Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Wells Cathedral (Part Five).

Text and Illustrations from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

Fan-Vaulting in
Wells Cathedral.

The West Front,
Wells Cathedral,
Somerset, England.
Photo: 30 April 2014.
Source: Own work.
Author: Diliff.
License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
(Wikimedia Commons)

The West Front rises in three distinct stages, each clearly defined by a Horizontal Course. This horizontal emphasis is counteracted by six strongly projecting Buttresses, defining the cross-sectional divisions of Nave, Aisles and Towers, and are highly decorated, each having Canopied Niches containing the largest statues on the façade.

At the lowest level of the façade, is a Plain Base, contrasting with and stabilising the ornate Arcades that rise above it. The Base is penetrated by three Doors, which are in stark contrast to the often imposing Portals of French Gothic Cathedrals. The outer two Doors are of domestic proportion and the Central Door is ornamented only by a Central Post, Quatrefoil and the fine Mouldings of the Arch.

Above the Basement, rise two Storeys, ornamented with Quatrefoils and Niches, originally holding about four hundred statues, with three hundred surviving until the Mid-20th-Century. Since then, some have been restored or replaced, including the ruined figure of Christ, in the Gable.

A sculpture of The Virgin and Christ Child
above the Great West Door.
Photo: 2 July 2008.
Source: Own work.
Author: Lamiai.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The third stages of the Flanking Towers were both built in the Perpendicular Style of the Late-14th-Century, to the design of William Wynford; That on the North-West Tower was not begun until about 1425. The design maintains the general proportions, and continues the strong projection, of the Buttresses.

The finished product has been criticised for its lack of Pinnacles, and it is probable that the Towers were intended to carry Spires, which were never built. Despite its lack of Spires or Pinnacles, the architectural historian Banister Fletcher describes it as "the highest development in English Gothic of this type of facade."

The sculptures on the West Front of Wells Cathedral include standing figures, seated figures, half-length Angels and narratives in High Relief. Many of the figures are life-sized, or larger, and, together, they constitute the finest display of Mediaeval Carving in England.

The figures, and many of the architectural details, were painted in bright colours, and the colouring scheme has been deduced from flakes of paint still adhering to some surfaces. The sculptures occupy nine architectural zones, stretching horizontally across the entire West Front and around the sides and the Eastern Returns of the Towers, which extend beyond the Aisles. The strongly-projecting Buttresses have tiers of Niches, which contain many of the largest figures. Other large figures, including that of Christ, occupy the Gable. A single figure stands in one of two later Niches, high on the Northern Tower.

Wells Cathedral Porch,
on the North Side.
Photo: 2 July 2008.
Source: Own work.
Author: Lamiai.
(Wikimedia Commons)

In 1851, the archaeologist Charles Robert Cockerell published his analysis of the iconography, numbering the nine sculptural divisions from the lowest to the highest. He defined the theme as "a Calendar for unlearned men" illustrating the Doctrines and History of the Christian Faith, its introduction to Britain and its protection by Princes and Bishops. He likens the arrangement and iconography to the Te Deum.

According to Cockerell, the side of the facade, that is to the South of the Central Door, is the more Sacred, and the scheme is divided accordingly. The lowest range of Niches each contained a standing figure, of which all but four figures on the West Front, two on each side, have been destroyed. More have survived on the Northern and Eastern Sides of the North Tower.

Cockerell speculates that those to the South of the Portal represented Prophets and Patriarchs of the Old Testament, while those to the North represented early missionaries to Britain, of which Augustine of Canterbury, Saint Birinus, and Benedict Biscop, are identifiable by their Attributes.

In the second zone, above each pair of standing figures, is a Quatrefoil, containing a half-length Angel, in relief, some of which have survived, Between the Gables, of the Niches, are Quatrefoils that contain a series of narratives from the Bible, with the Old Testament stories to the South, above the Prophets and Patriarchs, and those from the New Testament to the North. A Horizontal Course runs around the West Front dividing the architectural Storeys at this point.

Wells Cathedral Cloisters.
Photo: 9 July 2014.
Source: Own work.
Author: Diliff.
License: CC-BY-SA 3.0"
(Wikimedia Commons)

Above the Horizontal Course, zones four and five, as identified by Cockerell, contain figures which represent the Christian Church in Britain, with the Spiritual Lords, such as Bishops, Abbots, Abbesses and Saintly Founders of Monasteries, on the South, while Kings, Queens and Princes, occupy the North.

Many of the figures survive, and many have been identified in the light of their various Attributes. There is a hierarchy of size, with the more significant figures larger, and enthroned in their Niches, rather than standing.

Immediately beneath the Upper Course, are a series of small Niches containing dynamic sculptures of the dead coming forth from their tombs on the Day of Judgement. Although naked, some of the dead are defined as Royalty by their Crowns, and others, as Bishops, by their Mitres. Some emerge from their graves with joy and hope, and others with despair.

The Niches in the lowest zone of the Gable contain nine Angels, of which Cockerell identifies Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. In the next zone are the taller figures of the twelve Apostles, some, such as John, Andrew and Bartholomew, clearly identifiable by the Attributes that they carry.

Wells Cathedral Cemetery.
Photo: 31 December 2006.
Source: Own work.
This version sourced from Commons.
Author: Pequod76.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The uppermost Niches of the Gable contained the figure of Christ the Judge, at the centre, with The Virgin Mary on His Right Hand and John the Baptist on His Left-Hand. The figures all suffered from iconoclasm. A new statue of Jesus was carved for the Central Niche, but the two Side Niches now contain Cherubim. Christ and The Virgin Mary are also represented by, now, headless figures in a Coronation of The Virgin in a Niche above the Central Portal. A damaged figure, of The Virgin and Christ Child, occupies a Quatrefoil in the Spandrel of the Door.

The Central Tower appears to date from the Early-13th-Century. It was substantially reconstructed in the Early-14th-Century during the re-modelling of the East End, necessitating the Internal bracing of the Piers a decade or so later. In the 14th-Century, the Tower was given a timber and lead Spire, which burnt down in 1439. The Exterior was then reworked in the Perpendicular Style and given the present Parapet and Pinnacles. Alec Clifton-Taylor describes it as "outstanding, even in Somerset, a County famed for the splendour of its Church Towers".

The North Porch is described by art historian Nikolaus Pevsner as "sumptuously decorated", and intended to be the Main Entrance. Externally, it is simple and rectangular, with plain side walls. The entrance is a steeply-Arched Portal, framed by rich Mouldings of eight Shafts, with Stiff-Leaf Capitals, each encircled by an Annular Moulding at middle height. Those on the Left, are figurative, containing images representing the Martyrdom of Saint Edmund the Martyr. The walls are lined with deep Niches, framed by narrow Shafts with Capitals and Annulets, like those of the Portal.

The Cloisters were built in the Late-13th-Century, and largely rebuilt from 1430 to 1508, and have wide openings divided by Mullions and Transoms, and Tracery in the Perpendicular Gothic Style. The Vault has Lierne Ribs that form Octagons at the centre of each compartment, the Joints of each Rib having decorative Bosses. The Eastern Range is of two Storeys, of which the Upper Storey is the Library, built in the 15th-Century.

A Staircase leads from the Cathedral (Right)
to the Chapter House and The Chain Gate,
which gives access to Vicars' Close.
This File: January 2014.
Source: Own work.
Author: Derek Andrews.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Because Wells Cathedral was Secular, rather than Monastic, Cloisters were not a practical necessity. They were omitted from several other Secular Cathedrals, but were built here and at Chichester. Explanations for their construction at these two Secular Cathedrals range from the Processional to the aesthetic. As at Chichester, there is no Northern Range to the Cloisters. In Monastic Cloisters, it was the North Range, benefiting most from Winter sunlight, that was often used as a Scriptorium.


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