5th January 2013.
Decided on a last-minute solo trip out to Wells Cathedral in Somerset, England which is only about 50 miles from home. This was possibly my first trip in over 18 months that I have done on my own. Normally I have at least one other person with me and it not only helps to share the journey with but also helps keep you on your game. Still, it was a change to go out and visit this place on my own.
‘Bird of Pray’
Some brief history
Wells Cathedral is a Church of England cathedral in Wells, Somerset, England. It is the seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who lives at the adjacent Bishop’s Palace.
Built between 1175 and 1490, Wells Cathedral has been described as “the most poetic of the English Cathedrals”. Much of the structure is in the Early English style, much enriched by its sculptural aspects and the vitality of the carved capitals in a foliate style known as “stiff leaf”. The eastern end has retained much original glass, rare in England. The exterior has a fine Early English façade and a large central tower.
The first church was established on the site in 705. Construction of the present building began in the 10th century and was largely complete at the time of its dedication in 1239. It has undergone several expansions and renovations since then and has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Peter Price is the current Bishop of Bath and Wells, having been appointed in 2001. John Clarke was appointed Dean in September 2004, having previously been principal of Ripon Theological College at Cuddesdon, Oxford.
The early years
There is archaeological evidence of a late Roman mausoleum on the site, identified during excavations in 1980.The first church was established in Wells in 705 by King Ine of Wessex, ordered by Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne, in whose diocese it lay.It was dedicated to Saint Andrew. The only remains of this first church are some excavated foundations which can be seen in the cloisters. In 766 Cynewulf, King of Wessex, signed a charter granting endowed eleven hides of land.The baptismal font in the south transept is the oldest surviving part of the cathedral, dated to c.700 AD.
Two centuries later, the seat of the diocese was shifted to Wells from Sherborne. The first Bishop of Wells was Athelm (circa 909), who crowned King Athelstan. Athelm and his nephew Saint Dunstan both became Archbishops of Canterbury. It was also around this time that Wells Cathedral School was founded.
I decided to go as early as possible to beat the possible crowds and prevent people being in my photos. I got up around 5am for a shower and breakfast and left to drive to the cathedral.
On arrival, it was clear that the dull grey and misty morning wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea so I was on my own with the exception of a few people who were coming for their 7:30am service but an early start and no people equal the better shots.
No crowds = Plentiful seating.
The morning was extremely overcast and raining hence the conditions inside were lit with the Cathedral’s own lighting which made some exposures slightly too yellow. This was toned down in post processing.
I went from wide to fisheye to macro and got the most out of the morning. All in all, I spent a good two hours wandering around the interior and got what I wanted before leaving for home.
The building of the present structure commenced under the direction of Bishop Reginald de Bohun, who died in 1184.Wells Cathedral dates primarily from the late 12th century and early 13th century; the nave and transept are examples of the Early English style of architecture. It was largely complete at the time of its dedication in 1239. In 1197 Bishop Savaric FitzGeldewin officially moved his seat to Glastonbury Abbey with the approval of Pope Celestine III. However, 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. His successor, Jocelin of Wells, then returned to Bath, again with the title Bishop of Bath. The episcopal title became Bishop of Bath and Wells under a Papal ruling of 3 January 1245.
The bishop responsible for the construction was Jocelyn of Wells, a brother of Bishop Hugh II of Lincoln and one of the bishops present at the signing of Magna Carta. Jocelyn was also involved in the building of the Bishop’s Palace, a choristers’ school, a grammar school, a hospital for travellers and a chapel. He also built a manor at Wookey, near Wells. The master mason designer associated with Jocelyn was Elias of Dereham. Jocelyn lived to see the church dedicated, but despite much lobbying in Rome, died before cathedral status was granted in 1245. He died on 19 November 1242 at Wells and was buried in the choir of Wells Cathedral. The memorial brass on his tomb is supposedly one of the earliest brasses in England. Masons continued with the enrichment of the West Front until about 1260. Following his death the monks of Bath unsuccessfully attempted to regain power over Wells. King John was excommunicated between 1209 and 1213. During this time, work on the cathedral was suspended. In this period, building technology advanced so that bigger blocks of masonry could be moved and incorporated into the walls. This can be seen on the walls of the cathedral: at a particular point in the building’s walls, the blocks of stone can be seen to increase in size.
By the time the building, including the Chapter House, was finished in 1306, it already seemed too small for the developing liturgy, unable to accommodate its increasingly grand processions; and Bishop John Drokensford initiated another phase of building under master mason Thomas of Whitney,during which the central tower was heightened and an eight-sided Lady chapel, completed by 1326, was added at the east end. Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury followed, continuing the eastward extension of the quire, and the Retroquire 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 with all its temptations. He enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the citizens of Wells, partly because of his imposition of taxes and felt the need to surround his palace with crenellated walls and a moat and drawbridge.
The appointment of William Wynford as master mason in 1365 marked another period of activity. He was one of the foremost architects of his time, and, apart from Wells, worked for the king at Windsor, and at New College, Oxford and Winchester Cathedral. 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. Inside the building 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. “Scissor arches” (inverted strainer arches that are such a striking feature) were inserted by William Joy, the master mason of the time,to brace and stabilize the piers as a unit.
Plan, showing the four massive piers of the crossing (centre), the octagonal chapter house (top) and the extended east end (right)
The interior of the cathedral is based on three aisles, with stress being placed on horizontal, rather than vertical lines. A unique feature in the crossing are the double-pointed inverted arches,known as owl-eyed strainer arches.This unorthodox solution was found by the cathedral mason, William Joy in 1338, to stop the central tower from collapsing when another stage and spire were added to the tower beginning in the 13th century.The capitals in the south-west arm of the transept include depictions such as a bald-headed man, a man with toothache, a thorn-extractor, and a moral tale: fruit thieves being caught and punished.
The west façade is 100 feet (30 m) high and 150 feet (46 m) wide with niches for more than 500 medieval figure sculptures of which 300 survive. Between 1975 and 1986 the west front underwent a major cleaning and restoration programme, including Silane coating and Lime treatment for many of the statues.The West front is composed of a yellow stone, inferior oolite of the middle Jurassic period, which came from the Doulting Stone Quarry, about 8 miles (13 km) to the East.
Wells Cathedral contains one of the most substantial collections of medieval stained glass in England.Many of the windows were damaged by soldiers in 1642 and 1643.The oldest surviving are two windows on the west side of the Chapter House staircase date from 1280–90, and two windows in the south choir aisle which are from 1310–1320. The Lady Chapel range is from 1325–1330 and includes images of local saint Dunstan.However, the east window underwent extensive repairs by Thomas Willement in 1845.The choir east window is a fine Jesse Tree, which includes significant silver stain, and is flanked by two windows each side in the clerestory, with large figures of saints, all of which are dated to 1340–1345. In 2010 a major conservation programme was undertaken on the Jesse window. The 1520 panels in the chapel of St Katherine are attributed to Arnold of Nijmegen and were acquired from the destroyed church of Saint-Jean, Rouen. The last panel was bought in 1953.
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 1925–1931. The main north and south transept end windows are by Powell, erected in the early 20th century.
‘Sea of lamps’
Tudors and Civil war
By the reign of Henry VII the cathedral building was complete, with an appearance much as today. From 1508 to 1546, eminent Italian humanist scholar Polydore Vergil was active as the Chapter’s representative in London. He donated a set of hangings for the cathedral quire.Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1541 the cathedral’s income reduced; medieval brasses were sold off, 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.
Elizabeth I gave both the Chapter and the Vicars Choral a new charter in 1591 which created 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.The st ability which the new charter brought came to an end 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 at this time 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 was the local shoe maker and city constable, David Barrett, who 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 the choir before the dean’s stall. No inscription marks his grave.During the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell no dean was appointed and the building fell into disrepair. The bishop was in retirement and some clergy were reduced to performing menial tasks.
In 1661, when Charles II had been restored to the throne, Robert Creyghtone, 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.His magnificent 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 Creyghtone’s appointment as Bishop, Ralph Bathurst, who had been president of Trinity College, Oxford, chaplain to the king, and fellow of the Royal Society, 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 the furnishings, and for a time stabled their horses in the nave.
The restoration had to start all over again under Bishop Thomas Ken who was appointed in that year 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 his 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; the older meaning of “juror” is “one who takes an oath”, hence “perjurer” as “one who swears falsely”) refused and were put out of office.Bishop Kidder, who succeeded him, was killed during the Great Storm of 1703, when two chimney stacks in the palace fell on the bishop and his wife, asleep in bed.This same storm wrecked the Eddystone lighthouse and blew in part of the great west window in Wells.
The full set of photos (with some more to be added) can be viewed here
Thanks for reading.