The medieval house of the Abbots of Westminster was known as Cheyneygates. The principal room, the Jerusalem Chamber, was added by Nicholas Litlyngton (Abbot of Westminster 1362-86).
The origin of the name is uncertain but it was not uncommon in the Middle Ages to assign names to rooms, as here at the Abbey there are 'Jerusalem', 'Jericho' and 'Samaria'. The Jerusalem Chamber is now entered from the smaller room known as the Jericho Parlour. This latter room was built by John Islip who was Abbot from 1500 to 1532. The 'linenfold' panelling here is original. In the window of the Parlour are some quarries of glass bearing Abbot Islip's rebus, or pun on his name, 'I slip' with an eye and a slip (or branch).
The Jerusalem Chamber
The roof of the Jerusalem Chamber is original, although it was restored and re-painted in the 1950s due to death-watch beetle damage. On the timbers are Abbot Litlyngton's initials under a mitre and a crowned letter R for Richard II in whose reign the room was built. The panelling, copied from that in the Jericho Parlour, was added in the late 19th century by Dean Stanley and is made of cedar wood from Lebanon.
The Jerusalem Chamber
The tapestries are of varied provenance. Some are part of a series depicting the History of Abraham, woven in France in the 16th century, and of which other parts may be seen at Hampton Court. These were at one time hung around the High Altar in the Abbey for great occasions, and then were cut to fit the spaces in the Chamber. Above the door and to the right are fragments depicting the return of Sarah from Egypt and at the far end of the room is the Circumcision of Isaac. Opposite this is a 17th century tapestry of Rebekah at the well and to the left of the door is the only complete tapestry, made in England by a weaver using a Flemish mark in the late 17th century. It depicts St Peter healing the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. The latter two tapestries were given by Lord John Thynne, Sub-Dean of Westminster, in 1871.
Most of the stonework of the fireplace is original but the top section dates from the time of Dean William Foxley Norris (1925-37). The shields are, from left to right, Abbot Litlyngton, Edward the Confessor, the medieval Abbey of Westminster, King Henry IV or V and Dean Norris. In front of this fireplace took place what is perhaps the best known event in the room's history: the death of King Henry IV. In 1413 the King was planning to go to the Holy Land, and when praying at St Edward's Shrine in the Abbey he was taken ill, apparently with a stroke. He was brought to the Abbot's house and laid by the fire where he recovered consciousness. King Henry asked where he was and was told 'Jerusalem'. The chronicle relates that the King realized he was going to die because it had been prophesied that he would die in Jerusalem. In Henry IV, Part II, Shakespeare tells this story of the King's death and also has Prince Henry trying on the crown while his father lay dying.
The two plaster busts at the south end of the room represent Henry IV and Henry V. The former is copied from the effigy on the Henry IV's tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.
After the Benedictine monastery was dissolved in 1540 the Abbot's House, including the Jerusalem Chamber, was granted to the Bishop of Westminster (1540-50). Later on this house became the Deanery and it was here in 1624 that John Williams, Dean of Westminster and Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, entertained the French Ambassador who had come to arrange the marriage of the future King Charles I with Henrietta Maria. Dean Williams commemorated this event by adding the present wooden mantle over the fireplace.
A marquetry long case clock, signed by Robert Clements and dating from about 1686, stands nearby and was presented in 1977 by Miss Mudge. The crystal chandeliers, given in 1956 by Guy Wellby, have recently been replaced by metal circular light fittings.
In the Jerusalem Chamber many historic meetings have been held: the committees engaged on writing the Authorized Version of the Bible in 1611, the Revised Version in 1870, the New English Bible in 1961 and the Revised English Bible in 1989.
In the winter of 1643 the Westminster Assembly of Divines met in the Chamber, and the Upper House of Convocation has often gathered here.
The Chamber, which is one of the private rooms of the Deanery, is now used for meetings of the Dean and Chapter, and for private gatherings and receptions as arranged or permitted by the Dean. This room is not open to the public.
Photographs of the Jerusalem Chamber can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
The work can be tough, but even the cold and rain don’t bother me as I enjoy it so much. I love every day that I spend at the Abbey – just being here makes me smile.