Monthly Archives: June 2021

Cathedrals 8.

The picture today shows Gloucester cathedral from the south-west, an image copied from the Gloucester Cathedral website (much of this site is a built-up area today).
Gloucester cathedral is an example of a medieval monastic church of the Benedictine order that survived the Reformation of the 1530s because Henry VIII ordered it to become one of five new diocesan churches (cathedrals), these new diocese carved out of existing ones (Worcester in this case). The other four were Bristol (previously the abbey church of Augustinian canons), Chester (previously the abbey church of Benedictine monks), Oxford (previously the abbey church of Augustinian monks) and Peterborough (previously the church of Benedictine monks). Thus there were 21 cathedrals by the end of Henry VIII’s reign. This was the last subdivision of dioceses until the 19th century when eight new diocese were created and the respective parish churches elevated to cathedral status.
Not only the Reformation but also the Renaissance impacted on cathedrals. One example of this, if a rather complex one, was the history of ‘Old’ St. Paul’s cathedral in London.
The ‘Old’ St. Paul’S cathedral, said at one time to be the largest church in Christendom, dominated the landscape of medieval London. In 1561 its timber spire burnt down and in the early 17th century the nave and transepts were given a classical ‘coat’ designed by Inigo Jones. Cupolas were erected on top of the west towers at the same time and a corinthian collonade built across the west front. The fire of London, 1666, ended Wren’s plan to build a central cupola and ‘lantern’. After the fire there was much discussion in political circles as to the design of the replacement cathedral, the ‘Great Model’ being revised by the ‘Royal Warrant Design’ (Charles II). The building programme of Wren’s St. Pauls seen today ended in 1711. Here then was the great example of Classical architecture overtaking Gothic, the coming to fruition of the Renaissance.

Cathedrals 7.

The last of Thomas Rickman’s (s.p.b.s) medieval church building styles was Perpendicular, the term referring to the vertical thrust of most window tracery. The Perpendicular style of architecture was to become solely British and was also characterised by very large windows shedding daylight in the interior, by complex vault systems supporting the ceilings, by the raising much higher of towers and spires and by various changes to the style of arcades built in naves and chancels.
The picture above shows part of the choir and presbytery (area in the chancel reserved for the incumbent where the high altar was sited) and east window of Gloucester cathedral. It is claimed that it was in this part of the cathedral that the Perpendicular style of architecture was being pioneered in the late 14th century (let’s remember that this is a term applied much later, at the time the architect/master mason was developing a new style, what name he used for it we do not know) evidenced in the complex lierne vault (heralding the fan vaulting of the 15th century as can be seen in the vault of the cloistral corridor at Gloucester cathedral), the loftiness of the building and in the great east window.
It is also the case that the re-building of the nave at Canterbury cathedral completed in 1405, master-minded by Henry Yevele one of the few master masons for whom documentary evidence survives, pioneered the Perpendicular style of architecture.
At Norwich cathedral a later lierne vault was built above the nave and chancel incorporating a multitude of carved bosses which provide much evidence about life, folklore and beliefs at the time, 1460s to 1480s.
Great Perpendicular west/east windows often replaced those of earlier styles both in cathedrals and in parish churches.
Lofty crossing towers, often incorporating ornate parapets and pinnacles, also characterised building/re-building programmes of the 15th century.
(to be continued)

Cathedrals 6.

From the 13th to the 16th centuries the history of each English cathedral varies according to if, and when, sections of the building were re-built, repaired or extended. However, there were examples of additions to the groundplan, the most significant of which in terms of the extent of the built complex was the addition of lady chapels (Lady chapels) particularly for cathedrals and large church complexes. Lady chapels were usually built as an eastwards extension of the cathedral’s chancel, that being behind the high altar. However, there were some variations from this positioning. The photo above is of the Lady Chapel at Ely cathedral which was a detached building on the north side of the chancel, later linked by a ceiled corridor. This lady chapel was built between the 1320s and the 1350s and is all of what was later to be defined as the Decorated style of church architecture, this exampled by the large windows topped by interlacing tracery (including the great east window), the lierne vault ceiling and the ogee-arched hoods to the seating recesses. The building programme was interrupted by the collapse of the then crossing tower, this in-turn beong replaced by the octagonal crossing topped by the famous ‘lantern’.
Lady chapels were a physical testimony to the Cult of the Virgin, a fundamental strand of medieval Catholic Church doctrine. Probably a lot of icons related to this element of Roman Catholocism were destroyed in the Reformation and, certainly, back in the day the interior plasterwork and the vaulted ceiling would have been richly painted. At the far end of Ely’s Lady Chapel can be seen a 20th century statue representing the Virgin Mary, this a controversial representation with Mary presented as a little-too modern like.
Both Lincoln and York Cathedrals have majestic Lady Chapels.

Cathedrals 5.

Today’s illustration, taken from Thomas Rickman’s book (s.p.b.), shows the type of features in church architecture that defined what Rickman named as the ‘Early English’ style. The reason for this name seems obscure but it defines the move from reliance on the round-headed arch (see previous illustration) to the use of the pointed-arch for doors, windows, arcades etc., this then being the earliest type of ‘gothic’ architecture (I suspect this was not Rickman’s term but I could be wrong). Rickman’s illustration above shows stages (progress of fashion) within the Early English era – firstly single lancet windows, later cluster lancets, later still pierced spandrels above two lancets. Also with buttresses, first stepped against the church wall, later flying buttresses (much later). Also with external decoration where mouldings became more diverse.
In fact now the window shown bottom left would be more likely described as of the ‘Geometric style’, often considered a separate architectural style in its own right.
The Early English style of church architecture was mostly in vogue from the early-to mid-13th century, many churches and cathedrals built in the Norman era were extended in the Early English style and, if surviving today, this change is most easily seen. That said, the Early English style of architecture was much favoured by the builders of new churches in the 19th century so care has to be taken against over-confident reliance on the style alone when dating church buildings.
In fact the ‘gothic arch’ style of church building had been experimented with since the late 12th century, the innovation originating in France. The west bays of the nave at Worcester cathedral and the galilee porch at the west end of the nave of Durham cathedral are early examples. The new-build cathedral at Salisbury (s.p.b.) most of this style, the initial building programme being completed in 1258.
(to be continued).

Cathedrals 4.

Throughout the Middle Ages (c.1100 – 1530s) no new diocese were created although at Salisbury, for example, the old Anglo-Norman cathedral at Old Sarum was replaced by a new cathedral and cloistral range of buildings for a colony of secular canons (s.p.b.s) all constructed between 1220 and 1258, although its famous crossing tower and ‘needle’ spire were built about a century later.
Any writings about medieval church buildings or building changes are dominated by the following terms – Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular, these now long-established as architectural eras.
In fact these terms were never used by ecclesiastical hierarchies, master masons and building craftsmen of the time, being defined first by Thomas Rickman in the early 19th century. If there were medieval words for new building styles that came along across the Middle Ages there seems to be no record. Thomas Rickman (1776-1841) was a self-taught architect, this in-turn resulting from a period in his early adult life when to contemporaries he seemed to be wasting his time wandering the countryside sketching church buildings as seen then. That said, many of his sketches were very accurately drawn, akin to later draughtsman standard. In so doing he came to realise that certain building features recured across many church buildings and that these reflected the time in history when they were built, he thus devised and started to use the terms listed above. His work gained recognition after he gave a public lecture in Liverpool and as his architectural buisness started to take-off he published in 1817 what was to be a very influential book entitled ‘Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture’. The drawing above is taken from that book and shows, in a stylised example, typical features of a Norman Church interior, this would have been the fashionable style from about the mid-11th century to the late 12th century.
(to be continued)

Cathedrals 3.

Today’s photo, taken from an old postcard purchased long ago, shows Ely cathedral’s west entrance and west porch with the single west tower behind and beyond, over the crossing, the octagonal lantern tower, this completed in 1322 and was then the most progressive architecture of its day.
Monastic cathedrals (those served by Benedictine monks) had a cloistral range of buildings, usually immediately south of the church, at Glousester immediately north. Secular canon’s residences were usually less tied to a rigid plan. A bishop’s palace was usually incorporated into the cloistral complex but most bishops had secondary palaces, e.g. Lambeth Palace for the Archbishop of Canterbury and those at Howden and (crossing-point on River Ouse south of York, I cannot find a map) for the bishops of Durham.
The litergy (ceremonials and forms of worship throughout the day and throughout the year) mostly required the crossing (the area between the transepts and between the nave and chancel, the area of the chancel next to the crossing often refered to as the ‘choir’, this where the choir stalls often were) which often left the centre and west end of the nave available to function as a parish church.
The Norman overlords of the 12th and 13th centuries often favoured towers constructed at the centre, or crossing, of the monastic churches, these sometimes a weak area in the construction (see above). Norman west towers (a pioneering design feature) can be seen at Durham and Canterbury cathedrals. Norman undercrofts (purpose-built cellars with possible uses such as crypt or chapel) survive at Durham, Worcester and Canterbury cathedrals.
The increasingly ornate stonework of the late Norman period in architecture is often refered to as the ‘Romanesque’ era. St. Hugh’s choir, the eastern extension of the chancel at Lincoln Cathedral constructed between 1192 and 1210, is a fine example.