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Buckfast abbey: marble mosaics

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The marble pavements at Buckfast are a unique modern example of a very ancient branch of the paviour’s craft known as Opus Alexandrinium. In the 11th century, 100 years before the Cistercian foundations were laid at Buckfast, the Abbot of Monte Cassino had mosaic workers brought into Italy from Constantinople. To these men is due the revival of the art of mosaic in the West. There are many fine Opus Alexandrinum pavements dating from the 12th and 13th centuries in many parts of Europe, from St. Mark’s, Venice, to Westminster Abbey, London.

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The basis of design in these pavements is a simple combination of polygons and circles. The circles, discs of marble, were usually sliced off antique columns, and around these alternated plain white marble borders, and richly coloured interweaving designs.

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The mosaic floors at Buckfast were laid by the London-based speacialists, Fennings, under the artistic direction of Marcus Reader and the supervision of Edmund Buckley.

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The floors contain marble taken from ancient Greek and Roman buildings. Choicest of these is Purple Imperial Porphyry, the hardest of all ancient marbles and discovered by the Romans. This porphyry was reserved for Imperial use only and never commercialized. Since the fall of the Roman Empire it has never been quarried. The porphyry used at Buckfast was salvaged by Lord Elgin from a fragment of a column which once stood in the Temple of Diana at Ephesus.

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