The collegiate church of Saint Mary in Warwick is a treasure trove of wonderful things of interest to the traveller, not least the remarkable gilded bronze effigy of Richard Beauchamp, the 13th Earl of Warwick, who died in 1439. And quite rightly,the magnificence of his tomb is a major focus of attention, centrally placed in the chapel especially built to house it, with the armour clad Earl atop with his hands spread wide in an attitude of prayerful supplication. He looks for all the world as if he might rise up at any minute to challenge the visitors whose impetuous and inquisitive fingers have, over centuries, tarnished the gilt figures of mourners around his monument. One can imagine the vein at his temple throbbing with outrage at their presumption and lack of respect here in this most beautifully preserved chapel.
He is overlooked by the Dean's Chapel, a late Perpendicular Chantry, where prayers would have been offered to lessen the time of his soul in Purgatory, an important consideration for medieval people, a kind of spiritual insurance policy. For such a small chamber, it is rich in detail, most notably for the fan vaulted ceiling whose elegant points droop gracefully overhead, with the star-shaped intersections picked out in blue and gold.
On either side of the altar, whose blue brocade frontal is made from fabric used at the coronation, are handsome gothic niches which probably once housed statues at one time, between which a narrow window displays modern glass in tones of red and blue. It depicts the Noli Me Tangere moment after the Resurrection, where Mary Magalene encounters the Risen Christ, simply and effectively rendered.
The whole chapel is in effect a whitened sepulchre, although whether this was its original appearance or a more recent attempt at beautification, I cannot say. The white walls and stonework remind one of the hard royal icing of an old fashioned wedding cake, as if the spiky crockets and finials might be made of brittle icing sugar, and a faint snowy dust powders the floor.
To the North is a modern and unsympathetic wooden door behind which lies a short flight of stone stairs leading to another, much smaller, inner chapel, with room within for only one person, a very private and personal space for the most heartfelt of prayers. Many visitors give the Dean's Chapel only the briefest of glances, perhaps frustrated by the wrought iron gate which prevents them from accessing the Beauchamp Chapel directly. I found it a compelling and magnetic place, for reasons beyond its architectural and historical interest, reasons which I cannot directly define : I would like to think that perhaps all the prayers offered up within its walls were somehow still resonant within its fabric, imbuing it with a sense of holiness. I was very loath to depart.