Church Monuments Society

Buckland St MaryFig 3

The Rector’s Zombie Bride: The Monument To Madelina Lance (D.1839)

Month: September 2017
Type: Stone carving  
Era: 19th Century

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Church of The Blessed Virgin Mary
Buckland St Mary
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More about this monument

In 1839 Madelina, the wife of John Edwin Lance, Rector of Buckland St Mary died of smallpox on March 26, seven days after giving birth to a son, Reginald Strathallan, who himself died three days later. They were buried together on Easter Day (31 March). Twenty-two years later, as part of his great construction programme for Buckland St Mary, John Edwin Lance erected a composite memorial, partly paid for by his brother-in-law Henry Porcheron the north side of the sanctuary (Fig 1). This consists of a stained glass window showing the Resurrection above an arched tomb-recess (Fig 2) in which is a representation of Madelina Lance smashing open the lid of her sarcophagus and climbing out clutching her baby (Fig 3). The quality of the monument is good, but the whole has most bizarre effect, resembling the worst type of zombie film.

Perhaps because of its isolated position Buckland St Mary, designed by Benjamin Ferrey, is one of the underappreciated gems of the Victorian religious revival. Ferrey, the friend and fellow-pupil, and later biographer, of Augustus Welby Pugin, travelled in Europe, including Switzerland, with George Gilbert Scott. The current Pevsner is tepid about the building, the interior of which is certainly dark, but filled with goodies, including a spectacular font and a series of windows commemorating the donors to the church, most of them from the Lance and Porcher families and their connections. The chancel is particularly rich, the walls decorated with diaper-work derived from Westminster Abbey.

The source of the monument to Madelina Lance is that by Johann August Nahl to Maria Magdalena Langhans, wife of Pastor George Langhans, who died in childbirth in 1751 aged 28, at Hindelbank, Switzerland. This monument was the subject of a Romantic cult, visited by notable figures such as the writers Christoph Martin Wieland, Johann Kaspar Lavater, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the artist Alexander Trippel, and the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. In addition terracotta models of the monument were made for sale as souvenirs one example of which is in the British Museum . Its image was also widely disseminated in the form of prints. It became an essential item for British (and indeed American) visitors touring Europe.

It was not necessary for a member of the Porcher/Lance family to have visited Switzerland to know about the Langhans monument. Even so, they must have been attracted by the parallels between the situation of John Edwin Lance and George Langhans. There is the coincidence of the dead women’s names, their deaths associated with childbirth, and their husbands’ avocations. There may even be a remote similarity in the sound of the names Lance and Langhans. In any case, although the peak of the fame of the Langhans monument had passed by the time of the erection of the Lance monument (although not at the time of Madelina Lance’s death) the Lance monument’s source might be expected to be recognised by the educated visitor.

The sculptor of the Lance monument was James Forsyth, a major figure in nineteenth-century ecclesiastical sculpture, who also made the pulpit and reredos. The reredos represents the Entombment, so that it forms a coherent programme with the earlier Resurrection monument and window. As with Ferrey, the Lance and Porcher families had gone to one of the leading artists of the day to fulfil their commission.

The Buckland St Mary monument, therefore, is not a bizarre provincial piece by a non-metropolitan artist with a design that now appeals only to devotees of steam-punk and gothick horror, but a serious work of art which places Buckland St Mary at the heart of the tradition of European Romanticism.

The connections between Romanticism and the Nineteenth-century religious revivals in architecture, ecclesiology, and worship are well-known, albeit somewhat contentious. The elevation of the Gothic style above all others, combined with an elevation of an imagined heroic past and a privileging of emotional experience (the locus classicus is probably Wagner’s Die Meistersingers von Nuremberg) fed into attitudes to religion, whether in the High-church (bells and smells, the use of liturgy in an atmosphere designed to heighten the senses) or Evangelical (plain liturgy with an emphasis on conversion experience) forms.

Lance and his architect were both attached to the High-church or Tractarian party. In building Buckland St Mary Church and the monument to Madelina Lance they proclaim themselves, together with Forsyth, both adherents to Tractarianism and men of Romantic sensibility.

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