THIS NEW EXHIBITION IS EXTREMELY COOL
Richard the Lionheart and Saladin clash in a reassembly of the Chertsey Tiles, designed to tell the story of the Third Crusade
There’s barely anything to see of Chertsey Abbey today. A few bits of ruined stonework, green with moss and grown over with ivy, are all that are left of what was once a formidable and very ancient Benedictine monastery.
Chertsey was founded in the 660s, sacked by the Vikings in the ninth century, revived a century later and then thrived until the arrival of Henry VIII’s goons in the 1530s, who went one better than the Danes, and shut it down for good. A century after the Reformation began, thanks to a series of not-so-careful owners, all the original buildings had been destroyed.
In a sense that’s a familiar story - few indeed were the religious houses in England that escaped the Dissolution of the Monasteries. But Chertsey is unusual in that its name still rings bells.
For one thing, it was the initial burial-place of the Lancastrian king Henry VI, before he was transferred to Westminster Abbey.
And for another, it has lent its name to various series of extraordinary floor-tiles, the most famous of which depicts scenes from the Third Crusade. These so-called ‘combat tiles’ were probably commissioned and created around 1250 - two generations after Richard the Lionheart had led a huge English expeditionary force to join international efforts to recapture Jerusalem.
After the dissolution of Chertsey Abbey the tiles disappeared for centuries. So what happened to them?