UK 2019 Day 12: Part 1, Wells Cathedral

Posted October 5, 2019

Welcome back, my friends! Let’s get back on track with my adventures earlier this year in the United Kingdom. This update is longer than most, So I’ve broken it up in two.

May 20, 2019 

Our next stop was at the historic city (aren’t they all historic at this point?) of Wells [map]. The city is named for the upwelling of water from springs (probably similar to the source of Bath’s water features).

01_Wells_01
Welcome to Wells. There’s the old city gate, down the road.

It is also the seat of the Bishop of Bath and Wells – what’s known as a Cathedral – so of course we have a big church (though described as “moderately sized” by historians)!

Ornate church front with two stone towers.
The western facade of Well’s Cathedral was initially completed in the 14th century, though it has been updated as the centuries passed.

While it lacks the scaled down whimsy of Bath Abbey’s ascending angels, the saints and popes arrayed along the front are quite impressive and the stonework is beautiful.

Statues in decorated alcoves
These statues are well worn but impressive nonetheless, after 700 years.
Stone cathedral tower.
Early English Gothic splendour. This church is one of the few in England to be planned and built all in a single Gothic style.

Inside, the church is beautiful and spacious. Like most Gothic structures, it’s surprisingly airy. Even with somewhat dim light, it never felt oppressive or gloomy.

06_Wells-Cathedral_05
View along one of the cloister walkways. The stone tracery of the windows and the vaulting, while showing their age, are intricate and beautiful.

It might be hard to discern by the photos here, but this space is immense. The architects decided to leave the

Interior view of a llarge church nave with stained-glass windows at the far end.
The nave is 20 meters (67 feet) in height. I was a little surprised to learn that it is actually considered low, especially compared to large medieval churches in France.

Like most medieval construction, adaptations and changes had to be made as the structure was advanced. Some of this is just because of the simple fact that it took centuries to build these structures. Decades for just the basic functional layout, and then successive additions and adaptations to time and technology. One such engineering stand-out are inverse or “scissor” arches. They were added when the weight of the central tower caused the supports to start sinking. These arches redistributed the load and relieved the stress.

Gothic church interior with arches and a crucifix visible through the background.
One of the scissor arches that was innovated to save the structure in the 14th Century.

The cathedral also claims to have one of the oldest clocks in the world (although the internal mechanism was replaced in the 19th Century, it has it’s original face, and its time and other indicators were not interrupted). The face has a 24 hour dial and indicators for the phase of the Moon as well as the Moon’s age – or days since the last new moon. Above it is a miniature display of jousting knights that “perform” each hour.

Antique clockface with 24 hour indicators and moon phase display.
The original 14th Century clock face. I can say that, at least according to my smartphone, the time and moon phases were accurate.

The 13th Century chapter house was also impressive. Chapter houses were meeting rooms for church officials, and this one is still used for social events and other meetings from time to time.

11_Wells-Cathedral_chapter-house-stairs_10
The original stairs to the chapter house are worn down and smooth on the left side.
12_Wells-Cathedral_chapter-house11
More impressive vaulting and tracery.

The scope and intricacies of the church are truly monumental, and I encourage you to check out more details at the Cathedral’s official website:
https://www.wellscathedral.org.uk/

51_Wells_Cathedral_28
Wells Cathedral on a gorgeous Spring day.

Adjacent to the cathedral is the Bishop’s Palace, home to the bishops of Wells for centuries (though these days, most of the palace is a museum and public space). Stay tuned for Part 2!

 

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