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The Charnel House at Holy Trinity


The Charnel House, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, c.1799

Watercolour on paper

Thomas Girtin (1775-1802)

The building known as the charnel house which stood north of the chancel was removed in 1799. It was originally of two or three storeys, the lowest was vaulted and half below ground. The purpose of the charnel house was distinctly functional – as the churchyard filled up with bodies, the sexton needed to make space for the new burials – as a result, the older remains were disinterred and lodged in the consecrated building attached to the chancel of the church. It was this practice the perhaps encouraged Shakespeare to include the famous warning against disturbing his bodily remains that forms his epitaph.

Girtin, born in Southwark in London, was a fine watercolourist whose talents were highly regarded by JMW Turner, among many others. He went on sketching tours of England and Wales and this view of Stratford's church was probably done during one of these tours. He died very young, probably of some kind of heart or lung disease.

  • Measurements

  • Width

    460 mm (frame)
    420 mm

  • Height

    560 mm (frame)
    520 mm

  • Credit line

    CC-BY-NC-ND Image Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust