The Chaucer Window, designed by John Lisle for Charles Eamer Kempe, at the east end of the north nave aisle in Southwark Cathedral, 1900. Below a roundel with the familiar depiction of Geoffrey Chaucer, the pilgrims from the Canterbury Tales are seen setting out from the Tabard Inn, Southwark ("In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay..."), on their pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas à Becket at Canterbury, with one or two people looking on from the inn's galleries. The little procession seems to be coming right out of the frame towards us.

As the individual pilgrims jostle their way forward, some read the scriptures, some look vacant, as travellers so often do. We can imagine that they will enjoy passing the time by telling each other stories. Over them hangs not just an inn sign, but a fully displayed herald's tabard. The square tower of Southwark Cathedral can be seen behind and above them, to the left, and a spire to the right.

Closer view of St Thomas à Becket in the lower part of the window.

St Thomas in the lower part of the window is a noble figure, with mitre and cross, wearing a rich cope over a red robe. Below him is an inscription "To the Glory of God and in honour of Geoffrey Chaucer. Given by A. W. Pigott. Dedicated Oct. 25th 1900, the 500th anniversary of the Poet's death." Adrian Barlow points out the "intricate detail and variation of colouring in the border surrounding this inscription," showing "the care that went into parts of a Kempe window that usually pass unnoticed" (caption, p. 123).

Photographs by Colin Price. Text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit Colin Price and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Related Material


Barlow, Adrian. Espying Heaven: The Stained Glass of Charles Eamer Kempe and His Artists. Cambridge: Lutterworth, 2019. [Review]

Created 19 February 2019