The present church is largely of late 12th and early 13th century, the initial work being assigned to Bishop Reginald de Bohun, who died in 1191.
The western bays of the choir, the two transepts and the nave that we see today were completed under successive Bishops and a vast new church in the latest Gothic style - quite an innovation in those days - was largely constructed by the time of its dedication in 1239. Bishop Jocelin of Wells had his masons continue with detailed work, however, particularly the decoration of the glorious West front, which continued until about 1260. Bishop Jocelin, a brother of Bishop Hugh II of Lincoln, was one of the bishops who were at the side of Stephen Langton at the signing of Magna Carta. He was exceptionally active in other ways too. His building work not only included the West front of the Cathedral, but also the bishop's palace, a choristers' school, grammar school, hospital for travellers and a chapel and manor house at Wookey, two miles from Wells. This work stands as that of one of the three "master builders of our holy and beautiful house of St. Andrew in Wells." Associated with Jocelin was Elias of Dereham, a famous designer who died in 1246.
One of the great advantages of guided tours is that whatever you're looking at tends to come alive. Wells Cathedral is full of wonders, some of which become apparent only when they're pointed out, others are obvious but unexplained. This falls into the latter category but, with a guide to enlighten, an extraordinary story comes to light, one of many such that abound in this wondrous building.
A close examination, that I undertook when I first wandered through in the early morning before the guided tour, had me shaking my head at this stained glass window. Try as I may, I couldn't make out what it was all about.
Our oh-so-knowledgable guide was less daunted however and she explained that the glass had been smashed during various episodes of history, notably the civil war, but all the pieces had been gathered up and stored away until, lights-flashing, bells-a-ringing, a bishop had an idea - lets put it all back up and to hell (whoops, sorry about that) with the consequences and any idea of getting the jigsaw right.
The legend has it that when the place was being systematically destroyed during the civil war one of the destroyers fell and died whilst taking a swing at the glass so the commander halted the destruction, seeing the death as an omen.
For those of you unfamiliar with stained glass in churches, you read it from the bottom up, but, in this case, you might as well stand on your head, you still won't get it right!
This then, is how this kaleidoscope of colour came into being - but it's only one of the wonders of this cathedral.
You can have Oxford v. Cambridge, give me a boatrace around here any time. The defensive walls and moat are a reflection of a bygone era that has remained remarkably well preserved.
You can walk all the way around the moat (as I did) and come back in through one of the great entry gates.
On the Bank Holiday weekend in August a veritable melting pot of craft assemble for the annual raft races, a contest with limited rules.
The last picture shows the view from inside the walls and there are guided tours of the Bishops Palace. Dating back to the early 13th century, it's where the first Bishop of Bath and Wells were housed and you enter through the central porch into a vaulted entrance hall. In the rooms to view, upstairs is one item of particular interest, the elaborate robe worn for coronations.
All of this comes at a price of course, 4 pounds at time of writing.
Obviously.....the cathedral is what gives this small settlement its city status, and it is a wonderful example of Medieval craftsmanship.
Wells cathedral was started in the 1180s, gained cathedral status in 1245 and had reached more or less its present form by 1306, with the eight-sided Lady Chapel being completed by 1326.
It is a stunning building. The west front, with niches for more than 500 statues (300 still remain) is a stunning, but I found the superb scissor arches inside the building even more stunning...they look almost modern, and their creation without anything approaching modern technology is simply mind-blowing.
Like all Medieval English cathedrals there is a wealth of carvings, tombs, memorials and architecture to explore and enjoy. I'll add some more tips about specific things to look out for.
Allow at least an hour to wander around.
Evensong is at 5.15. Even if you are not a Christian it is worth attending to enjoy the beautiful acoustics and the superb choral singing. You will be seated in the choir itself. The cathedral is well-used to visitors, so you will find a helpful laminate telling you exactly what to do and when. This is not a mass; there is no communion (the taking of bread/wine) involved.....it is simply an evening service, with readings and choral works and prayers lasting around 45 minutes.
There is no entrance fee, but a donation of at least 5.50GBP is requested and should be given, imo. The very expensive upkeep of our wonderful Medieval cathedrals is not funded by the government.
You will need to buy a photography permit (2GBP) if you want to take photos.
Some things just show their age. Me, for instance. This gate also has that same quality of having lived and been lived in. It is believed Browns Gate is named after Richard Brown, a shoemaker, who held the lease of the house next to the gateway on the south in 1553.
1451 Bishop Bekynton commissioned his new works; at a cost of 200 marks; which included the Dean's Eye, (or Browne's Gate as it is now known). Finally built in 1453, it connected the Cathedral precinct with the city. The Dean's Eye forms part of nos 20 and 22 Sadler Street once called tha Mitre Inn, now known as the Ancient Gatehouse Hotel.
Today, you can stay here but it doesn't come highly recommended unless position is all you seek.
Much has not been writ about these on VT, which is a little bit sad as they are a little bit special. The reason they are here in the first place was not for visual pleasure, though they certainly fill that category, but because the building was, to put it softly, not quite stable. In simple terms, it moved, or would have if this architectural feature had not been included.
In a tit-for-tat with Salisbury they tried to become even grander but were ultimately defeated by the name of the town, Wells. Built on a watery base, it was naturally unstable so a planned taller steeple couldn't be sustained and the large edifice you see here needed special solutions.
It is amazing that Salisbury Cathedral still stands as well because the marble columns have actually buckled and levels are out of alignment because the whole thing is only built on a four foot base over a water table.
This most amazing sight at Wells is under the the central tower. They were designed in 1338 by the master mason William Joy to help take the weight of the tower that was starting to crack due to extra building work in 1313, notably a steeple to better the one at Salisbury. Ultimately it doesn't exist today because the land couldn't sustain the weight.
Around the corner from the Cathedral is Vicar's Close, the oldest complete street of 14th century houses in Europe. It was built to provide housing to cathedral vicars. Nearby is the Old Deanery, which dates back to the 12th century.
This, from a 1924 document, "Vicars' Close, with its fifty small houses forming the most perfect Gothic thoroughfare in England, was originally built as the College of Singing Clerks of the Cathedral. Here, time seems to have stood still ever since Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury designed the Close in the middle of the fourteenth century. The visitor to Wells will also be attracted by the graceful and unique Chain Gate spanning the Bath Road and the ingeniously contrived Water Conduit. For both of these, Wells is indebted to Bishop Beckington. The glorious Parish Church of St. Cuthbert is one of those splendid Perpendicular buildings known in Somerset as "Quarter Cathedrals." It is only from Tor Hill, after having visited St. Andrew's Church itself, that the surpassing loveliness of the noble Cathedral, which has been aptly described as "a precious jewel set in an emerald landscape," can be realised. The rocky crests and tree-clad sides of the Mendips provide an ideal background for the peaceful scene; while, looking westwards, the far-reaching prospect, across moorlands, meadows, coppices and hedgerows, is bounded only by the waters of the Severn Sea."
As for the coats of arms in the opening photo, I am heavily indebted to one Debbie Jones for her help - they are, as follows If you look at your picture and read the coats of arms from left to right they are as follows:
1st Bishop Bekynton
2nd College of Vicars
3rd The Cee of Bath and Wells
4th Bishop Stillington
Within the cathedral you will find the most wonderfully-worn set of stone stairs leading to the chapter House.
This is the part of the cathedral where the 'chapter' (the clerics involved with the cathedral) had their meetings.
Wells' octagonal Chapter House dates from the early 1300s, the same as the main body of the cathedral. It has a beautiful fan-vaulted ceiling and there are 40 stalls around its edge, for the 40 members of the chapter who once reached decisions here.
Although the Medieval stained glass no longer remains (replaced with transparent glass, giving the place a light and airy feel) many Medieval carvings do....carvings of real faces, of real people who really lived at the time the cathedral was constructed.
You can see one here, but you will see more in the travelogue on my Wells page.
And when you walk up those worn stone steps, think about how many millions of feet must have walked that same way over the centuries.....stone does not wear away quickly.
The greatest gallery of medieval sculpture in Europe, a unique 600-year-old working clock and scores of 12th century carvings are among the attractions of the vast Cathedral Church of St Andrew in Wells. The famed West Front, started in 1230 - some 50 years after the main building - is honeycombed with 400 niches, most containing original medieval statues. Those that are missing you can blame on the Civil War and senseless destruction.
There is much more to see for the informed. In fact, the whole front is the history of the world and the figure of Jesus can be seen at the very top. You might also notice many naked figures arising bearing coffin lids - these represent the general resurrection.
Keen observers will see 8 holes, through which trumpeters once played. There are also portals inside where choir boys sing and their voices resound across the fields.
The astronomical clock, made around 1392, is in the north transept. Its face is 6ft 4in across and it's the oldest clock in all England with face on it, the second oldest of all.
On the outside are the hours, the middle minutes while the lunar and sun, in the belief of the times, rotate around the central earth.
If you look closely you will note the blurred spinning knights at the top, a trick they do on the hour.
The Worminster Dragon mosaic was a community project led by Kate Rattray of Over The Moon Mosaics and commissioned by The Three Villages Dragon Festival 2001. It involved six primary schools and groups from ages 3 - 80! It is situated along the moat walk, next to the Bishops Palace in Wells.
The story goes that during the 13th century the people of Dulcote (sounds like a bad paint job), Dinder and North Wootton were greatly troubled by a dragon that lived at Worminster Sleight. It made frequent visits to the villages and each time selected a tasty child (how did it know which one was tasty you may well ask) for its dinner.
Understandably the populus were none too fond of these acts so they went to Bishop Jocelyn and requested his aid.
Gathering his retinue he rode out into the Bishop's Field but went forward alone to meet the dragon face to face before he slayed it with "his own bare hands and the power of God".
Gosh, kind of like and early Steve Irwin (Crocodile Hunter).
It seemed there were things of interest throughout the cathedral, and it proved to be the case. Not all were in the grand manner such as the arches though, some were on the scale of small, many by the stonemasons seeking to flaunt their art.
At the top of one of the columns, one of many scenes if you keep your eyes open, is a sequence of four sculptures, this lot depicting someone and his accomplice stealing grapes, trying to get away and then being caught in the act and punished.
In another part is someone having their teeth pulled, something the place had a reputation for long ago.
The Chapter House, completed in 1306, used to house 49 members in the eight sided building with yet another fine English example of those wonderful vaulted ceilings.
If you want to see the ceiling it's shown in one of the other photos in this tip.
The other snap of stained glass shows Pontious Pilate (supposedly born in Fortingall in Scotland) granting Joseph his request.
Warning: the stairs you see here are very worn so be careful when negotiating them.
The impressive Chain Gate, more notable from the rear of the cathedral, was built by Bishop Bekynton 1459-60 to enable the vicars choral to cross directly from their Hall to the cathedral for night-time services.
The gateway was commonly known as the "Chain Gate", presumably because chains were regularly fastened across it to prevent the passage of unauthorized carts.
This shot is taken looking down St. Andrews Street, though beyond the gate it becomes Cathedral Street and, just on the right through the gate is the museum.
Black Dog of Wells is a family business run by Philippa Threlfall and her son Daniel Collings that sits around the back street but within the Liberty of Wells Cathedral.
Philippa Threlfall trained at Cardiff College of Art as an illustrator and potter. This unusual mixture of disciplines led to an excitement with surface and texture and she soon began working in modelled and textured clay. She met and married Kennedy Collings, a Cambridge historian who, after working in industry, had developed an interest in reproducing limited editions of sculpture. Together they designed and made many large murals and pieces of sculpture in ceramic, mostly for public situations and often with historical themes. These can be seen all over the country as well as overseas.
The name Black Dog comes from the title of Philippa and Kennedy's original property in Tor Street in the city of Wells. Records of the house go back to 1562 and in 1636 reference is made to the property commonly known as the "Blacke Dogge". It was a cider house, of which there were at that time many in Somerset.
In the mid-eighties and under the name Black Dog of Wells, Philippa and Kennedy developed a range of decorative miniature tiles. They evolved a unique process to reproduce these in natural terracotta, basing the designs on historical and traditional sources - often incorporating texts to add significance. The tiles have sold in many thousands, and are collected by people all over the world.
Sadly Kennedy died in 2002. Daniel joined Black Dog in the same year having been working in the cartographic industry for 8 years. He brought new strengths and ideas to the business. The terracotta tiles are the core of the business and there are now over 100 designs in the range, with new ideas being added all the time.
The clock in Wells cathedral could be very easily missed. It is high up on the wall of one of the side-chapels, near the entrance to the Chapter house.
This fantastic piece of work not only dates from around 1390 but is unique in that it still has its original Medieval dial showing the universe with the earth at its centre.
Every 15 minutes the clock strikes and a group of jousting knights rush around the dial. The 'Quarter Jack' ('Jack Blandifers') on the wall nearby is a later addition (he is dressed in Tudor costume, so probably dates from the 16th century).....he bangs his heels whilst the knights are doing their rushing!
The original 14th century mechanism was replaced in the 19th century and moved to the Science Museum in London (where it is still working).