The Cosmati pavement at Westminster Abbey, laid down in 1268 on the orders of Henry III, was covered by a carpet for over 100 years. It has recently been restored and the wonderful colours and riot of swirls and whirls has now been revealed. The pavement is particularly special because it is one of the very few in the UK and the only one in such a complete state. (There is an excellent website with much more about the Westminster Cosmati pavement, how it was restored, the lettering, and the history on this link.)
The pavement is 7·5 m square and in the Sacrarium or Sanctuary, butting up against the three steps going up to the High Altar. This position must have indicated its importance and significance when the floor was laid. It’s on this pavement that the throne will be placed and the next king will be crowned. Interestingly, during restoration it was found that many of the stones were antique and were salvaged from Roman buildings, presumably in Italy. It is also different from other Cosmati pavements because the background is dark Purbeck marble, rather then white Italian marble as with all other Cosmatesque pavements
It was, in fact, in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore (a splendid building and certainly worth a visit if you are in Rome) that I first noticed the floor, and was intrigued by the patterns and the design, and wanted to find out more. An enlargement of the floor in this church in Rome is on the right.
Seven members and four generations of the creative Cosmati family based in Rome worked from before 1190 to 1303 and made decorative floors, pulpits, thrones, choir screens and tombs for churches. Colourful and sometimes patterned pieces of stone were cut into geometric shapes of triangles, circles, squares and rectangles and laid in a matrix of white marble. (Right: Monreale Cathedral)
The first work of the Cosmati family was by Lorenzo Cosmati in a church in Fabieri in 1190, and the last recorded work was by Deodato who died in 1303.Their name gave rise to the style of pavements which are now in a number of churches, such as the Church of Santa Maria Travestere on the right which is an impressive display of wonderful patterns and colour.
And you don’t have to travel to Italy to see another great Cosmati pavement. There is one at Two Temple Place, which was built for William Waldorf Astor in 1895. Now the house is a gallery and open only during exhibitions. There is a lot of glorious craft in the house, so it is worth visiting if you can. (Right: taken from Two Temple Place written by Barbara Bryant, used by kind permission)
It does seem quite amazing that this one family, the Cosmatis, working for just over 100 years in the Middle Ages, gave rise to something that is still in evidence today and wanted by some of the richest people in the world in the 19th century for their town house. These pavements are walked over by thousands of people yet also delighting those who care to pause and look down. (Right: San Cataldo Church, Palermo.)