Hanging pyxes part II – some examples of its modern revival

Grosvenor Chapel 012, originally uploaded by sarumsleuth.

The Gothic revival architect Sir Ninian Comper was the first to reintroduce the hanging pyx into Anglican churches. The image aboveis of a hanging pyx introduced by Comper into the Grosvenor chapel in London. Its form with the triple crowned canopy, is based on the medieval example recorded in the Islip roll in Westminster Abbey. The earliest hanging pyx Comper installed was in the chapel of the clergy house at St Matthew’s Westminster, sadly that has long gone. One of the earliest survivals is in St Wilfrid’s Cantley, where the pyx is suspended from a tester above the high altar.

Chancel, Cantley Church
St Wilfrid Cantley, West Yorkshire. Photo by JohnEVigar

Other architects followed Comper’s lead and also introduced the hanging pyx. It was popular in the main with those churches that followed the ‘English Use’ or Sarum brand of Anglo-Catholicism. Here is an example from the 1920s by Randall Blacking in High Wycombe church.

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. Photo by Sarumsleuth

The hanging pyx at Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire is an even more recent addition, added in 1994 and designed by Stuart Birdsall.

Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire. Photo by SacredDestinations

The unusual form of an openwork canopy surrounding the pyx and cloth is based on a thirteenth century example in Wells Cathedral. There is some debate whether the Wells example was a pyx canopy at all.

Wells Cathedral, Somerset. Photo by archidave

SarumSleuth has a photo of the 1970s hanging pyx in a side chapel at Ripon Cathedral by Leslie Durbin. The less I say about this one the better.

Ripon Cathedral, North Yorkshire. Photo by Sarumsleuth

16 thoughts on “Hanging pyxes part II – some examples of its modern revival

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  1. Isn’t the Cantley altar the very first of Comper’s “English” altars – the father of un-numbered children? It’s still a very fine ensemble – to my eyes less set-designy than some of his later work. Shame that the altar is got-up to resemble a porcupine’s back.


  2. The second, I believe, the first ‘English altar’ and hanging pyx were installed in the chapel of St Matthew’s clergy house in Westminster in 1892. The furnishings at Cantley were only completed in 1894. Sadly the hanging pyx at Westminster has long since gone, although the ‘English altar’ remains. The Cantley altar is a little cluttered isn’t it, I think they need to revert to Comper’s original arrangement of two candle power.


  3. Dave: As far as I’m aware the chapel was untouched in the fire. It is on the first floor and is away from the rest of the building. I went there perhaps six months ago now and the Comper English altar, textiles and screen were still intact. Gregory: I had forgotten the pyx at Portsmouth, one of my Lord of Salisbury’s better ideas while he was Provost. There is a good example at Mirfield too if I recall.


  4. Peter Anson’s “Fashions” cites Cantley as the first English altar. It’s almost 50 years since it was first published, which is a bit of a shock to realize. Is it possible, to be charitable, that the Ripon pyx was designed as the framework for a canopy and pyx cloth, or has it always looked like this?


  5. I notice that Anson refers to Cantley as the prototype of the English altar. I don’t think there is a lot in it in terms of date. Comper seems to have had the germ of the idea around 1892/93, he first puts them forward in lecture form in 1893 and they were published in 1894. Fr Anthony Symondson reads this blog, so perhaps he can shed some light on which came first. As for the Ripon pyx, I think you are being very charitable. I’m sure it is intended to be so bald and brash.


  6. ps. Anson does state, re the St. Matthew’s suspended pyx, that it was replaced by a tabernacle quite soon (about 20 years? – I’m away from my copy of “Fashions in Church Furnishings” just now) after the construction of the altar.


  7. Anson p. 286 quoting Comper. Comper does indeed say that it lasted only twenty years to be replaced with ‘an unnecessary and inaccurate following of the modern Roman Use’.


  8. Anson was not always accurate but people seem to regard him as definitive. He was a pioneer with an agenda and most pioneers are fallible.The first English (or Gothic) altar was indeed in the Lady Chapel of St Matthew's, Westminster, where it remains to this day. The chapel was designed by Comper, completed in 1892, and combined the dual function of being the private chapel of the clergy house, a place of reservation which could be locked, and a Lady Chapel. It was attached to the church by a stone staircase modelled on one in the Bargello, Florence. The decoration was over-elaborated by Donald Buttress after the fire and is no longer fully repesentative of Comper's earliest work. Comper added the roses in relief over the eastern arch in 1914 at about the time when the pyx was removed.The hanging pyx was an original medieval one, bought from Barkentin & Krall. It lasted until the time of Fr Marcus Atlay and was then removed to St Mary's, Wellingborough, where it was rehung, beneath a triple crown, over the high altar (see p203 of my humble volume). This arrangement survived until after the Second World War until it was replaced by the present tabernacle and six candlesticks.The high altar at Cantley was the first Gothic altar to be erected in a parish church. The hanging pyx there was executed by Barkentin & Krall and, as we see, still remains. The third Gothic altar was designed for St Ives, in Huntingdonshire, and has been re-sited in the south aisle. The fourth is at Downside Abbey, where it has been removed to the chapel of St Richard Whiting. It was originally in the Lady Chapel but was replaced in 1913 by a more elaborate form. The fifth is in the crypt chapel of St Sepulchre in St Mary Magdalen, Paddington, where it still remains, minus the hanging pyx, or suspended tabernacle as Comper preferred to call it.Doubtless the Ron's and Eric's, as I call latter day Comper experts, will have there own versions of the facts.


  9. Thanks for the Winchester link Roger. I had never noticed this before. Perhaps the Dean and Chapter could be persuaded to remove the horrid light and restore the hanging pyx.


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