The fireplace from the Precentor’s house, Cathedral Close

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The fireplace from the Precentor’s house, Cathedral Close

The fireplace is one of a series of grandiose fireplaces installed in the houses of the wealthy clergy in Cathedral Close in the period 1485-1530, reflecting their elevated status. The trend-setter was the magnificent creation built in the Bishop's Palace in the 1480s, which still survives, and which remained the grandest of all. Others soon followed, however, and the one in the museum is datable to 1496-9, since it shows the initials JC of John Coombe, who was Precentor for that brief period. The Precentor or Cantor was the clergyman in charge of the cathedral's music - an ancient and prestigious office in the Middle Ages. His house stood in the Cathedral Close until it was demolished in 1870; the Cathedral School now occupies its successor, still called The Chantry. The old house had two very elaborate late medieval fireplaces, one of which is now lost. The one now in the museum was salvaged after 1870, installed nearby in the Deanery c. 1900, but removed from there c. 1971, when it was regarded as inappropriate for the Deanery Hall. Carved in Beer stone, the fireplace is a showpiece of late medieval ornament. On the lintel, shields flank the central motif, with a charming band of angels above, surmounted by a row of tall leaves (probably lilies).

Acknowledgments: RAM Museum

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