Thursday, 5 May 2016

In and Around Wells Cathedral, Somerset - Part 1

Entrance gatehouse to Cathedral Green 
There was a Norman Cathedral in Wells, but in 1180 Bishop Reginald de Bohun, decided to build a new one on a different site in what became architecturally known as 'Early English Gothic'. It now has the acolade of being the first Cathedral to be built completely from scratch in this style; a harmonious building filled with light and space with ribbed vaults, and pointed arches.
The West front is a 'tour de force' still displaying more than 300 medieval lifesize statues of kings, knights, saints and lay people - there are plenty of empty niches as originally there were more than 500 statues. The project was conceived by Jocelin Trotman who became the Bishop after Reginal left to become the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Christ sits in majesty at the centre top of the facade flanked on either side by winged seraphim; the twelve apostles stand immediately below - St. Andrew, the patron saint of the Cathedral, has pride of place in the center holding his cross. 
The facade was originally coloured in green, blue and red paint with gold gilding, the figures were unpainted apart from some golden highlights but were offset against a dark red background. Traces of the original paint were discovered during conservation cleaning in the 1970s/80s
To give an idea of how the West Front may have looked - I coloured this in on an internet site found via the BBC. It accords with the paint traces found - the white area is the undecorated stonework.
Sound was an important part of the religious display, and on festival days the unseen choristers would sing hymns to the people gathered outside from a specially constructed gallery inside the Cathedral. The sound was channelled outside thanks to a series of carefully hidden holes in the West Front - trumpets played through the larger holes which can be seen carved below the apostles feet. Can you imagine how overwhelming this spectacle must have seemed to the medieval peasants standing outside on the Cathedral Green?
By the time the Cathedral was completed, it was considered too small for the increasing grandness of the liturgy during that period, and in order to find more room for the large ritualistic processions, a spate of construction work began in the early 1300s. A much bigger tower was built adding considerably to the weight at the center of the Cathedral creating structural cracks. When we venture inside next time, it will be possible to see the ingenious and unique way that the medieval stonemasons managed to solve this problem thus averting a potential collapse. 
The exterior clock face on the north wall is driven by the astronomical clock inside the Cathedral which is over 600 years old. The two knights hammer the bells with an axe at each quarter. The mechanism is also linked to a bell in the Cathedral's main tower which strikes the hours and can be heard throughout the city
Through an archway with a covered passageway above from the Cathedral
and then this gate
leads to the oldest complete medieval street in Europe

known as Vicar's Close, the houses were designed and built before 1350 to provide communal accommodation for the Vicars Choral, who sang daily worship within the Cathedral. The current occupants still include all twelve men of the Vicars Choral, plus organists and vergers. The choir has always been at the heart of life in Wells Cathedral since the 1100s and is recognised as being one of the finest in the world.
The library
and the Dining Hall
A visit to the south side of the Cathedral and the splendours inside will be in Part 2

38 comments:

  1. Magnificent Cathedral. The doors, the gates or so magical.

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    1. The whole area is a medieval masterpiece - more next time

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  2. Wonderful - it was so interesting to read of the colours used and your picture of them. I have a photo of myself taken in the Vicars Close.

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    1. I thought that showing the colouring would give some indication of how it must have once looked. If you returned to Vicar's Close you would find that it still looked the same.

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  3. It is an amazing construction. Like cathedrals.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. Wells is a beautiful Cathedral

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  4. Beautiful cathedral, amazing they could built those huge buildings in those times without all the equipements we now have.

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    1. That is a question that I often ponder too

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  5. Oh, this is a beautiful and fascinating cathedral Rosemary, one I have never heard of. The stonework is so lovely, and I do prefer it in its more restrained palette. It must have looked astonishing when painted, however, especially combined with the choir and trumpets in full performance. The windows of the library caught my eye, and I loved the little gate with daffodils, simple rustic charm.

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    1. Wells is our smallest city but filled with wonderful architecture in which to wander and enjoy. It would be so interesting if we could go back a thousand years, as a fly on the wall, and see just how life was back then.
      Medieval Cathedrals from around that period tended to be coloured both here and on the Continent. It would look too colourful to our eyes today as we are not familiar with it, but was the accepted norm then. The front reminds me of the colours and designs seen in a medieval illuminated manuscript.

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  6. Hello Rosemary, Truly a magnificent building, every detail is impressive, and the overall massing is stunning. After the splendors of the main Cathedral, it was charming to see the more intimate spaces in the Close.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - there is so much to see in Wells that it was necessary to split the post in two. Next time I think that you will probably be surprised by what can be seen to the south side of the Cathedral

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  7. Magnificent! I like how that old weathered wooden gate mirrors the hammers that strike the bells on the church's huge exterior clock.

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    1. Sometimes I find it difficult to actually comprehend just how old these buildings are, and that they are in such a remarkable state of preservation. Can you imagine living in a house that is 700 years old?

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  8. Wells is a gem, we spent a wonderful day there. So much to see. And to top it off we had lunch at the former city jail. Have often wanted to return.

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    1. Wells is a great little city as there is so much to see - you must try and return some time

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  9. I love having this tour of the cathedral with you, thanks.--eagerly awaiting part two.

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    1. Thank you for visiting - so pleased that you enjoyed the tour and are going to return again for Part 2.

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  10. I did enjoy reading this. Wells Cathedral is on my list of cathedrals I haven't visited yet and would like to. Thanks for sharing the image of the Cathedral as it must have looked. As you say, for the medieval peasant the sight of and sounds from this building must have been amazing. Lovely photos, too, of the exterior of the cathedral. There's so much to look at. Vicar's Close is fascinating as well. I look forward to part 2!

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    1. Visit if you can Wendy, I am sure that you would enjoy seeing the magnificent architecture to be found there.

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  11. Wells Cathedral, what an impressive building. I guess you needed a whole day to see it all, but may be you have been there several times. Glad you showed us around and as I said already many times before, this is another one for my wishlist to visit, haha.

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    1. We stayed in an old coaching inn literally across the road from the entrance gatehouse shown in the first photo. We spend two nights there as one day just isn't sufficient time to do justice to Wells.

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  12. It is such a beautiful town isn't it and of course the cathedral is amazing. Glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. Yes we love the Cathedral and all of the splendid medieval buildings that surround it.

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  13. I love Wells and its cathedral, and everything
    what we stà around. A real blast from the past.
    Soon I will make yet another visit to this beautiful town.
    Thanks for your always wonderful photos.
    Love Susy x
    P.S. Yes, the pictures you've seen in my blog were taken
      in Canterbury in Kent.

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    1. Thank you for your visit Susy and your kind comment - I though perhaps your photos were taken in Kent.

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  14. I didn't know this, Rosemary. About the painting, I mean. I'm taken aback, in a good way. Trying to imagine how it all must have looked in actuality - though I appreciate your color rendering. I wonder if all cathedrals of the time were painted in some fashion or other as well. The idea just takes my breath away.

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    1. Dear Yvette - it was not unusal to highlight the stonework during that early medieval period both here and on the Continent. The interior walls were also painted with images of Paradise, Hell, Purgatory, along with images from the bible stories. This was because the common man could not read, services were in Latin, and so it was a way of making sure that they got the message!!!

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  15. How majestic. Can you imagine creating and building all that?

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    1. Thank you for your comment Sandra and welcome. I also wonder what the medieval stonemasons thoughts would be if they could return today and see their work still standing proudly.

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  16. That really is one amazing structure - you have to hand it do those medieval stonemasons. Great pictures - excellent post Rosemary.

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    1. Thank you Elaine - when you consider these buildings it is hard to envisage just how they constructed them without any of the construction means that we have today.

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  17. Amazing Cathedral and Town. Visited it in the 1970s and still impressed now by the details shown in your photos. Cameras have improved unbelievably in that time to capture it all as my originals are tiny 3" by 3" miserable specimens that look flat and one dimensional by comparison to yours. One form of art we have improved on in modern times.

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    1. I agree, we are so fortunate today with our little cameras. I used to be very mean with the photos that I took knowing how much the printing would cost and how few I could take - they invariably disappointed too.

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  18. This cathedral is absolutely gorgeous. Thanks for sharing these photos.

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