|Cathedral Church of St. Andrew|
Wells Cathedral from the east
|Denomination||Church of England|
|Previous denomination||Roman Catholic|
|Heritage designation||Grade I listed building|
|Designated||12 November 19531|
|Style||Gothic (Early English)|
|Length||126.5 m (415 ft)2|
|Width||20 m (66 ft)2|
|Width across transepts||47 m (154 ft)2|
|Nave height||20.5 m (67 ft)2|
|Choir height||22 m (72 ft)2|
|Number of towers||3|
|Tower height||55 m (180 ft) (crossing)2|
|Diocese||Bath and Wells (since c.909)|
|Canon Chancellor||Andrew Featherstone4|
|Canon Treasurer||Graham Dodds (since 2010)5|
|Archdeacon||Nicola Sullivan, Archdeacon of Wells (since 2007)6|
The first church on the site was established in 705. The present building, dating from between 1175 and 1490, has been described as "the most poetic of the English Cathedrals".8 It is moderately sized among the medieval cathedrals of England, falling between those of massive proportion, such as Lincoln and York, and the much smaller Oxford and Carlisle. With its broad west front and large central tower, it is the dominant feature of its small cathedral city and a significant landmark in the Somerset countryside.9
The architecture of the cathedral presents a harmonious whole, being entirely Gothic and mostly in a single style, the Early English Gothic of the late 12th and early 13th centuries. In this Wells differs from most other English medieval cathedrals, which have parts in the earlier Romanesque architectural style introduced to Britain by the Normans in the 11th century.
Work on the cathedral commenced in about 1175 at the eastern end with the building of the choir. The historian John Harvey considers this to be the first truly Gothic structure in Europe, having broken from the last constraints of Romanesque.10 The stonework of its pointed arcades and fluted piers is enriched by the complexity of the pronounced mouldings and vitality of the carved capitals in a foliate style known as "stiff leaf".11 The exterior has an Early English façade with more than three hundred sculptured figures,8 which is described by Harvey as "the supreme triumph of the combined plastic arts in England".12 The eastern end has retained much original stained glass, which is rare in England.8
Unlike the many English cathedrals of monastic foundation, Wells has retained an exceptional number of buildings associated with its chapter of secular canons, such as the Bishop's Palace and the Vicars' Close, a residential street that has survived intact from the 15th century.9 The cathedral is designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building,1 and scheduled monument.13
- 1 History
- 2 Ministry
- 3 Architecture
- 4 Artworks and treasures
- 5 Music
- 6 Bells
- 7 Library
- 8 Surrounding buildings
- 9 In the arts and entertainment
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The first church in Wells was built in 705 by Aldhelm, first bishop of the newly established Diocese of Sherborne, in the reign of King Ine of Wessex.1516 It was dedicated to Saint Andrew and stood south of the present cathedral on the site of the cloisters, where some excavated remains can be seen. The baptismal font in the south transept of the cathedral is from this church and is the oldest part of the present building.17 In 766 Cynewulf, King of Wessex, signed a charter granting endowment of eleven hides of land.18
Two centuries later the seat of the diocese was moved from Sherborne to Wells. The first Bishop of Wells was Athelm (c. 909), who crowned King Æthelstan. Athelm and his nephew Saint Dunstan both became Archbishops of Canterbury.15 At this time a choir of boys was established to sing the liturgy. Wells Cathedral School dates its foundation to this point.19 Following the Norman Conquest, Bishop John de Villula moved the seat of the bishop from Wells to Bath in 1090.20 The church at Wells, no longer a cathedral, had a college of secular priests.20
Construction of the present cathedral is thought to have commenced in about 1175 under Bishop Reginald Fitz Jocelin, who died in 1191.2122 The church was designed in the new style with pointed arches, later to be known as Gothic and introduced at about the same time at Canterbury Cathedral. It was largely complete at the time of its dedication in 1239.23 It is clear from the size of the building that it was planned from the outset to be the cathedral of the diocese.20 Despite this, the seat of the bishop moved between Wells and the abbeys of Glastonbury and Bath, before settling at Wells.
In 1197 Bishop Reginald's successor, Bishop Savaric FitzGeldewin, with the approval of Pope Celestine III, officially moved his seat to Glastonbury Abbey, but the monks there would not accept their new Bishop of Glastonbury and the title of Bishop of Bath and Glastonbury was used until the Glastonbury claim was abandoned in 1219.24
Bishop Savaric's successor, Jocelin of Wells, again moved the bishop's seat to Bath Abbey, with the title Bishop of Bath. Jocelin was a brother of Bishop Hugh II of Lincoln,25 and one of the bishops present at the signing of Magna Carta. Bishop Jocelin continued the building campaign begun by Bishop Reginald, and was responsible for building the Bishop's Palace, as well as the choristers' school, a grammar school, a hospital for travellers and a chapel. He also built a manor house at Wookey, near Wells.26 He saw the church dedicated in 1239 but, despite much lobbying of the pope by Jocelin's representatives in Rome, did not live to see cathedral status granted. The delay may have been a result of inaction by Pandulf Masca, a Roman ecclesiastical politician, papal legate to England and Bishop of Norwich, who was asked by the pope to investigate the situation but did not respond.27 Jocelin died at Wells on 19 November 1242 and was buried in the choir of the cathedral;252628 the memorial brass on his tomb is one of the earliest brasses in England.26 Following his death the monks of Bath unsuccessfully attempted to regain authority over Wells.29
In 1245 the church became Wells Cathedral and the title "Bishop of Bath and Wells" was granted to Jocelin's successors by a papal ruling of 3 January 1245.30 Since the 11th century the church had a chapter of secular clergy, like the cathedrals of Chichester, Hereford, Lincoln and York. The clergy were endowed with prebendary lands, with Wells having twenty-two prebends, and a provost to manage them. On acquiring cathedral status, in common with other such cathedrals it had four chief clergy, quattuor personae, the dean, precentor, chancellor and sacristan, who were responsible for the spiritual and material care of the cathedral.31
The cathedral was conceived and begun around 1175 by Bishop Reginald Fitz Jocelin.21 Construction continued under Bishop Jocelin, with Adam Locke as master mason,21 perhaps succeeded by Elias of Dereham in 1229.15 Work was halted between 1209 and 1213 when King John was excommunicated and Bishop Jocelin was in exile.32
By the time the building, including the chapter house, was finished in 1306,33 it already seemed too small for the developing liturgy, unable to accommodate its increasingly grand processions of clergy. Bishop John Droxford initiated another phase of building under master mason Thomas of Whitney,33 during which the central tower was heightened and an eight-sided Lady chapel, completed by 1326, was added at the east end.34 Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury followed, continuing the eastward extension of the choir and retrochoir beyond with its forest of pillars. He also built Vicars' Close and the Vicars' Hall, to give the men of the choir a secure place to live and dine, away from the town and its temptations.35 He had an uneasy relationship with the citizens of Wells, partly because of his imposition of taxes,35 and surrounded his palace with crenellated walls, a moat and a drawbridge.3637
The appointment of William Wynford as master mason in 1365 marked another period of activity. One of the foremost architects of his time, Wynford worked for the king at Windsor, New College, Oxford, and Winchester Cathedral.38 Under Bishop John Harewell, who raised money for the project, he built the south-west tower of the west front and designed the north-west, which was completed later.39 He filled in the early English lancet windows with delicate tracery. 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.40 Strainer arches, sometimes described as scissors arches, were inserted by the master mason William Joy to brace and stabilise the piers as a unit.4041
By the reign of Henry VII the cathedral building was complete, appearing much as it does today. 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.4243 The Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1541 resulted in a reduction of the cathedral's income. Medieval brasses were sold off, and a pulpit was placed in the nave for the first time.44 Between 1551 and 1568, in two periods as dean, William Turner established a herbal garden, which was recreated between 2003 and 2010.4546
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. This body had control over the estates of the church as well as complete authority over its affairs, but was no longer entitled to elect its own dean.47 The stability brought by the new charter ended with the onset of the civil war and the execution of Charles I. Local fighting led to damage to the fabric of the cathedral including stonework, furniture and windows. The dean was Dr Walter Raleigh, a nephew of the explorer Sir Walter Raleigh. He was imprisoned after the fall of Bridgwater to the Parliamentarians in 1645, brought back to Wells and confined in the deanery. His jailer, the local 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 1646.48 He was buried in an unmarked grave in the choir before the dean's stall.49 During the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell no dean was appointed and the cathedral fell into disrepair. The bishop was in retirement and some clergy were reduced to performing menial tasks.50
In 1661, after Charles II had been restored to the throne, Robert Creighton, who had served as the king's chaplain in exile, was appointed as the dean and later served as the bishop for two years before his death in 1672.51 His brass lectern, given in thanksgiving, can still be seen in the cathedral. He donated the great west window of the nave at a cost of £140. Following Creighton's appointment as bishop, Ralph Bathurst, who had been president of Trinity College, Oxford, chaplain to the king, and fellow of the Royal Society,52 took over as the dean. During his long tenure the fabric of the cathedral was restored. During the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, Puritan soldiers damaged the west front, tore lead from the roof to make bullets, broke the windows, smashed the organ and furnishings, and for a time stabled their horses in the nave.53
Restoration began again under Bishop Thomas Ken who was appointed in 1685 and served until 1691. He was one of seven bishops imprisoned for refusing to sign King James II's "Declaration of Indulgence", which would have enabled Catholics to resume positions of political power, but popular support led to their acquittal. He later refused to take the oath of allegiance to William and Mary because James II had not abdicated. Thomas Ken and others (known as the Non-Jurors) refused and were put out of office.54 Bishop Kidder, who succeeded him, was killed during the Great Storm of 1703, when two chimney stacks in the palace fell on him and his wife, while they were asleep in bed.5556
In the middle of the 19th century, a major restoration programme was needed. Under Dean Goodenough, the monuments were removed to the cloisters and remaining medieval paint and whitewash was removed in an operation known as "the great scrape".57 Anthony Salvin took charge of the extensive restoration of the choir. The wooden galleries were removed and new stalls with stone canopies were placed further back within the line of the arches. The stone screen was pushed outwards in the centre to support a new organ.
The late 20th century saw an extensive restoration programme on the fabric of the building, particularly the west front.585960 The stained glass is also under restoration, with a programme underway to conserve the large 14th-century Jesse Tree window at the eastern terminal of the choir.6162
Since the 13th century Wells Cathedral has been the seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. The governing body of the cathedral is the Chapter led by the dean, assisted by the precentor, the canon chancellor and the canon treasurer as well as the archdeacon who assists the bishop in the management of the diocese. The most recent Bishop of Bath and Wells was Peter Price, who was appointed in 2001 and retired on 30 June 2013.64 The present dean is John Clarke.3
Employed staff include the organist and master of choristers, head virger, archivist, librarian and those involved in the running of the shop, cafe and restaurant.65 The chapter is advised by specialist architects and archaeologists and committees focusing on the fabric of the building and finance.66
The cathedral holds over a thousand services each year, including daily services: Matins, Holy Communion and Choral Evensong67 and major celebrations of Christian festivals.68 The cathedral is also used for occasional baptisms, weddings and funerals for those with close connections to the cathedral.69 In July 2009 the cathedral hosted the funeral of Harry Patch, the last British Army veteran of World War I, who died at the age of 111.70
Three Sunday services are led (during term time) by the resident choir and choral services are also sung on weekdays. As a music venue, the cathedral hosts visiting choirs and is involved in outreach work with local schools as part of its Chorister Outreach Project.71 Each year approximately 150,000 people attend services at the cathedral and another 300,000 visit as tourists.72 Entry is free, but visitors are encouraged to make a donation towards the annual running costs of around £2 million.73
|c. 1175||Choir||Unknown||Early English Gothic|
|c. 1192–1230||Transept, nave, north porch||Adam Lock||Early English|
|c. 1230–60||West front||Thomas Norreys||Early English|
|c. 1275–86||Undercroft of chapter house||Unknown||Early English|
|c. 1293–1310||Chapter house||Unknown||Geometric Decorated Gothic|
|c. 1310–19||Lady Chapel||Thomas Witney||Reticulated Gothic|
|c. 1315–22||Central tower||Thomas Witney||Decorated Gothic|
|c. 1329–45||Reconstruction of choir, retrochoir||William Joy||Flowing Decorated/
|c. 1338–55||"St Andrew's Arches" under the tower||William Joy||Decorated Gothic|
|1365–95||South-west tower||William Wynford||Perpendicular Gothic|
|c. 1425–35||North-west tower||Unknown||Perpendicular|
|1439–50||Modifications to the central tower||Unknown||Perpendicular|
|1430–1508||Renovation of cloisters||Unknown||Perpendicular|
|c. 1475–90||Crossing vault; Sugar's Chapel||William Smyth||Perpendicular|
|1842–57||Choir and pulpitum altered||Benjamin Ferrey and Anthony Salvin||Gothic Revival|
|1974–86||Conservation of west front||A. D. R. Caroe (architect), Bert Wheeler (Clerk of Works)74|
With a total length of 415 feet (126 m), Wells Cathedral, in common with those of Canterbury, Lincoln and Salisbury, has the distinctly English arrangement of two transepts, the body of the church being divided into distinct parts: nave, choir, and retrochoir, beyond which extends the Lady Chapel.75 The façade is wide, its towers extending beyond the transepts on either side.9 There is a large projecting porch on the north side of the nave, forming the entry into the cathedral.76 To the north-east is the large octagonal chapter house, entered from the north choir aisle by a passage and staircase. To the south of the nave is a large cloister, unusual in that the northern range, that adjacent the cathedral, was never built.77
In section, the cathedral presents the usual arrangement of a large church, having a central nave with an aisle on each side, separated by two arcades. The elevation is in three stages, arcade, triforium gallery and clerestory.76 The nave is only 67 feet (20 m) in height, very low compared to the Gothic cathedrals of France.78 It has a markedly horizontal emphasis, caused by the fact that the triforium has a unique form, being composed of a series of identical narrow openings, lacking the usual definition of the bays. The triforium is separated from the arcade by a single horizontal string course that runs unbroken the length of the nave. There are no vertical lines linking the three stages, as the shafts supporting the vault rise above the triforium.76
The exterior of Wells Cathedral presents a relatively tidy and harmonious appearance since the greater part of the building was executed in a single style, Early English Gothic. This is uncommon among English cathedrals where the exterior usually exhibits a plethora of different styles.79 At Wells, later changes in the Perpendicular style were universally applied, such as filling the Early English lancet windows with simple tracery, the construction of a parapet that encircles the roof, and adding pinnacles that frame each gable, similar to those around the chapter house and on the west front.76 At the eastern end there is a proliferation of tracery with repeated motifs in the Reticulated style, a stage between Geometric and Flowing Decorated tracery.80
The west front, 100 feet (30 m) high and 150 feet (46 m) wide, is built of Inferior Oolite of the Middle Jurassic period, which came from the Doulting Stone Quarry, about 8 miles (13 km) to the east.82 According to Alec Clifton-Taylor, it is "one of the great sights of England".83 West fronts in general take three distinct forms: those that follow the elevation of the nave and aisles, those that have paired towers at the end of each aisle, framing the nave, and those that screen the form of the building. The west front at Wells has the paired-tower form, unusual in that the towers do not indicate the location of the aisles, but extend well beyond them, screening the dimensions and profile of the building.9 It 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.83
At the lowest level of the façade is a plain base, contrasting with and stabilising the ornate arcades that rise above it.83 The base is penetrated by three doors, which are in stark contrast to the often imposing portals of French Gothic cathedrals. The outer two are of domestic proportion and the central door is ornamented only by a central post, quatrefoil and the fine mouldings of the arch.9 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,9 since when some have been restored or replaced, including the ruined figure of Christ in the gable.74 Many of the figures are life-sized or larger, and together they constitute the finest display of medieval carving in England.9 Many of the details of the west front were painted in bright colours, and the scheme has been determined from flakes of paint still adhering to some surfaces.9
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 was not begun until about 1425.21 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.76 Despite its lack of spires or pinnacles, Banister Fletcher describes it as "the highest development in English Gothic of this type of facade." 84
The central tower appears to have dated from the early 13th century. It was substantially reconstructed in the early 14th century during the remodelling 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.20 Alec Clifton-Taylor describes it as "outstanding even in Somerset, a county famed for the splendour of its church towers".8
The north porch is "sumptuously" decorated, and intended as the main entrance.76 Externally it is a simple rectangular building with plain side walls. The entrance is a steeply arched portal with rich mouldings of eight shafts with stiff-leaf capitals and each encircled by an annular moulding at middle height. Those on the left are figurative, containing images representing the martyrdom of St Edmund the Martyr.76 The walls are lined with deep niches framed by narrow shafts with capitals and annulets like those of the portal.
Cloisters were built at Wells first in the late 13th century, but were largely rebuilt from 1430 to 1508.2021 They are in the Perpendicular style, each opening having six main lights divided by a strong transom. The vaulting has lierne ribs that form octagons at the centre of each compartment, the joints of each rib having decorative bosses.85 The eastern range is in two storeys, with the 15th-century library above it.20
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 secular cathedrals range from the processional to the aesthetic.77 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.86
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.60 Detailed studies of the stonework and conservation practices were undertaken under the cathedral architect, Alban D. R. Caroe and a restoration committee formed.74 The methods that were selected for conservation were those devised by Eve and Robert Baker. Baker was employed as chief conservator until midway through the project. 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.74
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 surfaces were finished by painting with a thin coat of mortar and silane to resist further erosion and attack by pollutants.7460
The restoration of the façade revealed much paint adhering to the statues and their niches, indicating that it had once been brightly coloured.60
The particular character of this Early English interior is dependent on the proportions of the simple lancet arches and 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.78 The capitals themselves 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, such as the narrative of the fruit stealers.78
The vault of the nave rises steeply in a simple quadripartite form, in harmony with the nave arcade.76 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.21 The vault has a multiplicity of ribs in a net-like form, very different from that of the nave, and perhaps being a recreation in stone of a local type of compartmented wooden roof of which examples remain from the 15th century, including those at St Cuthbert's Church, Wells.87 The vaults of the aisles of the choir also have a unique pattern.76
Until the early 14th-century the interior of the cathedral was in a unified style, but it was to undergo two significant changes. Between 1315-22 the central tower was heightened and topped with 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 easternmost side is braced by a choir screen.88 The strainer arches are known as the "St 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.9
The chapter house was begun in the late 13th century and built in two stages, being completed about 1310. It is a two-storeyed structure with the main chamber raised on an undercroft and entered from a staircase which divides and turns, with 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".80 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".80 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.80 Beneath the windows are fifty-one stalls, the canopies of which are enlivened by carvings including many heads carved in a light-hearted manner.80
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 construction of a second transept or retrochoir behind the choir, probably by William Joy.89
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. It is one of the earliest lierne vaults in England.89 There are five large windows, of which four are filled with fragments of medieval glass.89 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.89
The retrochoir 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".90 The piers are shafted with marble, and, with the vaults that they support, create a vista of great complexity from every angle.89 The windows of the retrochoir are in the Reticulated style like those of the Lady Chapel, but are fully Flowing Decorated in that the tracery mouldings form ogival curves.89
Wells Cathedral contains one of the most substantial collections of medieval stained glass in England,91 despite damage by Parliamentary troops in 1642 and 1643.92 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 1310–20.
The Lady Chapel has five windows of which four date from 1325–30,1 and include images of local saint Dunstan.91 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.1
The east window of the choir is a broad seven-light window dating from 1340–45. It depicts the Jesse Tree and demonstrates the use of silver staining, a new technique in the 14th century.93 The combination of yellow and green glass and the application of the bright yellow stain gives the window its popular name of the "Golden Window".87 It is flanked by two windows each side in the clerestory, with large figures of saints, also dated to 1340–45.94 In 2010 a major conservation programme was undertaken on the Jesse window.95
The panels in the chapel of St Katherine are attributed to Arnold of Nijmegen and date from about 1520.1 They were acquired from the destroyed church of Saint-Jean, Rouen,91 the last panel being purchased in 1953.1
The large triple lancet to the nave west end was glazed at the expense of Dean Creyghton 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 are by Powell, erected in the early 20th century.1
The greater part of the stone carvings of Wells Cathedral comprises foliate capitals in the stiff-leaf style. These 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.96 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.96 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 the 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 corbel with foliage on which climbs a lizard, sometimes identified as a salamander, a symbol of eternal life.8796
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, being clearly identifiable as grapevine. It has a rippling form that is very different to the bold projections and undercutting of the earlier work.97
The 15th-century cloisters have many small bosses ornamenting the vault. Two of these carvings in the West Cloister, near the present location of the gift shop and cafe, have been described as being Sheela na gigs which are female figures displaying their genitals and variously considered to be associated with depictions of the sin of lust or with ancient fertility cults.9899 One of the carvings at Wells is atypical as it has wings and appears to be wearing clothes.100
Wells Cathedral has one of the finest sets of misericords in Britain.101102 The clergy at Wells have a long tradition of singing or reciting the Psalms each day, along with the customary daily reading of the Holy Office. In medieval times the clergy also assembled in the church eight times daily for the Canonical Hours. Since the greater part of these services were recited standing, many monastic or collegiate churches were fitted with stalls in which the seats could tip up and provide a convenient ledge for the monk or cleric to lean against. They were called "misericords" because their installation was an act of mercy.101 Misericords typically have a carved figurative bracket beneath the ledge and framed by two floral motifs known, in the heraldic manner, as "supporters".101
The misericords at Wells date from 1330 to 1340.101 They may have been carved under the direction of master carpenter John Strode, although his name is not documented until 1341. His assistant was Bartholomew Quarter, documented from 1343.101 They originally numbered ninety, of which sixty-five have survived,103 sixty-one being installed in the choir, three on display in the cathedral and one held by the Victoria and Albert Museum.101 When the eastern end of the choir was extended in the early 14th century, new stalls were ordered. The canons of the cathedral complained that they had borne the cost of the rebuilding and ordered that the prebendary clergy should all pay for their own stalls.101 When the newly refurbished choir was opened in 1339, many misericords were left unfinished, including one fifth of the surviving sixty-five. Many of the prebendary clergy had not paid, and were required to contribute a total sum of £200.101 The misericords survived very much better than the other sections of the stalls, which had their canopies chopped off during the Reformation, and galleries inserted above them.101 One of the misericords, depicting a boy pulling a thorn from his foot, dates from the 17th century.102 In 1848 there was a complete rearrangement of the choir furniture, and sixty-one of the misericords were reused in the restructured stalls.101
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, where none of the misericord carvings is directly based on a Biblical story.102 The subjects, chosen either by the wood-carver, or perhaps by the individual paying for the stall, have no overriding 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.101102 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.102 Other subjects illustrate popular fables or sayings such as "When the fox preaches, look to your geese".104 Many of the subjects are depictions of animals, some of which may symbolise a human vice or virtue, or an aspect of faith.102
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. Eleven carvings are of human figures, among which are several of remarkable design, having been conceived by the artist specifically for their purpose of supporting a shelf. One figure lies beneath the seat, supporting the shelf with his cheek, one hand and one foot. Another sits in a contorted manner supporting the weight on his elbow, while another figure squats with his knees wide apart and a strained look on his face.101
Some of the cathedral's architectural features and fittings date back hundreds of years.
The brass lectern in the Lady Chapel is from 1661 and has a moulded stand and foliate crest.79 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 would have been 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 over it, with three-stepped statue niches and pinnacles. The throne was restored by Anthony Salvin around 1850.1 Opposite the throne is a 19th-century pulpit, which is octagonal 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 St Martin is a memorial to every Somerset man who fell in World War I.105
The monuments and tombs include: Bishop Gisa, died 1088; Bishop Bytton, died 1274; Bishop William of March, died 1302; John Droxford, died 1329; John Godelee, died 1333; John Middleton, died c1350; Ralph of Shrewsbury, died 1363; Bishop Harewell, died 1386; William Bykonyll, died c1448; John Bernard, died 1459; Bishop Bekynton, died 1464; John Gunthorpe, died 1498; John Still, died 1607; Robert Creighton, died 1672; Bishop Kidder, died 1703; Bishop Hooper, died 1727 and Bishop Harvey, died 1894.
The Wells Cathedral clock, an astronomical clock, is located in the north transept. It is believed to be the work of Peter Lightfoot, a monk of Glastonbury, and dates from about 1325.106 The mechanism, dated to between 1386 and 1392, was replaced in the 19th century, and was eventually moved to the Science Museum in London, where it continues to operate. It is the second-oldest surviving clock in England.107
The clock still has its original medieval face. As well as showing the time on a 24-hour dial, it reflects the motion of the Sun and Moon, the phases of the Moon, and the time since the last new Moon. The astronomical dial represents a geocentric or pre-Copernican view of the universe, with the Sun and Moon revolving round a central fixed Earth, like that of the clock at Ottery St Mary.34 Every quarter of an hour the clock is chimed by a quarter jack in the form of a small automaton known as Jack Blandifers, who hits two bells with hammers and two with his heels.108 At the striking of the clock jousting knights appear above the clock face.
On the outer wall of the transept, opposite Vicars' Hall, is a second clock face, placed there just over seventy years after the interior clock and driven by the inside mechanism. It has two quarter jacks in the form of knights in armour.
In 2010 the official clock-winder retired and was replaced by an electric mechanism.109
The first record of an organ dates from 1310, with a smaller organ, probably for the Lady Chapel, being installed in 1415. In 1620 a new organ, built by Thomas Dallam, was installed at a cost of £398 1s 5d.(£70,000 as of 2013).110 This was destroyed by parliamentary soldiers in 1643. A new organ was built in 1662, which was enlarged in 1786 and again in 1855.111 In 1909–1910 a new organ was built by Harrison & Harrison of Durham with the best parts of the old organ retained and this has been maintained by the same company since.111
The first recorded organist of Wells Cathedral was Walter Bagele (or Vageler) in 1416,112 and the post of organist or assistant organist has been held by over 60 individuals since then. Between 1996 and 2004 the appointed Organist and Master of the Choristers was Malcolm Archer, who was the Musical Director for the Wells Cathedral Oratorio Society at the same time.
There has been a choir of boy choristers at Wells Cathedral since 909.115 Since the formation of the Vicars Choral in the 12th century the sung liturgy at Wells Cathedral has been provided by a traditional cathedral choir of men and boys. Currently there are eighteen boy choristers aged from eight to fourteen years. Since 1994 there has also been a choir of girl choristers. The boys and girls sing alternately with the Vicars Choral, and are educated at Wells Cathedral School.116
The Vicars Choral currently number twelve men, of whom three are Choral Scholars. Since 1348 the College of Vicars has had its own accommodation, and in the 15th century Vicars' Close was built to house the men, and provided a chapel and communal facilities that isolated them from the "worldly temptations" of the town. The Vicars Choral generally perform with the choristers, except on Wednesdays, when they sing alone, enabling them to present a different repertoire.117
In December 2010 Wells Cathedral Choir was rated by Gramophone magazine as "the highest ranking choir with children in the world",115 and it continues to provide music for the liturgy at Sunday and weekday services. The choir has made many recordings and toured frequently, including performances in Beijing and Hong Kong in 2012. Its repertoire ranges from choral music of the Renaissance to recently commissioned works.115
The Wells Cathedral Voluntary Choir is a mixed adult choir of thirty members. It was formed in 1986 to sing at the Midnight Service on Christmas Eve, and was invited to sing at several other special services.118 The choir now sings about fifty services a year when the Cathedral Choir is in recess or on tour, and spends one week a year singing as the "choir in residence" at another cathedral. Although primarily liturgical, the choir's repertoire also includes other forms of music, and performances at private engagements such as weddings and funerals.119
The bells at Wells Cathedral are the heaviest ring of ten bells in the world,120 with a tenor bell (the 10th and largest) known as Harewell, that weighs 56.25 long hundredweights (2,858 kg).121 They are hung for full circle ringing in the English style of change ringing. These bells are now hung in the South West Tower, although a few were originally hung in the central tower.
|1st||1891||Mears & Stainbank||7 long cwt 3 qtr 12 lb (880 lb or 399 kg)|
|2nd||1891||Mears & Stainbank||9 long cwt 0 qtr 2 lb (1,010 lb or 458 kg)|
|3rd||1757||Abel Rudhall||10 long cwt (510 kg)|
|4th||1757||Abel Rudhall||10.75 long cwt (546 kg)|
|5th||1757||Abel Rudhall||12.5 long cwt (640 kg)|
|6th||1964||Mears & Stainbank||15 long cwt 1 qtr 14 lb (1,722 lb or 781 kg)|
|7th||1757||Abel Rudhall||20 long cwt (1,000 kg)|
|8th||1757||Abel Rudhall||23 long cwt (1,200 kg)|
|9th||1877||John Taylor & Co||32 long cwt (1,600 kg)|
|10th||Harewell||1877||John Taylor & Co||56 long cwt 1 qtr 14 lb (6,314 lb or 2,864 kg)122|
The library of Wells Cathedral is above the eastern cloister, constructed between 1430 and 1508.21 The library's collection is in three parts: the early documents, housed in the Muniment Room; the collection predating 1800, housed in the Chained Library; and the post-1800 collection, housed in the Reading Room.123 The Chapter's earlier collection was destroyed during the Reformation, so the present library consists chiefly of early printed books, rather than medieval manuscripts.123 The earlier books, in the Chained Library, number 2,800 volumes and give an indication of the wide variety of interests of the members of the Cathedral Chapter from the Reformation until 1800. The focus of the collection is predominantly theology but there are also volumes on science, medicine, exploration, and languages. Books of particular interest include Pliny's Natural History printed in 1472, an Atlas of the World by Abraham Ortelius, printed in 1606 and a set of the works of Aristotle that previously belonged to Erasmus.123 The library is open to the public at appointed times during summer, with a small exhibition of documents and books.123
Three early registers of the dean and chapter of Wells – the Liber Albus I (White Book; R I), Liber Albus II (R III), and Liber Ruber (Red Book; R II, section i) – were edited by W. H. B. Bird for the Historical Manuscripts Commissioners and published in 1907. These three books comprise, with some repetition, a cartulary of possessions of the cathedral, with grants of land dating back as early as the 8th century, well before the development of hereditary surnames in England; acts of the dean and chapter; and surveys of their estates, mostly in Somerset.124
On the Cathedral Green is the 12th-century Old Deanery, largely rebuilt in the late 15th century by Dean Gunthorpe and further remodelled by Dean Bathurst in the late 17th century. It is no longer the residence of the dean.125
To the south of the cathedral lies the moated Bishop's Palace, begun around 1210 by Bishop Jocelin of Wells but dating mostly from the 1230s. In the 15th century Bishop Beckington added the north wing, which is now the bishop's residence.126127 It was later restored and extended by Benjamin Ferrey between 1846 and 1854.
To the north of the cathedral and connected to it by the Chain Gate is the Vicars' Close, a street planned in the 14th century and claimed to be the oldest purely residential street in Europe with its original buildings all surviving intact.105128 Buildings in Vicars' Close include the Vicars Hall and gateway at the south end, and the Vicars Chapel and Library at the north end.
J. M. W. Turner visited Wells in 1795, making sketches of the precinct and a watercolour of the west front, now in the Tate.129 Other artists whose paintings of the cathedral are in national collections are Albert Goodwin,130 John Syer131 and Ken Howard.132
In filming for the 2007 Doctor Who episode "The Lazarus Experiment", the cathedral interior stood in for that of Southwark Cathedral. Parts of the Academy Award-nominated 2007 film Elizabeth: The Golden Age were filmed in the cathedral.48 Part of the cathedral served as an interior location in the 2013 film Jack the Giant Slayer.133
The cathedral was used as inspiration for Ken Follett's novel The Pillars of the Earth and, with a heavily modified central tower, was used to represent the completed fictional Kingsbridge Cathedral at the end of the 2010 television adaptation.134
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