Kemp, Archbishop (biog)

John Kemp (1380-1454) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1452 until his death – a tenure of rather less than two years. Born in Wye not far from Canterbury, he had a successful and varied career as cleric, cardinal, lawyer and diplomatist. Kemp founded a grammar school and college for secular priests in his home town – the flint buildings, part of what was once Wye Agricultural College, still survive there. His tomb, to the south of the choir, has no effigy but is striking in other ways.

What to see:

  • the towering oak canopy with three spires and (a very unusual feature) a wooden tester above (Image 1). The canopy has drawn high praise: ‘one of the finest pieces of medieval wood work extant’ – Hill (1976)
  • the brass epitaph around the chamfer of the Purbeck marble chest, which incorporates the wheatsheaf (known in heraldic terms as a garb) from Kemp’s arms
  • the iron bracket between the pillar and tomb was once used to hang the lenten veil, stretched before the altar during Lent (Image 2)
  • commentators have claimed that the bird feature on the canopy is an eagle  representing St John the Evangelist, and is therefore a rebus for Kemp’s forename; the bird unfortunately looks a bit bedraggled for an eagle? See what you think!

Sources;  see standard cathedral sources