Worcester Cathedral

Worcester  Listing

Worcester Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral in Worcester, England; situated on a bank overlooking the River Severn. It is the seat of the Anglican Bishop of Worcester. Its official name is The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Mary the Virgin of Worcester. Built between 1084 and 1504, Worcester Cathedral represents every style of English architecture from Norman to Perpendicular Gothic. It is famous for its Norman crypt and unique chapter house, its unusual Transitional Gothic bays, its fine woodwork and its “exquisite” central tower which is of particularly fine proportion.

The cathedral’s west facade appeared, with a portrait of Sir Edward Elgar, on the reverse of £20 note issued by the Bank of England between 1999 and 2007.

The Cathedral was founded in 680 with Bishop Bosel as its head. The first cathedral was built in this period but nothing now remains of it. The existing crypt of the cathedral dates from the 10th century and the time of St. Oswald, Bishop of Worcester. The current cathedral dates from the 12th and 13th centuries.

Monks and nuns had been present at the Cathedral since the seventh century (see Bede). The monastery became Benedictine in the second half of the tenth century (one author gives the time range 974-7, another considers 969 more likely). There is an important connection to Fleury as Oswald, bishop of Worcester 961-92, being prior at the same time, was professed at Fleury and introduced the monastic rule of Fleury to Worcester. The Benedictine monks were driven out at 18 January 1540 and replaced by secular canons.

The former monastic library of Worcester contained a considerable number of manuscripts which are, among other libraries, now scattered over Cambridge, London (British Library), Oxford Bodleian, and the Cathedral library at Worcester of today.[5]

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the building was re-established as a cathedral of secular clergy. The cathedral was subject to major restoration work by Sir George Gilbert Scott and A. E. Perkins in the 1860s.

The Cathedral contains the tomb of King John in its chancel. Before his death in Newark in 1216, John had requested to be buried at Worcester. He is buried between the shrines of St Wulstan and St Oswald (now destroyed).

The cathedral has a memorial, Prince Arthur’s Chantry, to the young prince Arthur Tudor, who is buried here. Arthur’s younger brother and next in line for the throne was Henry VIII. Worcester Cathedral was doubtless spared destruction by Henry VIII during the English Reformation because of his brother’s chantry in the cathedral.

An image of the cathedral’s west facade appeared on the reverse of the Series E British £20 note commemorating Sir Edward Elgar, issued between 1999 and 2007. The notes are gradually being withdrawn from circulation to be replaced by a new series.

Worcester Cathedral embodies many features that are highly typical of an English medieval cathedral. Like the cathedrals of Salisbury and Lincoln, it has two transepts crossing the nave, rather than the single transept usual on the Continent. This feature of English Cathedrals was to facilitate the private saying of the Holy Office by many clergy or monks. Worcester is also typical of English cathedrals in having a chapter house and cloister. To the north side of the cathedral is an entrance porch, a feature designed to eliminate the draught which, prior to the installation of modern swing doors, would blow through cathedrals whenever the western doors were open.

Worcester Cathedral has important parts of the building dating from every century from the 11th to the 16th. Its tower in the Perpendicular style is described by Alec Clifton-Taylor as “exquisite” and is seen best across the River Severn.

The earliest part of the building at Worcester is the multi-columned Norman crypt with cushion capitals remaining from the original monastic church begun by St Wulfstan in 1084. Also from the Norman period is the circular chapter house of 1120, made octagonal on the outside when the walls were reinforced in the 14th century. The nave was built and rebuilt piecemeal and in different styles by several different architects over a period of 200 years, from 1170 to 1374, some bays being a unique and decorative transition between Norman and Gothic. The oldest parts show alternate layers of green sandstone from Highley in Shropshire and yellow Cotswold limestone.

The east end was rebuilt over the Norman crypt by Alexander Mason between 1224 and 1269, coinciding with, and in a very similar Early English style to Salisbury Cathedral. From 1360 John Clyve finished off the nave, built its vault, the west front, the north porch and the eastern range of the cloister. He also strengthened the Norman chapter house, added buttresses and changed its vault. His masterpiece is the central tower of 1374, originally supporting a timber, lead-covered spire, now gone. Between 1404 and 1432 an unknown architect added the north and south ranges to the cloister, which was eventually closed by the western range by John Chapman, 1435–38. The last important addition is Prince Arthur’s Chantry Chapel to the right of the south choir aisle, 1502–04.

Worcester Cathedral was extensively restored from 1857 to 1874 by W. A. Perkins and Sir George Gilbert Scott. Most of the fittings and the stained glass date from this time.

Thirty nine of the misericords date from 1379 and include a complete set of the Labours of the Months. The subject matter includes biblical stories, mythology and folklore including N-07, The Clever Daughter which shows a naked woman draped in a net, riding a goat and carrying a rabbit under her arm. Three of the misericords are Victorian replacements such as N-02, Judas in the jaws of Satan.

The tower has a ring of twelve bells plus three semitone bells and a non-swinging bourdon.The current peal of 15 ringing bells were cast in 1928 by John Taylor & Co., of Loughborough, from the metal of the original ring cast in 1869. The ring is the fifth heaviest ring of twelve in the world, only the bells in the cathedrals of Liverpool, Exeter, York and St Paul’s, London are heavier. The bells are also considered to be one of the finest toned rings ever cast. The bells hang in a wooden frame that was constructed in 1869 for the previous ring.

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