Buildings Connected with the Abbey

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Of the remaining buildings connected with the abbey, the principal are: the Treasury, the Chapter House, the Jewel House, or Parliament office, and the Deanery.

The Chapter House (which has shared the vicissitudes of the abbey itself and was founded with it by the Confessor, though no traces of Saxon work remain, except perhaps in the massive walls of the crypt beneath) is a lofty, well-lighted octagon building, with a central column of Purbeck marble enclosed within eight detached shafts, said to have been used as a whipping-post for refractory monks, and a fine groined roof, subsequently restored by Sir Gilbert Scott.

On the walls are remains of frescoes representing Christ surrounded by the Christian virtues, dating from the fourteenth century, with others of a ruder character representing scenes from the Apocalypse; the floor is considered one of the finest specimens of encaustic paving now existing, and the magnificent double doorway giving access to this interesting room from the east cloister has a finely decorated pediment, the sculptures of which retain traces of colour.

The Chapter House was originally used as a place of meeting for the dignitaries of the abbey, but in 1377, with their consent, the sittings of the House of Commons were first held in it, and it continued to be at the disposal of that assembly until 1547, when Edward VI. gave up St. Stephen's Chapel within his palace for its deliberations.

Between the south transept of the abbey and the double doorway alluded to above is a curious room, little known to the public, and erroneously called the Chapel of St. Blaise, approached by a doorway said to be covered "with the skins of Danes tanned." The east end of this room was evidently a chapel, and contains fragments of sacred sculpture and paintings. The roof is lofty and beautifully groined.

The Jewel or Parliament House rises at a short distance from the Chapter House and Treasury, and consists of an ancient square tower, built by Abbot Littlington, and supposed to have been originally a monastic prison, but to have passed to the crown by purchase at the close of the reign of Edward III., who used it as a jewel house.

Later it was converted into a repository for Acts of Parliament, and so remained until the completion of the Victoria Tower of the Palace of Westminster, when its valuable contents were transferred to its more imposing looking rival. The Jewel House is now merely an interesting relic of former times.

Next page: The Deanery