Church Monuments Society


A word for the unwary: a cadaver monument in Southwark Cathedral

Month: May 2021
Type: Effigy  
Era: 15th Century

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Southwark Cathedral
London Bridge, London SE1 9DA

More about this monument

A cadaver monument in Southwark Cathedral is said to be the wealthy London merchant Thomas Cure – but is it?

Southwark Cathedral (previously known as St Saviour’s church and originally the church of Southwark Priory, dedicated to the Virgin Mary aka St Mary Overie) has within it a monument attributed to the prominent and wealthy Thomas Cure (d. 1588), saddler to Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth, warden of St Saviour’s, Southwark, and a member of parliament. Located in the north choir aisle, his monument comprises a wall tomb with a tomb chest on which lies a cadaver effigy (Fig. 1 and Fig 2). Cure was a generous benefactor of the church and donated money and land on which to build an almshouse for 16 poor people. In his will he also asked that his ‘withered body’ might be buried beside that of his mother if he should die in Southwark but makes no mention of a monument.  Could the phrase ‘withered body’ have been intended by Cure to reflected by a monument with a withered cadaver effigy?

At first sight the tomb, in the north choir aisle, looks authentic but Jon Bayliss alerted me to the fact that it is actually a late-twentieth century marriage. Previously the cadaver had been displayed separately on the floor near the tomb of John Gower in the chapel of St John. It was still there when the current Buildings of England: London South was published in 1973 (p. 570). The cadaver was located in the same place as far back as at least the late-eighteenth century. This is shown by a drawing in J. T. Smith, Antiquities of London and its Environs (London, 1791) (Fig. 3). The caption below reads ‘This monument is placed on the ground, under the North window of the Spiritual Court & is traditionally said to be in memory of Old Overie, father of Mary Overie, foundress of the Priory’. This attribution should also be taken with a bushel of salt. The church is a Saxon foundation and in 1106 during the reign of Henry I it became an Augustinian priory, under the patronage of the Bishops of Winchester, who established their London seat Winchester Palace immediately to the west in 1149. Clearly the cadaver cannot date from then.

Cadaver effigies are difficult to date unless there is clear evidence of the specific person commemorated, which is not the case here. The hairstyle shown is the short, cropped style to the second quarter of the fifteenth century, but no precise date can be given. Most cadavers are individually designed so comparison of one example with another is often of little help. However, there are a small number of examples for which the pose and drawing of the transi bear a strong generic likeness, perhaps suggesting that a single mason or workshop produced them. The key characteristics are the pose with the left arm hanging straight by the body and the right arm holding part of the shroud across the genitals, the cropped hair, the prominence of the ribcage and the V-shaped bones in the neck. The Southwark cadaver bears all these features. The pose as well as the hairstyle is mirrored by cadaver effigies at at Fyfield (Berkshire) to Sir John Golafre (d. 1442) (Fig. 4) and Fulbourne (Cambridgeshire) to rector John Careway (d. 1443) (Fig. 5), as well as two extant and one lost transi  figure, all of which are uncertain of attribution and cannot be firmly dated. The example at Southwark must be from the same era, but for whom it was originally carved will doubtless remain a mystery.

Sally Badham


Fig. 1 Current state of monument to Thomas Cure (d. 1588). Photo: Cameron Newham.


Fig. 2 Overhead view of cadaver on monument to Thomas Cure (d. 1588). Photo: Cameron Newham.


Fig. 3 Drawing of the cadaver in J. T. Smith, Antiquities of London and its Environs (London, 1791).


Fig. 4 Overhead view of cadaver on monument at Fyfield (Berkshire) to Sir John Golafre (d. 1442). Photo: Cameron Newham


Fig. 5 Overhead view of cadaver on monument at Fulbourne (Cambridgeshire) to rector John Careway, (d. 1443). Photo: Cameron Newham.