A Mithraic altar erected 1748, designed by Thomas Wright (1711-1776), for Jemima, Marchioness Grey and Philip Yorke, Earl Hardwicke.
Reasons for Designation
The Mithraic altar, 40m east of the Hutton Monument, Wrest Park, is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: it has a unique, bespoke design of the mid C18 by the tutor of Jemima, Marchioness Grey, which narrates the Marchioness and her husband's personal interests and tastes;
* Artistic interest: the altar is of good quality, with contrasting richly detailed materials;
* Historic interest: for its association with Jemima, Marchioness Grey, and her husband, the Earl of Hardwicke, highly influential figures in the development of the garden at Wrest Park;
* Group Value: for its contribution to the structural and aesthetic composition of a Grade I Registered Park and Garden and its association with many other listed buildings.
Wrest Park belonged to the Grey family from the Middle Ages until the early C20. After the death of Henry Duke of Kent in 1740, the Wrest Park estate passed to his granddaughter Jemima, Marchioness Grey, who had recently married Philip Yorke, the son of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hardwicke. They showed considerable interest in the garden and had great influence in its development. They showed considerable interest in the garden and had great influence in its development. In 1758 Jemima commissioned Lancelot (Capability) Brown to improve the landscape but he was constrained by her high regard for the existing landscape and reluctance to make significant alterations to the garden created by her grandfather. Brown's alterations were limited to laying the waters together around the garden and making the previously straight canals meander in a more naturalistic manner. Various buildings including the Chinese Summer House (Grade II) and the Chinese Bridge and the Bath House (Grade II*) were added under Jemima's instruction.
The Mithraic altar was designed by Thomas Wright (1711-1776), tutor to Jemima, in a Persian style. It seems to have been completed by September 1748 for a letter of that month from Marchioness Grey to Mary Gregory states:
'The altar has gained fame and praise all summer - made of flint and pebbles, two inscriptions, one (as Somebody told Mr Yorke) few people can read, the other nobody can: one in old Greek, the other in strange 'Persick' characters taken out of a book of travels; a very favourite spot with the Marchioness.'
The altar was recorded within the 1831 'Views of Wrest' and is described as being erected by the Earl of Hardwicke as a commemoration of the completion of a literary work by himself and friends called The Athenian Letters. The old Greek inscription was written by one Daniel Wray Esq. The altar is in its original position.
MATERIALS: constructed of Ketton stone, flint and pebbles.
PLAN: rectangular pedestal of c 2.30m x 2.55m set on a plinth.
DESCRIPTION: the altar has a coarsely treated, rustic Ketton stone base approximately that in turn sits on a substantial block formed from uncut pieces of flint, beneath which is a stone foundation. Above the base, the die is constructed from knapped flint with a beige pebble-encrusted frieze in torus form. At the base of each corner of the die are carved lions paws which project out to the corners of the rustic base, and from which large upturned volutes, carved as acanthus leaves, rise to the top of the die. The whole is surmounted by a coarsely worked stone cap with carved folds of drapery over the edges.
The inscriptions are cut into Ketton stone slabs in the form of classical tablets and are set into the upper part of the die on the west and east elevations. There are traces of black paint in some of the letters, which are in cuneiform text on one side and in Greek on the other.