Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Wells Cathedral (Part Two).

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)

Since the 11th-Century, the Church has had a Chapter of Secular Clergy, like the Cathedrals of Chichester, Hereford, Lincoln and York. The Chapter was endowed with twenty- two Prebends (lands from which finance was drawn) and a Provost to manage them. On acquiring Cathedral status, in common with other such Cathedrals, it had four Chief Clergy (the Dean, Precentor, Chancellor and Sacristan), who were responsible for the spiritual and material care of the Cathedral.

The building programme, begun by Bishop Reginald FitzJocelin in the 12th-Century, continued under Jocelin of Wells, who was a Canon from 1200, then Bishop from 1206. Adam Locke was Master Mason from about 1192 until 1230.

Wells Cathedral Choir,
recognised as the Top Choir in the world
by Gramophone magazine, based on recordings
between 2008 and 2011.
Available on YouTube at

It was designed in the new style with Pointed Arches, later known as Gothic, and which was introduced at about the same time at Canterbury Cathedral. Work was halted between 1209 and 1213, when King John was excommunicated and Bishop Jocelin was in exile, but the main parts of the Church were complete by the time of the Dedication by Bishop Jocelin in 1239.

By the time the Cathedral, including the Chapter House, was finished in 1306, it was already too small for the developing Liturgy, and unable to accommodate increasingly grand Processions of Clergy.

Bishop John Droxford initiated another phase of building, under Master Mason Thomas of Witney, during which the Central Tower was heightened and an Eight-Sided Lady Chapel, completed by 1326, was added at the East End.

"O Magnum Mysterium".
Choir of Wells Cathedral.
Available on YouTube at

Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury followed, continuing the Eastward extension of the Choir and Retro-Choir, beyond. He oversaw the building of Vicars' Close and the Vicars' Hall, to give the men, who were employed to sing in the Choir, a secure place to live and dine, away from the town and its temptations. He had an uneasy relationship with the citizens of Wells, partly because of his imposition of taxes, and he surrounded his Palace with Crenellated Walls, a Moat and a Drawbridge.

Bishop John Harewell raised money for the completion of the West Front by William Wynford, who was appointed as Master Mason in 1365. One of the foremost architects of his time, Wynford worked for the King at Windsor, Winchester Cathedral and New College, Oxford.

At Wells, he designed the Western Towers, of which the North-West was not built until the following Century. In the 14th-Century, the Central Piers of The Crossing were found to be sinking under the weight of The Crossing Tower, which had been damaged by an earthquake the previous Century. Strainer Arches, sometimes described as Scissor Arches, were inserted, by Master Mason William Joy, to brace and stabilise the Piers as a unit.

The Baptismal Font,
Wells Cathedral,
from the Saxon Church of Bishop Aldhelm (circa 705 A.D.),
predates the Cathedral by more than 400 years.
Photo: 22 July 2005.
Source: From,
this File from Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Gene Hawkins.
(Wikimedia Commons)

By the reign of King Henry VII, the Cathedral building was complete, appearing much as it does today (though the fittings have changed considerably). From 1508 to 1546, the eminent Italian humanist scholar, Polydore Vergil, was active as the Chapter's representative in London. He donated a Set of Hangings for the Choir of the Cathedral.

While Wells Cathedral survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries better than those Cathedrals of Monastic Foundation, the abolition of Chantries, in 1547, resulted in a reduction in the Cathedral's income. Mediaeval Brasses were sold, and a Pulpit was placed in the Nave for the first time. Between 1551 and 1568, in two periods as Dean, William Turner established a Herbal Garden, which was recreated between 2003 and 2010.

Queen Elizabeth I gave the Chapter and the Vicars Choral a new Charter in 1591, creating a new Governing Body, consisting of the Dean and eight Residentiary Canons, with control over the Church Estates and authority over its affairs, but no longer entitled to elect the Dean (that entitlement thenceforward belonged, ultimately, to the Crown).

The Clerestory (top) and Triforium Gallery (upper-middle)
above the Arcade Arches (bottom), viewed from the Nave,
Wells Cathedral.
The Triforium has a unique form
with the Arches not divided into Bays.
Photo: 2 July 2008.
Source: Own work.
Author: Lamiai.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The stability, brought by the new Charter, ended with the onset of the Civil War and the execution of Charles I. Local fighting damaged the Cathedral's stonework, furniture and windows. The Dean, Walter Raleigh, a nephew of the explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, was placed under House Arrest after the fall of Bridgwater to the Parliamentarians in 1645, first in the Rectory at Chedzoy, Somerset, and then in the Deanery, at Wells.

His jailer, the shoe-maker and City Constable, David Barrett, caught him writing a Letter to his wife. When he refused to surrender it, Barrett ran him through with a Sword and he died six weeks later, on 10 October 1646. He was buried in an unmarked grave, in the Choir, before the Dean's Stall.

During the Commonwealth of England, under Oliver Cromwell, no Dean was appointed and the Cathedral fell into disrepair. The, then, Bishop went into retirement and some of the Clerics were reduced to performing menial tasks.

The 13th-Century West Front, Wells Cathedral, by Thomas Norreys.
As a synthesis of form, architectural decoration and figurative sculpture,
it is considered to be unsurpassed in Britain.
Photo: 27 October 2010.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Author: Ad Meskens.
(Wikimedia Commons)

In 1661, after King Charles II was restored to the Throne, Robert Creighton, who had served as the King's Chaplain-in-Exile, was appointed Dean, and then served as the Bishop for two years, before his death in 1672. His Brass Lectern, given in thanksgiving, can be seen in the Cathedral. He also donated the Great West Window of the Nave at a cost of £140.


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