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Florence Nightingale & Nurses' chapel

Although burial in Westminster Abbey was offered to the family of Florence Nightingale, famous nurse and reformer, it was declined, due to provisions in her will and she is buried at Wellow in Hampshire. But recently the Dean of Westminster re-dedicated the Nurses' Memorial Chapel in the Abbey, in the upper Islip chantry chapel, to Florence Nightingale, on the centenary of her death. The chapel is reached via steep steps and an appointment should be made with the Vergers at the Abbey to unlock the chapel. 

The Nurses' memorial chapel, designed by Sebastian Comper, was set up in 1950 to remember all those in the nursing professions from the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth who died during the 1939-45 war. A roll of honour (illuminated by Constance Free) is kept in the chapel together with a lamp used in the annual Florence Nightingale service for nurses held at the Abbey in May. This was presented by Sir Dan Mason. The metalwork in the chapel is by W.F.Knight and the woodwork by Messrs James Walker, with gilding and painting by W.J.Butchart. The stained glass window is by Hugh Easton (assisted by Robert Hendra, G.F.Harper and others) and shows the Virgin and Child standing on a crescent moon and St Luke, the "beloved physician" standing on a rainbow. At the base is a figure of a kneeling nurse with badges and coats of arms of all the countries from which the nurses came. The Nightingale lamp is depicted at the top of the window. On the table which holds the casket with the roll of honour is a strip of brass (inserted in 1980) remembering Miss Elise Gordon, editor of the "Nursing Mirror" (which paid the administration costs of the War Memorial Fund that set up the chapel). This reads "To the Glory of God and in grateful memory of Elise Gordon 1903-1977". The large crucifix on the wall is a bronze duplicate of the original by Giovanni da Bologna in Florence. The altar, with gilt bronze colonettes, is the remains of the monument to Abbot Islip who died in 1532 (possibly by sculptor Pietro Torrigiano). Two original wall paintings can faintly be seen on the wall either side of the altar.

Florence Nightingale

Florence was born on 12th May 1820 in Florence, Italy, while her parents William and Frances were on tour. She started her career helping out in London hospitals and at the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 travelled with others to Scutari to nurse the wounded. Luckily she recovered from a bout of fever she contracted there. The Times newspaper called her "The Lady of the Lamp" referring to her midnight vigils on the wards. Once back in England she set about reforming the army nursing services. She died on 13th August 1910 and a memorial was erected for her in St Paul's Cathedral.

Further reading

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

Field

Doctor

Location

Islip Chapel

Florence Nightingale & Nurses' chapel
Florence Nightingale & Nurses' chapel
This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

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At different times of the day, or in different seasons, the light falling in the Abbey will light up something that you have walked past a million times and never seen before.

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Vanessa, Head of Conservation

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