of satirical and grotesque carvings, representing, there can be little doubt, the monkish opinions of the friars. In one is seen a fox with a cock for his clerk, preaching to a set of geese, who are greedily imbibing the doctrines he puts forth. In a second the people are typified by a zany, who while his back is turned upon his dish of porridge, is saved the trouble of eating it by a rat. A third exhibits a baboon with a cowl on his head, reposing on a pillow, and exhibiting a swollen paunch. From what we know of the origin of the friars, who sprung up to reform the state of idleness and sensuality into which the monks and clergy generally had fallen, one would think the last of these pieces of carved satire must have told much more strongly against its authors than its objects. Another very curious carving is the Altar-piece, which Warner supposes to be coeval with Bishop Flambard. If so, it is one of the most extraordinary things of the kind existing in England. The carving represents the genealogy of Christ, by a tree springing from the loins of Jesse. On each side is a niche, one containing a statue of David, the other Solomon. Above these sit the Virgin with the child Jesus, and Joseph, and surrounded by the Magi. Projecting heads of an ox, and an ass, remind us of the manger, and of the flight to Egypt. Still higher are shepherds with their sheep, the former looking up toward a group of angels, over whom, at the apex of the carving, God extends his protecting arms. Exclusive of all these figures, which are mostly mutilated, there are niches which contained nine others, and there are a host of small figures of saints, thirty-two in number, also in niches, and each bearing his particular emblem or distinguishing mark. The chief individual memories of Christ Church are connected with the noble family of the Montacutes, Earls of Salisbury. By them was the noble Tower at the west end erected in the fifteenth century; by them were the two small Chantries in the North Transept raised; by them was the beautiful,. but mutilated Chapel—to the north of the altar—left to excite the admiration of visitors to the Church by its beauty, to stir at the same time their deepest sympathies and warmest indignation as it reminded them of the noble and most unhappy lady whose fate that mutilation may be said to commemorate. The chapel was erected by Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, for her own resting place, when in due course of nature she should have need of it. But the venerable mother of the eloquent Cardinal Pole, the man who had refused to minister to the depraved appetites of Henry, and subsequently held him up to the scorn and abhorrence of the European world, was not likely to die a peaceful death in England during that monarch’s lifetime. In 1538 the chief relatives of the Cardinal, namely, Lord Montacute and Sir Geoffrey Pole, his brothers, and the Countess, his mother, were suddenly arrested with the Marquis of Exeter and others, on a vague charge of aiding the Cardinal, as the King’s enemy; and Geoffrey, the youngest, having pleaded guilty and made a confession involving the remainder, on a promise that he should be pardoned for so doing, the two noblemen were beheaded on Tower Hill. A month afterwards, on the ground of some alleged discoveries made through the wreck of a French vessel on our shores, fresh arrests took place; and parliament was instructed to pass bills of attainder against the living mourners of the recent victims of the scaffold,—namely, the Countess of Salisbury, her grandson, the child of Lord Montacute, and the widow of the Marquis of Exeter, and with them were associated two knights. The Countess was then seventy years of age, but behaved not the less with so much firmness and presence of mind on her examination before the Earl of Southampton, and the Bishop of Ely, that these personages wrote to their employer, Cromwell, saying she was more like a strong and constant man than a woman, and that she denied everything laid to her charge; and that it seemed to them either that her sons had not made her “privy or participate of the bottom and pit of their stomach, or that she must be the most arrant traitress that ever lived.” Some of the Countess’s servants were examined, and, no doubt, tampered with; still no sufficient material for a criminal trial was to be obtained. What next? Dismissal to their homes, no doubt, under almost any other English monarch: not so under the rule of the cruel Henry; so a bill for their attainder, without the form of a trial, was obtained from the parliament, which should be considered scarcely less infamous than the King to allow itself, as it did, to be the constant agent of his personal malignity. The two knights were executed; the Marchioness of Exeter was pardoned some months later; and what became of the boy does not appear: but as to the Countess, two years after the high nobility and commons of England had authorized the murders sought at their hands, and when men’s minds thought the affair had reached its bloody conclusion at last, the people of England were horrified, those at least whom the never-ceasing wholesale state executions had not entirely brutalized, to hear that the aged Countess had been dragged to the scaffold after all, on the ground of some new provocation given by her son, Cardinal Pole, and that one of the most frightful scenes in English history had taken place on the occasion of the poor lady’s death. When told to lay her head on the block, she answered, “No! my head never committed treason; if you will have it, you must take it as you can.” The executioner strove to detain her, but she ran swiftly round the scaffold, tossing her head from side to side, while the monsters struck her with their axes, until at last, with her grey hair all dabbled in blood, she was held forcibly to the block, and an end put to her misery. There is, as we have already partly intimated, an appendant to this awful picture to be found in the history of Christ Church. It might have been supposed that even Henry would be glad to let such events pass as soon as possible into oblivion; but his satellites knew him better; so when the commissioners were at work at the time of the Reformation, they took care to tell him, in relation to their visit to Christ Church— “In the church we found a chapel and monument made of Caen stone, prepared by the late mother of Reginald Pole for her burial, which we have caused to be defaced, and all the arms and badges clearly to be delete [erased].”

On one side of the tower, at the west end of St. John’s Church, Chester, may be seen the figures of a man and a hind; in that rude pictorial representation we have a record of the origin of the foundation of St. John’s, between eleven and twelve centuries ago; when King Ethelred was admonished in a vision that he should erect the sacred pile on a spot where he would see a milk-white hind. When entire, this building was worthy of its kingly founder, having been at once large and magnificent. But one limb after another of the edifice has disappeared, until now there remains little more than the nave of a building that once had its transepts, and choir, and chapels, on the true cathedral scale. And that nave, with its mighty pillars and arches, seems sadly shorn of its dignity by the alterations and fittings up, including wooden galleries, that have taken place to render the church suitable to our modern notions of the accommodation required for a congregation. (Fig. 713.) There are two interesting traditions connected with St. John’s. When, according to the monkish writers, Edgar took that famous water excursion of his in a barge on the Dee, rowed by eight kings, it was to the church of St. John that he, taking his station at the helm, personally directed their course, and then returned to his palace. If this story be but of doubtful authenticity, we fear our other will be still less entitled to credence. Giraldus Cambrensis, in reference to the brave but unfortunate Harold, slain at Hastings, says that he “had many wounds and lost his left eye with the stroke of an arrow, and was overcome, and escaped to the county of Chester, and lived there holily, as men troweth, an anchorite’s life in Saint James’s cell, fast by St. John’s Church, and made a good end, as it was known by his last confession.” The believers in the existence of Harold at Chester, long after he was supposed to have been killed at Hastings, have been accustomed to show, by way of supporting their views, a small antique-looking building overhanging a high cliff on the south of the churchyard, and known as the Anchorage. Two bodies, deposited in coffin-shaped cavities, have been found in the rock close by—no doubt the bodies of those who have tenanted the Anchorage. But if we would follow the remains to their undoubted resting-place, we must visit Waltham Abbey.