In 1820 the sculptor, Francis Chantry, added his monument of The Sleeping Children to Lichfield Cathedral
The two young sisters, Ellen Jane and Marianne, died tragically in 1812, and Chantry’s sensitive treatment of the subject has made this monument, at the end of the south choir aisle, a focal point for visitors ever since.
This sculpture is so perfect in detail that Chantrey purposely left a piece of uncarved stone under the foot of one of the girls, saying “Only God creates perfection”!
William Lisle Bowles wrote a poem about the memorial in 1826.
Look at those sleeping children; softly tread,
Lest thou do mar their dream, and come not nigh
Till their fond mother, with a kiss, shall cry,
‘Tis morn, awake! awake! Ah! they are dead!
Yet folded in each other’s arms they lie,
So still—oh, look! so still and smilingly,
So breathing and so beautiful, they seem,
As if to die in youth were but to dream
Of spring and flowers! Of flowers? Yet nearer stand—
There is a lily in one little hand,
Broken, but not faded yet,
As if its cup with tears were wet.
So sleeps that child, not faded, though in death,
And seeming still to hear her sister’s breath,
As when she first did lay her head to rest
Gently on that sister’s breast,
And kissed her ere she fell asleep!
The archangel’s trump alone shall wake that slumber deep.
Take up those flowers that fell
From the dead hand, and sigh a long farewell!
Your spirits rest in bliss!
Yet ere with parting prayers we say,
Farewell for ever to the insensate clay,
Poor maid, those pale lips we will kiss!
Ah! ‘tis cold marble! Artist, who hast wrought
This work of nature, feeling, and of thought;
Thine, Chantrey, be the fame
That joins to immortality thy name.
For these sweet children that so sculptured rest—
A sister’s head upon a sister’s breast—
Age after age shall pass away,
Nor shall their beauty fade, their forms decay.
For here is no corruption; the cold worm
Can never prey upon that beauteous form:
This smile of death that fades not, shall engage
The deep affections of each distant age!
Mothers, till ruin the round world hath rent,
Shall gaze with tears upon the monument!
And fathers sigh, with half-suspended breath:
How sweetly sleep the innocent in death!
The English Church Group