Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Friday, 26 September 2014

Wells Cathedral (Part Seven).

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 large Triple Lancet, to the Nave West End, was glazed, at the expense of Dean Creighton, at a cost of £140 in 1664. It was repaired in 1813, and the Central Light was largely replaced, to a design by Archibald Keightley Nicholson, between 1925 and 1931. The main North and South Transept End Windows, by James Powell and Sons, were erected in the Early-20th-Century.

The greater part of the Stone Carving, of Wells Cathedral, comprises foliate Capitals in the Stiff-Leaf Style. They are found ornamenting the Piers of the Nave, Choir and Transepts. Stiff-Leaf foliage is highly abstracted, and, although possibly influenced by Carvings of acanthus leaves or vine leaves, cannot be easily identified as representing any particular plant.

At Wells Cathedral, the Carving of the foliage is varied and vigorous, the springing leaves and deep undercuts casting shadows that contrast with the surface of the Piers. In the Transepts, and towards The Crossing in the Nave, the Capitals have many small figurative Carvings among the leaves. These include a man with a toothache and a series of four scenes, depicting the "Wages of Sin", in a narrative of fruit stealers, who creep into an orchard and are subsequently beaten by the farmer. Another well-known Carving is in the North Transept Aisle, a foliate Corbel, on which climbs a lizard, sometimes identified as a salamander, a symbol of Eternal Life.

The Stellar Vault, of
The Lady Chapel, has Lierne Ribs,
making a Star within a Star.
Photo: 9 December 2008.
Source: Own work.
Author: Mattana.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Carvings, in the Decorated Gothic Style, may be found in the Eastern End of the buildings, where there are many Carved Bosses. In the Chapter House, the Carvings of the fifty-one Stalls include numerous small heads, of great variety, many of them smiling or laughing. A well-known figure is the Corbel of the dragon-slaying Monk in the Chapter House Stair. The large continuous Capital, that encircles the Central Pillar of the Chapter House, is markedly different in style to the Stiff-Leaf of the Early-English period. In contrast to the bold projections and undercutting of the earlier work, it has a rippling form and is clearly identifiable as grapevine.

Wells Cathedral has one of the finest sets of Misericords in Britain. Its Clergy has a long tradition of singing or reciting from The Book of Psalms each day, along with the customary daily reading of The Holy Office. In Mediaeval times, the Clergy assembled in the Church eight times daily for the Canonical Hours. As the greater part of the Services were recited while standing, many Monastic, or Collegiate Churches, were fitted with Stalls, in which the seats tipped up to provide a convenient ledge for the Monk or Cleric to lean against. They were called "Misericords", because their installation was an Act of Mercy. Misericords typically have a Carved figurative bracket beneath the ledge, framed by two floral motifs, known, in the Heraldic manner, as "Supporters".

The Misericords date from 1330 to 1340. They may have been Carved under the direction of Master Carpenter John Strode, although his name is not recorded before 1341. He was assisted by Bartholomew Quarter, who is documented from 1343. The Misericords originally numbered ninety, of which sixty-five have survived. Sixty-one are installed in the Choir, three are displayed in the Cathedral and one is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Saint Andrew's Cross Arches,
under the Tower.
Photo: 8 July 2014.
Source: Own work.
Author: Diliff.
License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.
(Wikimedia Commons)

New Stalls were ordered when the Eastern End of the Choir was extended in the Early-14th-Century. The Canons complained that they had borne the cost of the rebuilding, and ordered that the Prebendary Clerics should pay for their own Stalls.

[Editor: A Prebendary Cleric is a Senior Member of Clergy, normally supported by the revenues from an Estate or Parish. The holder of the Post is connected to an Anglican, or Roman Catholic, Cathedral or Collegiate Church, and is a type of Canon, who has a rôle in the Administration of the Cathedral.

A Prebend is the form of Benefice held by a Prebendary, and, historically, the Stipend attached to it was usually drawn from specific sources in the Income of the Cathedral's Estates. When attending Cathedral Services, Prebendaries sit in particular Seats, usually at the back of the Choir Stalls, known as Prebendal Stalls].

When the newly-refurbished Choir opened, in 1339, many Misericords were left unfinished, including one fifth of the surviving sixty-five. Many of the Clerics had not paid, and were required to contribute a total sum of £200. The Misericords survived better than the other sections of the Stalls, which, during the Protestant Reformation, had their Canopies chopped off and Galleries inserted above them. One of the Misericords, depicting a boy pulling a thorn from his foot, dates from the 17th-Century. In 1848, there was a complete re-arrangement of the Choir furniture, and sixty-one of the Misericords were re-used in the restructured Stalls.

The Golden Window,
at the East End of the Choir,
Wells Cathedral,
depicting the Tree of Jesse.
Date: 14 February 2008.
Source: Wells Cathedral HDR photo
Uploaded by russavia.
Author: from Tiverton, U.K.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The subject matter, of the Carvings of the Central Brackets on Misericords, is very varied, but with many common themes occurring in different Churches. Typically, the themes are less unified, and less directly related to the Bible and Christian Theology, than are the themes of small sculptures seen elsewhere within Churches, such as those on Bosses.

This is much the case at Wells Cathedral, where none of the Misericord's Carvings are directly based on a Biblical story. The subjects, chosen either by the Wood-Carver, or, perhaps, by the individual paying for the Stall, have no over-riding theme. The sole unifying element is the roundels on each side of the pictorial subject, which are all elaborately Carved foliage, in most cases formal and stylised in the later Decorated manner, but with several examples of naturalistic foliage including roses and bindweed.

Many of the subjects carry traditional interpretations. The image of the "Pelican in her Piety" (believed to feed her young on her own blood) is a recognised symbol for Christ's love for the Church. A cat playing with a mouse may represent the Devil snaring a human Soul. Other subjects illustrate popular fables or sayings, such as: "When the fox preaches, look to your geese". Many of the subjects are depictions of animals, some of which may symbolise a human vice or virtue, or an aspect of Faith.

Twenty-seven of the Carvings depict animals: rabbits, dogs, a puppy biting a cat, a ewe feeding a lamb, monkeys, lions, bats, and the Early-Christian motif of two doves drinking from a ewer. Eighteen of the Misericords have mythological subjects, including mermaids, dragons and wyverns. Five of the Carvings are clearly narrative, such as the Fox and the Geese, and the story of Alexander the Great being raised to Heaven by griffins. There are three heads: a Bishop in a Mitre, an Angel and a woman wearing a veil over her hair, arranged in coils over each ear.

The Five Windows of The Lady Chapel
contain Ancient Stained Glass,
mostly fragmentary,
except for the Central Window.
Photo: 9 July 2014.
Source: Own work.
Author: Diliff.
License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Some of the Cathedral's fittings and Monuments are hundreds of years old. The Brass Lectern in The Lady Chapel dates from 1661, and has a moulded stand and foliate Crest. In the North Transept Chapel, is a 17th-Century Oak Screen, with Columns, formerly part of Cow Stalls, with artisan Ionic Capitals and Cornice, which is set forward over the Chest Tomb of John Godelee. There is a Bound Oak Chest, from the 14th-Century, which was used to store the Chapter Seal and Key Documents.

The Bishop's Throne dates from 1340, and has a Panelled, Canted Front, and Stone Doorway, and a Deep Nodding Cusped Ogee Canopy above it, with Three-Stepped Statue Niches and Pinnacles. The Throne was restored by Anthony Salvin, around 1850. Opposite the Throne, is a 19th-Century Octagonal Pulpit, on a Coved Base, with Panelled Sides, and Steps up from the North Aisle. The Round Font, in the South Transept, is from the former Saxon Cathedral and has an Arcade of Round-Headed Arches, on a Round Plinth. The Font Cover was made in 1635 and is decorated with the heads of Putti. The Chapel of Saint Martin is a Memorial to every Somerset man who fell in World War I.

The Dial, and Quarter Jacks, of the Clock,
of Wells Cathedral,
on the Outer Wall
of the North Transept.
Photo: 2 July 2008.
Source: Own work.
Author: Lamiai.
(Wikimedia Commons)

[Editor: The Latin
"Niquid Pereat",
above the Clock Face,
translates as
"Nothing Is Lost".]

In the North Transept, is Wells Cathedral's Clock, an Astronomical Clock from about 1325, believed to be the work of Peter Lightfoot, a Monk of Glastonbury. Its mechanism, dated to between 1386 and 1392, was replaced in the 19th-Century, and the original mechanism moved to the Science Museum, in London, where it continues to operate. It is the second-oldest surviving Clock in England, after the Salisbury Cathedral Clock.


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