Benson, Archbishop (biog)

Archbishop Edward White Benson (1829-1896) served as headmaster for Wellington College before becoming the first bishop of Truro and later (1883 until his death) Archbishop of Canterbury. Whilst at Truro he devised the Festival of Nine lessons and carols now widely used for Christmas services. Benson was the last archbishop to live at Addington Palace (near Croydon) and the first since Cardinal Pole to be buried in Canterbury Cathedral. Like Becket, Benson died at prayer on consecrated ground – in his case of a heart attack during Sunday service in the parish church of Hawarden in North Wales. His ornate memorial, designed by the leading architect Thomas Graham Jackson, imitates the decorated style of the tomb of Archbishop Peckham (in the martyrdom). The effigy, by Thomas Brock, is in white Carrara marble on a slab of Irish black marble. The well-defined facial features are thought to be modelled on Benson’s death mask, which is preserved as a plaster cast in the cathedral library. Burial within the cathedral required special permission – he lies under a thick bed of cement, concrete and charcoal. His image also appears in the Chapter House windows – the west window shows him presiding over the 3rd Lambeth Conference. The Benson family lifestyle has attracted keen biographical interest – particularly the mix of genius and mental instability found in several of his children, and the close relationship between his wife Maggie and Lucy Tait, daughter of the previous Archbishop.

What to see:

  • the ornate decorated style of the canopy (Image 1)
  • the use of white and black marble in the effigy and plinth (Image 2)

Sources:  standard cathedral sources