Wells Cathedral

The West Front (around 300 of the original 400 medieval statues remain.)

Our visit to Wells last May would not have been complete without a visit to the cathedral there. One of the many that we have not visited previously and a main reason for choosing to stay in England’s smallest city. Not that either of us is remotely religious, but we can’t help admire the craftsmanship that goes into these beautiful buildings, and even I can appreciate the peacefulness that can be found inside.

Master mason William Joy  proposed the Scissor Arches (below) to prevent the collapse of a tower after a lead covered wooden spire was added in 1313. This proved to be too heavy for the foundations. Put in place between 1338 and 1348, they still stand today and are one of the most magnificent architectural features of Wells Cathedral.

The ‘new’ church which was to become the cathedral of the Bishop of Bath & Wells was the first to be built in the Early English Gothic style, during 1175 – c. 1250.  It was built on a new site to the north of an old minster church. Over the following three hundred years there was extension and revision, in the Decorated and Perpendicular styles in turn, as architectural fashion dictated.

The famous Wells clock is considered to be the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain, and probably in the world, to survive in original condition and still in use. The original works were made about 1390 and the clock face is the oldest surviving original of its kind anywhere. When the clock strikes every quarter, jousting knights rush round above the clock and the Quarter Jack bangs the quarter hours with his heels.

With its intricately painted interior dial depicting the Earth surrounded by the sun, moon and stars, it’s unique in showing a geocentric worldview – when the clock was created in 1390, most people still believed that the Earth was at the centre of the Universe. 

The Quire is the heart of Wells Cathedral. Used in Medieval times for regular offices, when the Vicars Choral and ‘quirister’ choir boys would sing and pray for all of the people of the diocese.

Wells Cathedral has one of the finest sets of misericords in Britain, those dating from 1330 – 1340 may have been carved under the direction of Master Carpenter John Strode. They originally numbered 90, of which 65 have survived. After my bad experience in Lincoln cathedral, looking for them, I just photographed the ones displayed on the wall.

Stained glass in the cathedral takes you on a journey from C1290 through to the early 1900s. You will see glowing windows large and small including the magnificent 14th century Jesse window high above the Quire. Later windows include vibrant Rouen glass and others by Willement, Powell and Kempe.

And of course a cathedral wouldn’t be complete without the many tombs of its past bishops complete with effigies.

The ‘drum’ part of the font dates from late Anglo Saxon times and over a thousand years old. It was brought from the first cathedral, before this one was completed and still used today. The cover is much younger (c1635).

The Font

Wells has been an ecclesiastical city of importance since the 8th century. It is definitely a city worth exploring with its cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace Gardens. I hope you have enjoyed this brief visit.

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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.

23 thoughts on “Wells Cathedral”

  1. Oh, thank you. As a 12-year-old, I was taken with my younger brother to Europe and I remember being taken to many churches and cathedrals. I’ll admit to moments of ‘not another church’ but later as an adult and even later as a mother of travelling children myself, the magnificent churches and cathedrals of England were always a priority.
    I love that sculpture of Mary and Jesus. Mary looks so young as she would in fact have been.

  2. My sister and I visited Wells Cathedral in 1977. I remember the outside, but nothing of the inside. Maybe we didn’t go in? I would certainly love to visit it now, you have found so many beautiful details. The scissor arches are also wonderful.

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