Norwich Cathedral Part III: Bosses

Norwich Cathedral has more bosses than any other cathedral worldwide: some 1106, including those of Lyhart’s nave roof; those of the presbytery vault, added in 1480 by Bishop Goldwell; those of the transept vaults, added in 1509 by Bishop Nykke after a further fire; and those in the cloister. The bosses represent the largest collection of decorative roof bosses in Christendom, and depict scene from both the old and new testaments. Carved into the stone vaulting and then painted, each boss would have taken almost two weeks to complete. They represent a Christian view of the history of the world including carvings of Noah and the flood, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the end of the world and the tales of judgement day.

There are some good examples of medieval art.

There are also bosses depicting mythical beasts and figures like the Green Man. It is thought that roof bosses such as these provided one of the earliest forms of theological education, at a time when illiteracy was high.

"The Green Man" 14th century boss in the east walk of the cloister.
“The Green Man” 14th century boss in the east walk of the cloister.
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The Naked Moor
"Man fights Dragon"
“Man fights Dragon”

The east walk was built first in 1297, and aside from a Passion sequence and the Evangelists at the north end has mostly foliage bosses.

Oak Tree and Acorns
Oak Tree and Acorns

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The south side was next in the mid 14th century, and most subjects here are the start of an ambitious Apocalypse sequence, which continues in the west walk which wasn’t finished till a hundred years later, with obvious stylistic difference in the later carvings which are generally much busier.

The Elders Worship Around the Throne" from the Apocalypse"
“The Elders Worship Around the Throne” from the Apocalypse
"The Moon Obscured by Smoke with Locust" from the Apocalypse
“The Moon Obscured by Smoke with Locust” from the Apocalypse
"The Third Trumpet" from the Apocalypse
“The Third Trumpet” from the Apocalypse
"Flames of Hell" from the Apocalypse
“Flames of Hell” from the Apocalypse

The north walk was also built in the 15th century, and aside from some New Testament subjects most of the bosses here concern the lives and deaths of various saints.

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My images are all from the cloisters. They aren’t very sharp and the colours may be distorted, but it is difficult to get a decent shot when you are looking upwards and the light is poor. I didn’t attempt any from inside the cathedral itself. The cathedral website has removed a page about the bosses so I have struggled to find accurate information about them, instead it now directs you to download an App. As someone who does not possess either an iPhone or an Android device this is somewhat (I am being polite) annoying. When will websites stop assuming everyone is under 40 and owns one of these devices!

Cloisters
Cloisters

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Heyjude

I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

24 thoughts on “Norwich Cathedral Part III: Bosses”

    1. The ones inside the cathedral are even more spectacular, but also higher so impossible to photograph, though apparently there are moveable mirrors to help you see them.

  1. Thanks for all these detailed shots, Jude. I love the Green Man, and the one fighting a dragon.
    I know what you mean about those apps too. Though I do have an android phone, I don’t want to look at things on such a small screen, and most are not available for a PC.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. I’m annoyed because there was a page dedicated to the bosses and I bookmarked it for use in the post, but then it disappeared. I have no objections to them creating an app, but why remove the page? It is hard to find decent information about the bosses online.

  2. You just added to my education again today. I had never heard of bosses before – except of course in relation to a job. This early art falls in the category of ‘wow’. I imagine that visiting this cathedral is an experience all of its own and like so many of the places you’ve featured, could be studied for weeks / months / years.

    1. You could certainly visit this cathedral lots of times, so much to look at. Maybe I need to re-visit Truro cathedral (the nearest to me) as I didn’t really feel anything for that.

    1. They are definitely hard to photograph, I didn’t even attempt inside; wish I had known about the mirrors, if they are still available.

  3. These shots are brilliant, Jude. And so interesting. Thank you for craning your neck to get them!
    And yes, even though I have an iPad, I do not possess the phone version and nor do I want one. I do not want to be available to everybody at every minute of the day and I can manage to get through being away from my devices to enjoy a day out without the need to resort to recording it all on social media as I go 😀 ooh, I can feel a rant coming on. I’ll just take another look at your bosses – that should do the trick!

  4. I’m always astounded by the work of Medieval craftsmen and more so by the fact that it all still exists. Under the circumstances you’ve done a great job with photographs. It’s intriguing to see the stories these are meant to tell. Some of them look rather fierce.

  5. I’ve not seen anything like these before, they are amazing. Great pictures. Most places I’ve seen have heraldic shields or just a design, a bit like the foliage ones here. I agree it’s daft and exclusionary to create an app and delete the web page – there are uses for both. I like apps to carry around as a guide telling me where to look and giving info as I go – you can pack a lot more in than on a paper leaflet – but once you’ve been they are pretty useless. I have to clear out every so often when my memory fills up!

    1. My main reason for wanting to visit this cathedral Jo. I wasn’t too bothered about inside – but found some lovely things like the Violet sculpture and the copper font and some beautiful windows.

  6. Those first few have very modern faces, they could have been created much more recently, I’ve never seen any like it. A couple are quite nightmarish, but all amazing!

    1. I guess the Apocalypse lot are supposed to be nightmarish! I should have bought the book – I expect there IS a book – to inform me.

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