Written by Lianne Kolirin, CNNLondon
A conservator at London’s Westminster Abbey is carrying out meticulous restoration work on a fragile 700-year-old chair to ensure King Charles III can sit on it at his coronation in May.
The ancient throne, known as the Coronation Chair, has been at the centerpiece of English coronations for centuries, including those of Henry VIII, Charles I, Queen Victoria and the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Westminster Abbey — where the ceremony will take place — describes the chair as “one of the most precious and famous pieces of furniture in the world” and says it is in “remarkable condition” given its age.
Nevertheless, it must still undergo some conservation work ahead of the ceremony to crown the King and Queen Consort on Saturday, May 6.
The oak chair is believed to have been crafted in about 1300, according to a statement from the abbey — which has hosted the coronations of 39 monarchs since 1066.
The King’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in the chair on her coronation.
Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Edward I commissioned the 6.5-foot-high chair to house the Stone of Scone — also known as the Stone of Destiny — which he captured in 1296, along with the Scottish crown and scepter. The stone, which had been used as a seat in the coronation of Scottish kings for centuries, is now kept in Scotland but is reunited with the chair for British coronations.
Originally covered in gold leaf, the chair was also decorated with colored glass, as well as patterns of birds, foliage and a king painted by Edward I’s master painter.
The gilding features what is known as punchwork — tiny, intricate dots that create images and patterns.
Krista Blessley, the abbey’s paintings conservator, is giving the chair a surface clean with sponges and cotton swabs, to remove ingrained dirt, Britain’s PA Media reported. She is also working to “stablilize” surviving layers of the gilding, on both the chair and its base, which was updated in the 18th century.
“It’s a real privilege to work on the coronation chair,” Blessley told PA in an interview.
“It’s so important to our country’s history and in the history of the monarchy, and it’s really unique as a conservator to work on something that’s part of a working collection and still used for the original function it was made for.”
The ancient throne features graffiti from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images/Getty Images
Despite its significance, the chair has “suffered occasionally over its lifetime,” according to the abbey. There is graffiti on the back dating back from the 18th and 19th centuries, believed to be the work of local schoolboys and visitors. One carving reads: “P. Abbott slept in this chair 5-6 July 1800.”
Additional damage includes a small corner knocked off by a bomb attack in 1914 — thought to have been carried out by suffragettes.
Blessley told PA that she has begun to uncover overlooked details in the chair’s decoration.
“I think they are previously undiscovered toes in the punchwork gilding on the back of the chair,” she said.
“So there are areas of drapery where you can tell there would have been a figure. It might be they are figures of kings or it might be a figure of a saint, because so much is lost we can’t really tell at the moment but I’ll do some further investigation.”
Blessley has so far spent four months working on the chair. She told PA: “It has a very complex layered structure, which means it’s very prone to the gilding on it flaking.
“So a large part of what I’ve been doing is sticking that gilding down to make sure it’s secure, and then I will surface clean it and that will improve the appearance a little bit.”
The updates will be “entirely invisible,” according to the abbey’s statement, “but will ensure the preservation of these historic decorative layers not just for the Coronation but for centuries to come.”
Despite its age, the chair will not be the oldest artifact involved in the ceremony. The King will be anointed with holy oil poured into the silver-gilt coronation spoon that dates back to the 12th century.