The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – Relief Tile from St Albans Abbey

Relief Tile from St Albans

Relief Tile from St Albans, British Museum

Yes, it’s another tile. This is an unusual tile in many ways. The most common type of tile in the fourteenth century was the encaustic tile. Whereas the design on an encaustic tile was level with its surroundings, the design on a relief tile stood proud of its background. That immediately makes this one stand apart. The second thing is that, like the Tring Tiles, it retains most of its glaze.

When Robert of Golam was abbot, in the mid-twelfth century, the chapter house at the Benedictine St Albans Abbey was paved with relief tiles. Relief tiles were more common in Eastern Europe (Germany, Denmark, Poland) than in England.

This particular tile must have been in a part of the floor that received little use, for the glaze is mostly intact and the raised parts of the tile have barely been worn down at all.

Relief tiles are among the earliest found in ecclesiastical buildings. The Anglo-Saxons used them in the late tenth and early eleventh century, but they were rare. This one dates from the mid-twelfth century (1151-1166) when they became more common in churches and abbeys.

There are two types of relief tiles: relief and counter-relief. Relief tiles have a raised design, while counter-relief tiles have a raised background. The St Albans tile is a relief tile. Its design was stamped into the clay with a wooden or metal stamp.



Medieval Tiles – Hans Van Lemmen


Filed under Church, Twelfth Century

17 responses to “The British Museum in Thirteen Objects – Relief Tile from St Albans Abbey

  1. Thank you for this…I love reading these short and fascinating bits of information!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another insightful read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. They must’ve been a pain in the neck to keep free of spider webs and dust.


  4. It’s amazing how much can be gleaned from a dingle artifact. I enjoy the easy way you walk us through these things. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Doesn’t look easy to walk on. Pretty though.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Clearly the tile follows the European delight in using acanthus leaf motifs. These are found from Byzantium times through the Tudors, and beyond. The styling of the leaves makes me think of 11th-14th century illuminations made by monks. They were especially used to outline borders.

    This is the first I can remember seeing the acanthus motifs on glazed tiles.
    One wonders if they were imported or produced nearby. I suppose a study of the clay & glazes could clear that question. And they were used on floors?
    I wonder how deep the original surface was? Perhaps barefoot monks would wear the surface less. It could not be comfortable to walk on, but monks tended to look for ways to perform penance. It would sure be a penance for me!

    Many glazed tiles were patterned after Muslim examples, or simply imported from Muslim lands. However, I cannot remember seeing Muslim use of acanthus motifs. It bears deeper study. A delight to read & see! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I think it’s a bit of a myth that monks were barefoot. The winters were very cold in the fourteenth century.

      I had no idea what the pattern was based on, so thank you. The tiles were probably produced nearby. Transporting goods was pretty expensive.


  7. Really enjoying this series of posts. I love the British Museum and try to explore a new gallery on every visit to London. My favourite so far has been the gallery full of clocks and clockwork mechanisms, which I just find so fascinating in their design and intricacy.

    Liked by 1 person

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