Southwell Minster

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Southwell Minster (/ˈsaʊθwɛl/) is a minster and cathedral, in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, England. It is six miles away from Newark-on-Trent and thirteen miles from Mansfield. It is the seat of the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham.

It is considered an outstanding example of Norman and Early English architecture.The distinctive pyramidal spires of lead (or Rhenish caps or “pepperpot” spires as they are known locally), the only example of their kind in the United Kingdom,uniquely overlap the footprint of the tower walls and are particularly noteworthy.

The earliest church on the site is believed to have been founded in 627 by Paulinus, the first Archbishop of York, on a visit to the town when he was baptising believers in the River Trent. This legend is commemorated in the Minster’s baptistry window.

In 956 King Eadwig gave a gift of land in Southwell to Oskytel, Archbishop of York, on which a Minster church was established. The Norman Domesday Book of 1086 recorded Southwell manor in great detail, and the Norman reconstruction of Southwell Minster began in 1108, probably as a gradual rebuilding of the Anglo-Saxon church, starting (as was usual) at the East end so that the high altar could come into service as soon as possible, the Saxon building being dismantled as work progressed. Many of the stones of this earlier Saxon church were reused in the construction of the Norman one. The tessellated floor and late 11th century tympanum in the North Transept are the only pieces of the earlier, Saxon building remaining intact. Work on the nave began after 1120 and the building was completed by c. 1150.

The Minster was built partly as an attached church of the Archbishop of York’s Palace (which stood next door and is now ruined). It served the Archbishop as a place of worship and was also a collegiate body of theological learning, hence its designation as a minster. The minster still draws its choir from the nearby school with which it is associated.

The Norman quire was replaced with an Early English building in 1234 because it was too small. The octagonal chapter house, built in 1286 complete with vault in Decorated Gothic style and naturalistic carving of foliage (a masterpiece of 13th century stonecarving including several Green Men), completed the cathedral. The elaborately carved “pulpitum” or quire screen was built in 1350.

The cathedral suffered less than many others in the English Reformation as it was refounded in 1543 by Act of Parliament.

Southwell is where King Charles the First was captured during the English Civil War. The fighting saw the church seriously damaged and the nave is said to have been used as stabling. The adjoining palace was almost completely destroyed, first by Scottish troops and then by the local people, with only the hall of the Archbishop remaining as a ruined shell. The Minster’s financial accounts show that extensive repairs were necessary after this period.

On 5 November 1711, during a terrible storm, the southwest spire was struck by lightning, and the resulting fire spread to the nave, crossing and tower destroying roofs, bells, clock and organ. By 1720 repairs had been completed, now giving a flat panelled ceiling to the nave and transepts.

In 1805 Archdeacon Kaye gave the Minster the Newstead lectern; once owned by Newstead Abbey, it had been thrown into the Abbey fishpond by the monks to save it during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, then later discovered when the lake was dredged. Sir Henry Gally Knight in 1818 gave the Minster four panels of 16th-century Flemish glass (which now fill the bottom part of the East window) which he had acquired from a Parisian pawnshop.

In danger of collapse, the “pepperpot” spires were removed in 1805 and only re-erected in 1879-1881. At this time of extensive restoration by Ewan Christian, an architect specialising in churches, the nave roof was also considered unsuitable due to its flatnessand was completely rebuilt in the current peaked version and the choir was redesigned and refitted.

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