Our next Cathedral is in the city of Gloucester, and it was famously used in the filming of one of the most iconic British Film Series of the last few decades…
St Peter’s and the Holy & Indivisible Trinity:
Location: Gloucester, City of Gloucester District, Gloucestershire, England
Faith: Church of England
Constructed: 1089 – 1499
Architect: Frederick Sandham Waller (1822 – 1905), Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878)
This magnificent building has its origins back in 1089, when a monk called Serlo gained enough money from the existing monastery to build the Church that still exists today, which was the original Abbey. Henry III (1207 – 1272) was crowned at the Abbey in 1216, before later building works in the 13th century. During these works a Lady Chapel and a Tower was added, before the arrival of another King, Edward II (1284 – 1327), in 1327. He wasn’t crowned here however, but buried. The King was killed at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, in suspicious circumstances so it is widely theorised that he was murdered by either his son, Edward III (1312 – 1377) who took over, or one of his followers. The central Tower was added in the 15th Century and stands a staggering 225 feet tall, rising above most other buildings in the city. Each corner of the Tower has a pinnacle on top. This replaced the previous tower, as did a new Lady Chapel also built around this time.
As was the fate of most Abbey’s around the country, it fell victim to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, instigated by King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) in 1536.
Due to the remains of his ancestor, Edward II, being interred here, Henry allowed the buildings to be spared, and they became Gloucester Cathedral, and a new Bishops seat, that of the Bishop of Gloucester, was created in 1541. The monks left, and a Dean took over. All the previous Abbey buildings became part of the Cathedral, hence the reason there are Cloisters and a Courtyard still existing today. During the English Civil War (1642 – 1651) between Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) who abolished the Monarchy, and forces loyal to the Monarch, Charles I (1600 – 1649), Cromwell wanted to destroy the Cathedral, but it was saved when the Mayor of Gloucester intervened. In 1660, a few years after the war ended, the Dean of Gloucester retook control of the building, and it has prospered ever since. The building has been maintained throughout the following centuries, and unusually it has not been rebuilt like so many other churches.
The main entrance when we visited was at the front of the Cathedral, down the side facing the Camera in the picture at the start of this post. As you enter, there is a shop just to your right, which is out of shot on this picture. Continuing straight on, you enter the 174 feet long Nave, which contains a beautiful ceiling 68 feet above the main aisle. On either side are enormous stone columns, leading in rows up towards the Choir and the Chancel at the far end. A wooden screen separates the Nave from the Choir, topped by a large Organ.
There are a number of monuments around the Cathedral, including this statue of Dr Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823), an English Doctor who created the worlds first vaccine, the vaccine for Smallpox. Just to the left of the statue is the shop, where you can buy a license to take photographs around the building.
Moving into the Choir, you get a better look at the Organ and the lovingly crafted Choir Stalls. The present Organ was built in 1971, by Hill, Norman & Beard, a company founded in 1916 in Norwich when two previous companies came together. Aside from Gloucester Cathedral, they also built the Organs in use in both Lichfield and Norwich Cathedrals. The designers were called Ralphs Downes and John Sanders, and the sound the Organ produced was a very classical sound. It was later given a rebuild and restoration in 1999 by a company from Worcester called Nicholson & Co.
The screen isn’t an original feature, as when it was built there was an Altar where the screen stands, with a large crucifix hanging above it. Past the Organ is the Choir area, which has a beautiful patterned floor, with the Choir stalls on either side. The Stalls contain immaculate detail, and are one of the best examples we have seen. The Transepts lead off from either side of the Choir, with the North Transept off to the left, and the South Transept off to the right.
The roof in the Nave was incredible, and the stone masons at the Cathedral were actually pioneers in the vaulting used on the ceilings. If you look at the ceiling in the Chancel (this section is directly above the Organ and Choir) you will see the incredible vaulting across it, called Lierne. This is the earliest known example of Lierne, and the same pattern can be found on the ceiling of the South Transept. It dates back to around 1337, and it must have been a herculean task to create such an amazing pattern.
Continuing East through the Choir and the Chancel from the Nave, you are greeted by the truly stunning East Window, which was the largest window in the world when it was originally installed back in the 1350’s. The detail on every pane is immaculate, and it features a variety of figures.
The figures begin with the Nobility, through to the Bishops/Abbots, then on to Saints (including St John, St Laurence and St Thomas) , Apostles and finally Angels which sit below the final set of panes which feature heaven, where God sits with more Angels playing instruments around him. This represents a hierarchy within the Church as a whole, and also includes Christ himself in the centre of the main section of the window. He is depicted sat next to the Virgin Mary who has been crowned, and Christ is blessing her.
Moving out of the main body of the Cathedral, you enter some of the original Abbey buildings, most significant of which are the Cloisters. This area is made up of a central square with enclosed corridors running around all four sides of the Square, creating one long corridor. Traditionally the Monks lived in the Cloisters and associated buildings, which provided a retreat from the outside world and the regular people who would have lived in the area. Being such a secluded place, the Cloisters were perfect for quiet contemplation and religious studying.
Whilst they have obvious historical significance, they were seen recently in the Harry Potter film series, when this area of the building appeared in the 1st, 2nd and 6th films, standing in for Hogwarts Corridors. It has retained its stunning medieval feel, so what better place to stand in for a Castle in the wizarding world where the historic magical kingdoms featured in fairy tales are reality. There was some controversy at the time, due to the nature of the films as some felt that the Cathedral wasn’t an appropriate place to film, but it has attracted even more visitors to come and explore.
This is the view from the centre of the Square, which contains a small courtyard with some well designed horticultural features in the centre. The Cloisters are attached to the North side of the Cathedral, and the great tower of the building rises up high above the Square. Its an amazing view, and we have only visited a handful of Cathedrals during our travels that actually have Cloisters, including Salisbury Cathedral, Christ Church in Oxford and Durham Cathedral.
Other buildings originally associated with the Abbey include School Buildings, A Chapter House and the Abbots Cloister, all of which come off the East side of the Square, in the direction of the Tower. Presumably the Abbots Cloister would have been the private areas reserved for the Abbot, who was the head of the Monastery. The Chapter House was used as a meeting place, where services and meetings could be held with all or most of the Monks present. Originally there were various other buildings included around the Cloisters, from Kitchens to Dwellings for the Monks, but many of these have been lost through history when the Dissolution took place, as they were no longer needed once the Monks were forced to move out.
This beautiful little room is located in the South Ambulatory, one of the two aisles that run from the Transepts, down the edge of the choir and round to the Altar beneath the East Window. As the name suggests, the South Ambulatory connects with the South Transept, and is where you shall find the Chapel, which is officially named St Andrew’s Chapel.
This has to be my favourite part of the building, not for its grandeur, or design, but for the stunning effect the light creates when it shines through the windows as you watch, bathing you in a purple glow, as the windows seem to come alive as the light passes through them and bounces off every wall. A similar Chapel exists on the North Side between the Transept and the North Ambulatory, and together they make quite a pair.
Also in the South Ambulatory is this remarkable wooden effigy of the Duke of Normandy, created out of “Bog Oak”, which is wood that has been submerged in a peat bog for centuries. He is one in a long line of Dukes, and the name comes from the Normandy region of France, the ruler of which was granted the title of Duke upon its creation in 911 by Charles III of France (879 – 929). As history passed the region by, William the Conqueror became the Duke, and then subsequently conquered England, making himself both Duke of Normandy and King of England in 1066. Subsequent Kings of England kept both titles, until King John eventually lost Normandy to the French in 1204, and the two titles became separate. Henry III officially renounced his claim to being the Duke of Normandy in 1259 after he succeeded to the throne after John.
But which of the many Dukes of Normandy lies in Gloucester Cathedral? It is in fact a man called Robert Curthouse (1050 – 1134, eldest son of William the Conqueror) who held the title between 1087 and 1106. After his father died of his wounds during the Siege of Mantes in France, Robert was given Normandy, and his brother William was given England, splitting the lands up between the two. There was one more son, Henry, who managed to seize the throne from William, and went on to invade Normandy, taking that region as well, from Robert, in 1106. Robert was then imprisoned, and eventually moved to Cardiff Castle, where he passed away in his 80’s.
His tomb has the Coats of Arms of the “Nine Worthies”, 9 people legendary figures from history, and includes figures from various religions. The 9 are:
3 Jewish Figures:
David (Biblical Figure who ruled Israel and Judah as it’s 2nd King), Judas Maccabeus (Jewish Warrior who led the revolt against the Seleucid Empire around 160 BC) and Joshua (Israeli Spy in the Torah)
3 Christian Figures
King Arthur (Legendary figure who helped to defend the Britain against the Saxons and famous for his “Round Table” and pulling the “Sword from the Stone”) , Charlemagne (circa 747 – 1814, King of the Franks, then Italy, and later Europe. The Franks being the area that comprises modern day Western Europe) and Godfre of Bouillon (1060 – 1100, first ruler of Jerusalem, and leader of the First Crusade in the Holy Land).
3 Jewish Figures
Hector (Prince of Troy in Greek Mythology), Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC, Roman Dictator who famously headed the first invasion of the Island of Great Britain) and Alexander the Great (356 – 323, King of the Greek Kingdom of Macedon)
Interesting Joshua’s Coat of Arms isn’t actually present on the tomb, and was in fact replaced by that of Edward the Confessor (1003 – 1066, the son of Aethelred – King of England from 978 – 1013, and the last ruler of Wessex. His successor was Harold Godwinson (1022 – 1066), the last Saxon King as his reign ended in 1066 with his death at the Battle of Hastings when William the Conqueror arrived and took England).
Our tour ends back in the Nave, as we gazed up at the West Window, a stunning creation, that so far I am unable to find information on. Various impressive windows are described in various texts but none specifically mention a West Window, so rather than it being styled as the West Window it must have a specific name. Even so, it looks magnificent.
Other sections of Stained Glass around the building contain some notable images, as one created in 1350 shows a game of Golf being played, which is interesting as it was supposedly invented in Scotland in the 15th century. Looks like the Monks beat them too it! Another Window also shows a ball game similar to Football but I think it is a long way off what we know today as Football.
Gloucester Cathedral is stunning, and there is so much history and architecture to explore. Its certainly worth a look, and you could spend hours exploring every grand aisle, side chapels and mystery corridors. You can find out more about the Cathedral on it’s official website here, and you can explore the historic city of Gloucester in my dedicated post here.