HISTORY OF ST MARY’S CHURCH, EWELME
Alice Chaucer’s Tomb
Alice de la Pole’s tomb is cut entirely of alabaster and is of a unique design. The upper section is a conventional, solid tomb chest, decorated with figures of angels set under canopies. Supported on this is a full length effigy of the Duchess, lying beneath a complex canopy. This tomb chest has been raised up, and underneath is another portrait of Alice – this time as a desiccated corpse, loosely wrapped in a shroud.
In the upper effigy, Alice wears her ducal coronet and she wears the Order of the Garter round her left forearm. Apparently both Queen Victoria and later Queen Mary consulted the effigy when deciding how to wear the Order without compromising feminine dignity!
The most memorable feature of the tomb is the cadaver, set beneath the tomb chest. It is the only life size cadaver of a woman that has remained intact in England, and the only cadaver in the country made in alabaster. Tucked under the tomb, the cadaver’s privacy seems an important aspect of the tomb’s design. Rather than a stark warning of the transience of earthly glory, it is a second corpse contemplating the paintings of saints above it.