Cosmati Pavement at Westminster Abbey

Apr 18, 2023 0 comments

In May 2023, following the coronation of King Charles III and the Queen Consort, Camilla, at Westminster Abbey, the church’s historic Cosmati pavement will be opened for the first time to the public, although visitors would have to remove their shoes in order to step upon the glittering pavement that had been hidden under carpets for the last 150 years.

The Cosmati pavement is an intricate mosaic floor of marble, stone, glass and metal that was laid down in 1268, commissioned by Henry III when he started re-building Edward the Confessor's Abbey in the new Gothic style. The pavement was laid in a unique pattern of stone decoration known as Cosmati work, after a renowned Roman family of skilled architects, craftsmen, and mosaic workers who did decorative geometric mosaic, especially on church floors, during the 12th and 13th centuries.

The great pavement measures 24 feet 10 inches square and consists of geometrical patterns built up from pieces of stone of different colors and sizes cut into a variety of shapes: triangles, squares, circles, rectangles and many others. The central roundel is made of onyx and the pavement also includes purple porphyry, green serpentine and yellow limestone. Also part of the original material are pieces of opaque coloured glass – red, turquoise, cobalt blue and bluish white. The work lies in a bed of dark limestone known as Purbeck marble, which was unusual for the era since white marble was normally preferred for this kind of work. The Westminster Abbey’s floor is said to be one of the finest Cosmati pavement north of the Alps.

In addition to the abstract motifs, the design also includes a Latin inscription in brass lettering—a foreboding message predicting the end of the world in another 19,683 years, mentioned in a cryptic riddle adding together the life spans of different animals including dogs, horses, men, stags, ravens, eagles and whales. The Latin inscriptions can be translated as:

In the year of Christ one thousand two hundred and twelve plus sixty minus four, the third King Henry, the city, Odoricus and the abbot put these porphyry stones together.
If the reader wisely considers all that is laid down, he will find here the end of the primum mobile; a hedge (lives for) three years, add dogs and horses and men, stags and ravens, eagles, enormous whales, the world: each one following triples the years of the one before.
The spherical globe here shows the archetypal macrocosm.

Ever since the pavement had been laid, every coronation have taken place upon it. When Prince William and Kate Middleton married in 2011, they stood over this very pavement.

Botched preservation attempt and neglect over 700 years caused the pavement to deteriorate, and by the mid-19th century, the pavement was in poor condition. To protect the pavement it was covered with linoleum, but that only attracted moisture and fungal growth furthering deterioration. Between 2008 and 2010, extensive restoration work was done on the pavement to clean and repair it.

When the Cosmati pavement opens for the public this May, visitors will be asked to remove their shoes to help protect its surface.


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