In the chapel of St Benedict in Westminster Abbey is the tomb of Simon Langham, the only Abbot of Westminster to become a Cardinal.The alabaster altar tomb shows his recumbent effigy with hands at prayer, dressed in mass vestments with crozier and pall. The dark blue glass jewels on his gloves and mitre have disappeared. At his head are two mutilated angel supporters and at his feet are two dogs wearing belled collars. The sides of the tomb chest are divided into panels each with a coat of arms. Wrought iron railings protect it on three sides. The monument formerly had a canopy over it but this was broken down at the coronation of George I in 1714. A statue of St Mary Magdalene once stood at his feet and his cardinal's hat formerly hung above. The tomb is by Henry Yevele and Stephen Lote and dates from 1389-95. The inscription is in raised letters on a metal strip around the tomb slab with an engraved flower or monster between each word. The remaining Latin inscription can be translated:
"Here lies [Simon Langham] one time Abbot of this place, Treasurer of England, elected to the See of London, Bishop of Ely, Chancellor of England, Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Priest, and afterwards Cardinal Bishop of Palestrina..."
The shields (repainted in the 1960s) show the coats of arms of the monastery of Westminster, the sees of Ely and Canterbury, Edward the Confessor, France and England and its variants as borne by Richard II and Edward III.
He was the son of Thomas Langham, who was buried in the nave of the Abbey, and was probably a native of the village of Langham in the Abbey's Rutlandshire property. The earliest mention of Simon at Westminster is in the chamberlain's roll for 1339-40, although the preceding rolls are missing. He was elected Prior and then served as Abbot from 1349-62. In 1362 he became Bishop of Ely and his other posts followed, being elected Archbishop of Canterbury in 1366. On receiving a cardinal's hat from Pope Urban V he gave up the Canterbury post in 1368 to go abroad to the Papal Court. He is remembered at the Abbey for paying off the debts of his predecessor and giving many gifts of money, plate and vestments to the monastery here. He died and was buried in Avignon on 22 July 1376 and his body was moved to the Abbey in 1379.
He bequeathed his vast fortune towards the rebuilding of the nave. John Flete, a monk from 1420 recalls in his history "Vivid memory still recalls with what great affection this venerable father managed the convent and how strenuously he toiled for the brethren". Flete also records a different epitaph for the Cardinal, which can be translated: "Simon de Langham, entombed beneath these stones, was monk, prior, and Abbot of this church: the see falling vacant, he was elected bishop of London, honoured at Ely, but afterwards great primate of the whole kingdom and minister of the King: for he was his treasurer and chancellor, and then priest-cardinal in Rome: afterwards he was made bishop of Praeneste, and was sent hither as papal Nuncio. The world grieves, O Father, whom we are now unable to recall, he collapsed in death on the feast of the Magdalene, in the year of Christ 1376. May God absolve him from all evil deeds, and through the merits of his Mother grant him heavenly joys".
A photo of the tomb can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
"The Monks of Westminster" by E.H.Pearce, 1916
"Simon Langham, Abbot of Westminster" by J.Armitage Robinson in Church Quarterly Review no.66, 1908.
"The History of Westminster Abbey by John Flete" edited by J.Armitage Robinson, 1909 (Latin text but translation available at the Abbey Library)
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004
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