8 Dec 2016

Swinfield Exhibition at Hereford Cathedral

Dingley's image of Gilbert's grave
Where Gilbert's stone was found
in St John's Walk in 2015
On 21st November, Di and I were very pleased to visit Hereford Cathedral to view the exhibition of items for the Swinfields who lived and worked there in the 13th and 14th centuries. As I wrote in the Blog of 28th February 2016, the star of the show is the 700 year-old stone which marked the grave of Gilbert(us) de Swinfield, Chancellor of the Cathedral, who died in 1299. His tomb was opened in the 1840s during the excavations and building work of Dean Merewether. Subsequently the slab was known to be stored in the north-east transept by 1871. It was later broken into usable pieces and the surviving section was employed as paving in St John's Walk. It was re-discovered during restoration work last year. What an amazing survival of enough of the inscription to be able to attribute it to the original grave which was illustrated by Dingley in his History in Marble of the 17th century! It is situated beside the tomb which was incorrectly attributed to Bishop Robert Kilwardby. The stone is now on display in the Chained Library.

Gilbert's stone in the Chained Library 

The Swinfield Exhibition
When Gilbert's tomb was opened, the body was left in situ. However, the grave goods, which included fragments of the gold braid of his vestments and possibly his shoes as well as his pewter chalice and paten, were removed and preserved. Those are now on show until the excellent exhibition closes at the end of 2016. If you are in the Hereford area this month, take the opportunity to visit. It will not be repeated.

      Other artefacts and documents are displayed for Gilbert's brother, Precentor John Swinfield (died 1311), and their uncle Bishop Richard de Swinfield (died 1317). Those include the amazing wooden and gilded head of Richard's crozier. Both men have much grander memorials than that of Gilbert. John's effigy, with its lovely arch of pigs and acorns, is readily visible to the right side of The Lady Chapel. Richard's much desecrated memorial can now only be found by gaining access to the locked storeroom of the Cathedral gift shop and fighting your way behind the bubblewrap!

Geoff Swinfield, Ian Bass and
Clare Wichbold at the memorial
to John Swinfield 
Bishop Richard de Swinfield's
monument in the gift shop storeroom   
We were given an excellent insight into the world of these 13th/14th centuries clerics by our guides, Clare Wichbold, the Cathedral's archaeologist, who unearthed Gilbert's stone, and Ian Bass. For the exhibition, Ian compiled an account of the life of the "forgotten Chancellor" which he presented to those who attended an open day for the exhibition. It can be read online here.

St Thomas de Cantilupe's tomb 
The Bishop was clearly a 13th century entrepreneur who took the opportunity to publicise the miracles attributed to his predecessor Thomas de Cantilupe who was bishop from 1275 to 1282 and was later to be canonised in 1320. Richard insisted that Thomas be buried not where he wished to be laid to rest but in a very prominent position in the Cathedral. That monument has recently been restored to what it would have looked like in 1287 when it was lavishly constructed. Richard Swinfield had a great eye for a business opportunity, offering a place of pilgrimage to try to rival that of Thomas Becket at Canterbury, martyred in 1170.

It is not known what became of the Swinfield lineage, if there were any descendants, after the deaths of the three clerics by 1317. There is little, if any, record of people with our surname from then until they appear in the records of London and Leicestershire/Derbyshire in the late 16th century.

Were any of the Swinfields of Hereford the ancestors of today's generation? We will probably never know!