The Cosmati Pavement: A National Treasure
As discussed in last week’s blog, the pavement has been subject to many restoration efforts over the centuries; the most notable ones took place in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Victorian era and in 2008.
In the 17th century the repairs were spread out across the pavement and were done in such an obtrusive manner that it was easy to spot the areas that had been restored. It was not possible to source the porphyries to match the original stone work so restorers had to use the closest matches they could find. In the 19th century the repairs were undertaken by Sir George Gilbert Scott, Surveyor of the Fabric at the time. He repaired the east section of the pavement due to damage caused by an altar piece that had been presented to the Abbey by Queen Anne. He was able to match the stones so the repairs were less obvious in comparison to the rest of the pavement.
17th and 18th Century Repairs
By 1999 the pavement had been covered up for around 100 years as it was in such a state of disrepair. It was missing pieces of the glass and stone tesserae that make up its glorious design and the colour was completely distorted by the dirt and polish that had built up over the years. This, along with the erosion of the Purbeck marble frame and the ugly patches of cement repairs that crisscrossed it, meant that the pavement was no longer a beautiful sight to behold.
Pavement Before Conservation
In 2000, a subcommittee of the Westminster Abbey Fabric Commission was formed to explore the best way to repair the pavement and conserve it for years to come. The Dean and Chapter had requested that they work towards creating a clean, stable and usable floor surface that could be used during the Abbey’s many services. After much research, including the use of photogrammetric surveys, they were able to come up with a plan that would require the minimum amount of work to stabilise the pavement so it could be used.
In 2008, after securing funding, the work of restoration began. The first task was to clean the pavement to remove the layers of dirt that had built up; this process was specially developed for the task and took a painstaking eight months to complete. Following this, work was done to remove two centuries worth of cement repairs that were masking the original design. As part of the restoration the tessellated pattern was reintroduced across the missing sections, however this was only in sections where it was known what the original pattern would have been. Luckily the original lime mortar beds were still visible beneath the cement so it was possible to figure this out in most cases.
Centre Roundel Before and After Conservation
Following the replacement of the stone and glass work the pavement was treated with a toned and tinted microcrystalline mineral wax, which hardens so it can be buffed to a high shine. To maintain this shine the pavement is vacuumed twice a week and buffed once a week with antistatic cloths. It is this level of care that should mean the Cosmati pavement can be kept looking this good for years to come. Without this intervention it could so easily deteriorate, much like the Abbey’s other cosmati pavement which surrounds the tomb of Edward the Confessor. This pavement is in such a bad state that it is permanently covered, much like the Cosmati pavement in front of the High Altar was previously.
We hope that this has given you just a small insight into the level of care required to conserve a building like the Abbey and the many treasures it houses, so you can truly appreciate it when you come to visit.