The Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Saffron Walden, Essex, UK, is a beautiful, remarkable and historically significant Grade I Listed church.
While you can be assured I’ll write about and share photos of the church in more detail, tonight I want to focus on one specific part of it; the Howard Vault.
Finally sealed in 1860, the vault was in use for many years beforehand. It contains the body of Thomas, Baron Audley, who was Lord Chancellor of England and died in 1544. He served under King Henry VIII and was responsible for the vault’s construction.
In 1835, the third Lord Braybrooke wrote in his book, “The History of Audley End,” (Audley End being the family seat of the Barons Braybrooke) that the vault contained “the coffins of the last six Earls of Suffolk, Lord Howard de Walden and others who died at Audley End.” Some were distantly related to Queens of England, including Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I.
The church sanctuary was reportedly raised to accommodate the grand vault. What’s more, the bodies of the first four Earls of Suffolk who were laid to rest in the area had to be “lowered into another vault, sunk beneath the floor” to make room for the descendants, according to Lord Braybrooke.
Braybrooke’s account also indicates that many valuable items were buried within the vault, including funeral helmets and swords and four hatchments, framed images depicting the deceased’s heraldry such as their crest and supporters.
I am most curious to know the state of the vault today; are the coffins still intact? The valuable items still safe with their owners inside?
While the vault is long since bricked up, Braybrooke’s records indicate there is a small window on the south side. I confess I didn’t know this when I visited St. Mary’s nearly 5 years ago. While I don’t imagine the window is accessible any longer, on my return to Essex next winter, I’m hopeful I’ll get to visit Saffron Walden and take a closer look at St. Mary’s and the Howard Vault.