Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Wells Cathedral (Part Six).

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)

In 1969, when a large chunk of stone fell from a statue near the main door, it became apparent that there was an urgent need for restoration of the West Front. Detailed studies of the stonework and of conservation practices were undertaken, under the Cathedral architect, Alban D. R. Caroe, and a Restoration Committee formed.

The methods, that were selected for the Conservation, were those devised by Eve and Robert Baker. W. A. (Bert) Wheeler, Clerk of Works to the Cathedral, 1935 – 1978, had previously experimented with washing and surface-treatment of architectural carvings on the building, and his techniques were among those tried on the statues.

The Conservation was carried out between 1974 and 1986, wherever possible using non-invasive procedures, such as washing with water and a solution of lime, filling gaps and damaged surfaces with soft mortar, to prevent the ingress of water and stabilising statues that were fracturing, because of the corrosion of metal dowels.

The horizontal line of the Nave is emphasised
by the unbroken Galleries, the String Courses and the
strongly-projecting foliage of the Capitals.
Wells Cathedral's Nave, viewed from the Great West Door.
Photo: 9 July 2014.
Source: Own work.
Author: Diliff.
License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The surfaces were finished, by painting with a thin coat of mortar and silane, to resist further erosion and attack by pollutants. The restoration of the façade revealed much paint adhering to the statues and their Niches, indicating that it had once been brightly coloured.

The particular character of this Early-English Interior is dependent on the proportions of the simple Lancet Arches. It is also dependent on the refinement of the architectural details, in particular the Mouldings.

The Arcade, which takes the same form in the Nave, Choir and Transepts, is distinguished by the richness of both Mouldings and Carvings. Each Pier of the Arcade has a surface enrichment of twenty-four slender Shafts, in eight groups of three, rising beyond the Capitals to form the deeply undulating Mouldings of the Arches.

The Capitals are remarkable for the vitality of the stylised foliage, in a style known as "Stiff-Leaf". The liveliness contrasts with the formality of the Moulded Shafts and the smooth unbroken areas of Ashlar Masonry in the Spandrels. Each Capital is different, and some contain small figures, illustrating narratives.

Wells Cathedral's Vaulted Ceiling.
The Quadripartite Vault of the Nave
was decorated in the 19th-Century.
This File: 7 February 2008.
User: Lohen11.
Source: Own work.
Author: Josep Renalias.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Vault of the Nave rises steeply in a simple Quadripartite form, in harmony with the Nave Arcade. The Eastern End of the Choir was extended and the whole Upper Part elaborated, in the second quarter of the 14th-Century, by William Joy. The Vault has a multiplicity of Ribs in a net-like form, which is very different from that of the Nave, and is perhaps a recreation in stone of a local type of wooden roof, of which examples remain from the 15th-Century, including those at St Cuthbert's Church, Wells, Somerset. The Vaults, of the Aisles of the Choir, also have a unique pattern.

Until the early 14th-Century, the Interior of the Cathedral was in a unified style, but it was to undergo two significant changes, to the Tower and to the Eastern End. Between 1315 and 1322, the Central Tower was heightened, and topped by a Spire, which caused the Piers that supported it to show signs of stress. In 1338, the Mason, William Joy, employed an unorthodox solution by inserting Low Arches, topped by Inverted Arches of similar dimensions, forming scissors-like structures. These Arches brace the Piers of The Crossing on three sides, while the Eastern-most side is braced by a Choir Screen. The Bracing Arches are known as the "Saint Andrew's Cross Arches", as a reference to the Patronal Saint of the Cathedral, and have been described by Wim Swaan as "brutally massive" and intrusive, in an otherwise restrained Interior.

Wells Cathedral has a square terminal to the Choir, as is usual, and, like several other Cathedrals, including Salisbury and Lichfield, has a lower Lady Chapel projecting at the Eastern End, begun by Thomas Witney in about 1310, possibly before the Chapter House was completed. The Lady Chapel seems to have begun as a free-standing structure in the form of an elongated Octagon, but the Plan changed, and it was linked to the Eastern End of the building, by the extension of the Choir, and the construction of a second Transept, or Retro-Choir, East of the Choir, probably by William Joy.

The Lady Chapel has a Vault of complex and somewhat irregular pattern, as the Chapel is not symmetrical about both axes. The main Ribs are intersected by additional, non-supporting, Ribs, known as "Lierne Ribs", and which, in this case, form a star-shaped pattern at the apex of the Vault.

The Lady Chapel, Wells Cathedral,
was probably by Thomas Witney (1310–1319).
The windows have Tracery of a regular, net-like, pattern
and contain ancient Stained-Glass.
Photo: 8 July 2014.
Source: Own work.
Author: Diliff.
License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.
(Wikimedia Commons)

It is one of the earliest Lierne Vaults in England. There are five large windows, of which four are filled with fragments of Mediaeval Glass. The Tracery of the windows is in the style known as Reticulated Gothic, having a pattern of a single repeated shape, in this case a Trefoil, giving a "reticulate" or net-like, appearance.

The Retro-Choir extends across the Eastern End of the Choir and into the Eastern Transepts. At its centre, the Vault is supported by a remarkable structure of Angled Piers. Two of these Piers are located so as to complete the Octagonal shape of The Lady Chapel, a solution described by Francis Bond as "an intuition of Genius". The Piers have attached Shafts of marble, and, with the Vaults that they support, create a vista of great complexity from every angle. The windows of the Retro-Choir are in the Reticulated Style, like those of The Lady Chapel, but are fully Flowing Decorated, in that the Tracery Mouldings form Ogival Curves.

The Chapter House was begun in the Late-13th-Century and built in two stages and completed about 1310. It is a two-Storeyed structure, with the main chamber raised on an Undercroft. It is entered from a Staircase, which divides and turns, one branch leading through the Upper Storey of Chain Gate, to Vicars' Close. The Decorated Interior is described by Alec Clifton-Taylor as "architecturally, the most beautiful in England".

It is Octagonal, with its Ribbed Vault supported on a Central Column. The Column is surrounded by Shafts of Purbeck Marble, rising to a single continuous rippling foliate Capital, of stylised oak leaves and acorns, quite different in character to the Early-English Stiff-Leaf foliage. Above the Moulding, spring thirty-two Ribs of strong profile, giving an effect generally likened to "a great palm tree".

The Eastern Bays of the Choir (1329–1345),
showing the Reticular Vault and the Gallery of Saints
beneath the East Window.
Photo: 11 February 2008.
Source: Wells Cathedral, Somerset. Uploaded by russavia.
Author: from Tiverton, U.K.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The windows are large, with Geometric Decorated Tracery that is beginning to show an elongation of form, and Ogees, in the Lesser Lights, that are characteristic of Flowing Decorated Tracery. The Tracery Lights still contain Ancient Glass. Beneath the windows, are fifty-one Stalls, the Canopies of which are enlivened by carvings, including many heads, carved in a light-hearted manner.

Wells Cathedral contains one of the most substantial collections of Mediaeval Stained-Glass in England, despite damage by Parliamentary troops in 1642 and 1643. The oldest surviving Glass dates from the Late-13th-Century and is in two windows on the West Side of the Chapter House Staircase. Two windows in the South Choir Aisle are from 1310–1320.

The Lady Chapel has five windows, of which four date from 1325–1330, and include images of a local Saint, Dunstan. The East Window was restored to a semblance of its original appearance by Thomas Willement in 1845. The other windows have complete Canopies, but the pictorial sections are fragmented.

The East Window of the Choir is a broad Seven-Light Window, dating from 1340–1345. It depicts the Tree of Jesse (the genealogy of Christ) and demonstrates the use of silver staining, a new technique that allowed the artist to paint details on the Glass in yellow, as well as black. The combination of yellow and green Glass, and the application of the bright yellow stain, gives the window its popular name, the "Golden Window". It is flanked by two windows each side in the Clerestory, with large figures of Saints, also dated to 1340–1345. In 2010, a major conservation programme was undertaken on the Jesse Tree Window.

The view, through William Joy's Retro-Choir,
into The Lady Chapel, has been described as
"one of the most subtle and entrancing
architectural prospects in Europe".
Photo: 9 December 2008.
Source: Own work.
Author: Mattana.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Panels, in the Chapel of Saint Katherine, are attributed to Arnold of Nijmegen and date from about 1520. They were acquired from the destroyed Church of Saint-Jean, Rouen, with the last Panel having been purchased in 1953.


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