Our recontextualization of the English-made Chertsey tiles alongside silks, ceramics, metalwork, and other media made far away, across the Mediterranean, challenges the perception that medieval Europe, and in particular medieval England, was monocultural. Rather, as the exhibition reveals, the inhabitants of medieval England were deeply interested in and influenced by objects manufactured by diverse cultures around the Mediterranean. The Chertsey tiles, well-known art objects that seem to contain the essence of Englishness, created from English soil – English clay — no less, bears witness to deep and long-lived connections between English men and women and the material culture of eastern Mediterranean silk.
The Chertsey combat tiles were probably commissioned for London’s Westminster Palace around 1250 by Henry III and/or Eleanor of Provence. None of the combat tiles were found there, however. Most of the pictorial floor tiles, mold-made of red clay inlaid with white, were found in the 1850s in the ruins of Chertsey Abbey, some 25 miles southwest of London, in Surrey.
Chertsey Abbey was a Benedictine house with a long and intriguing history, marked by an early foundation and connection with London (along the Thames), apparent Viking intrusions, and impressive wealth. It was largely destroyed by Henry VIII’s men in the sixteenth century, as part of the dissolution of the monasteries.
To learn more about the history of Chertsey Abbey, you can watch the videos below.