Haddon Hall in Derbyshire is largely an Elizabethan manor and apart from some extant 11th century walls the chapel is the oldest complete part of the hall. The house guides recommend that you start your tour here.
For one, I was glad of the advice because on entering this sacred room a great peace drifted over me like a soft silk veil. I let my senses succumb to the symbolism that exposed itself subtly as I moved about.
Like the rest of the hall interior, the colours are now reduced to off-white and dark woods. Due to the monochromatic nature of the scene I cannot remember what I noticed first – the simple pews and stone altar, the desperately beautiful marble sarcophagus, the huge Gothic arched windows, the sketched murals in charcoal grey.
Overawed by the gentle aesthetics, I sat in the pews and looked at the white lilies on the stone altar, sun spilled through the window and gilded the edges of the petals. I ran my hands along the back of the pews – an unparalleled smoothness made my fingertips tingle.
The wood had been worn to a glasslike surface, but visually there was a deep texture present as well. From here I watched people come in, read the information board, head up into the chancel, hover for a bit at the marble crypt, then leave.
Then Daphne sat below the west window where a dust filled light fell through and she looked very small just then. I wandered up to the more ornate chancel, built in the 1420s. Below the stained glass of the east window a reredos of Nottingham alabaster depicts scenes from the crucifixion narratives carved in the late 15th century. The altar in this section has the only colour in the chapel in the shape of heraldry.
The boxed pews are a later addition built in the 17th century. They are dark and high-sided; they seem crammed into the space. It is their presence that accentuates the ghostly light of the former parish church of Nether Haddon built in the 12th century.
I returned to this spartan place where the pews have a silk-touch and I pushed my index finger into the small crosses on the corners of the plain altar.
The newest addition to the chapel is the marble sculpture. A young man lies asleep, his head tilted to the right, his hands crossed upon his chest, his feet bare. He is so exquisitely carved I almost shy from looking at him – his fingers are long and elegant, his hair just falling to one side.
I want to touch him, but I am afraid he will open his eyes. There is a sense of intimacy, although on view to the public there is a private emotion that must not be breached. The softness of the fabric draped over him and couching his head is strange in its cold hardness.
His feet are bare and look cold, but he is long dead. He must have been dearly loved. I find the text about this piece of art. I had avoided reading the information so that I could absorb the atmosphere without knowledge of the subject.
The sleeping child in marble is a monument to Robert Charles John Manners, Lord Haddon, who died at the age of nine in 1894.
Violet, his mother,eighth Duchess of Rutland, modelled and designed this monument for her son. The original stands in the chapel at Belvoir Castle, the family’s Leicestershire home.
So focused was I on the supine figure that I did not notice until I looked at the photographs I had taken that the parents are depicted on the side of the base. The base is fashioned like an altar and the piece as a whole evoked an image of Isaac on the verge of murdering his son at the altar under God’s behest.
The boy’s figure seems to be floating above the small cameos of his parents. This beautiful effigy epitomizes a grief that will transcend time through its sincerity.