It is a goodly while since I was last at Wells Cathedral in Somerset. Three years, when I think…Back then I took fewer photographs…though my friend still commented upon quite how many… Now, of course, I hate cathedrals… but only bacause I would need to be there for a week with the camera to do these wonderful stories in stone full justice.
Wells has been described as being one of the most beautiful and poetic cathedrals in Engalnd. Certainly it is one of the most pleasing, being almost entirely built in a single style when seen from the facade. The orginal church is long gone, a structure built in 705AD and replaced nearly five hundred years later by the current cathedral. The original font, however, still stands in the cathedral, a beautiful link with those whose faith had built the first church here some 1300 years ago.
Begun around 1175, Wells is thought to be the first example of pure Early English Gothic architecture in Europe. The facade is completely covered with statues and niches for those damaged through the years and changes in worship. many still bear traces of paint and the colour scheme can be determined from these, allowing specialists to recreate in virtual terms a vision of what the frontage would have looked like long ago. The facade has statues arranged in nine areas, with The main gable holds a scene of Judgement, with the Virgin and the Baptist beside him, below there are the Twelve Apostles, and beneath them nine archangels. It must have looked incredible to medieval eyes. Now, though, it is all mellow stone and the Four Holy Creatures silently guard the door.
The interior is as spectacular as the outside. For once, however, it was not the architecture that I remember with the greatest clarity, but the clear soprano voice of my friend raised in song in the fabulous acoustics of the Chapter House with its delicate pillar and ceiling, and later the choir, at Evensong for which we stayed.
Yet, looking back, I saw… and missed… so much. Not through lack of interest, but through lack of experience and knowledge. I knew so little then in comparison to what I have learned of these places over the past three years. I’d had no reason to know before… the Silent Eye had but barely come into being… I was yet to meet up again with Stuart and begin our journey into the landscape and history of these isles and we could not have guessed that those adventures would lead us to write so many books together.
I had little idea at all about stained glass, was completely unaware of the fact that the Jesse window is in exceptional condition for something that dates back to 1320AD. I didn’t realise back then the significance of an 8thC font or even recognise that the great internal scissor arches, added to support the ‘crossing’ and prevent it from collapsing are in the shape of a St Andrew’s cross, the patron saint of the cathedral. I certainly would never have guessed that these beautiful curves were the product of such an early time, being built by master mason William Joy in around 1329…
In fact, I probably need to go back… one of these days. Not that it would be a hardship… there is so much to see. And never enough time to see all that we would like.