Archive for July, 2009

Winchester Cathedral

July 30, 2009

winchester cathedral(it’s not really this slanty irl, it’s just for some reason staring up at the west front of Winchester cathedral hurts your eyes like a bitch, so it’s hard to get a straight view)

I grew up in Winchester, so I’ve already been to Winchester cathedral quite a bit, well at least like three times at this point, I mean the inside, I go to the outside like all the time. Well, when I’m in Winchester. But I think it’s easy to forget just how impressive Winchester cathedral is from the inside, because it’s such an ugly building on a lot of levels. Patchy and long, like most cathedrals perpetually dotted with scaffolds, and the south-east of the cathedral is sinking, too. It was the longest building in medieval Europe though, so I guess that’s something to be proud of. This cathedral book I have says that Winchester cathedral “could be said to fail every aesthetic test that could be devised by tidy, critical minds.” I think this also refers to the inside, too, though, because inside it’s kind of a muddled clash between stunning, pointy-arched William Wykeham gothic in the nave and thick-mortared romanesque in the north and south transepts, where 14th-century renovations were apparently unforthcoming. This also makes the cathedral more interesting imo though, as well as reinforcing the general sense that you get when exploring it and being guided round that this isn’t just a cathedral- this is a big building encompassing and documenting the entire cultural memory of my home city, inside here, and maybe in the King Alfred statue near the bus station, is represented pretty much everything that ever made Winchester an important place to exist.


One thing that quickly becomes apparent when visiting Winchester cathedral is the sheer disproportionate number of people named William associated with it. For example:

  • William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester, founder of Winchester College and the weirdly-identically-gated New College, Oxford, guy in charge of the gothic renovations and one of the richest and most powerful men in 14th-century England. (an impressive chapel/tomb to him is maintained by the two educational establishments he founded and located on the south-west side of the nave- it’s really tall too so you can’t really miss it)
  • William of Edington, Wykeham’s predecessor, who has a slightly less impressive chantry nearby.
  • William Walker, the diver who pretty much single-handedly saved the cathedral from actually sinking in the 1900s. There is a small statue of him in the sloping, south-east of the cathedral and another, bigger one near the public toilets outside the cathedral shop.
  • William Lampard, long-time captain of the bellringers.
  • William Rufus, who is buried there.
  • Master mason William Wynford, who actually did the gothic renovations.
  • William Morris, Arts and Crafts kingpin who is partly responsible for some utterly lovely stained-glass windows for the chapel in the north transept. (actually designed by Sir Edward Coley ‘William’ Burne-Jones but made in Morris’s workshop)
  • Authoress William Austen, whose tomb is located in Winchester cathedral, and whom there is also a memorial plaque too nearby that, unlike the inscription on the tomb, actually mentions her novels.
  • Queen ‘Bloody William’ Tudor, who married King Guillermo II of Spain here in 1556.

    (there are loads more ACTUAL Williams, too, I just can’t remember all their surnames or what specifically they did, I should have been taking notes)

    Rad library

    One thing you should definitely do if you go to Winchester cathedral is visit the William Morley library, which contains two big highlights you’re allowed to walk round and be deferential towards: firstly the Winchester Bible, which is like this amazingly beautiful illuminated velum bible (commissioned by 12th-century Bishop of Winchester Henry de Blois, brother of King Stephen and one of two highly noted royal Henrys associated with Winchester, along with John of Gaunt’s illegitimate issue, Henry Beaufort, whose painted tomb is hanging about in the Retrochoir) with these colours that will make your heart leap out of your chest to get closer to it but then it will be unable to leach the colour out of the manuscript and so your heart will die. Only don’t let that put you off. It would be better if you were allowed to touch it yourself, I guess, but seriously, the colours are marvel enough. Plus it’s huge and was apparently all written by this one monk. The illuminations were done by more than one artist though. They’re only showing two pages from one manuscript in the cases at a time, but apparently they change them every fortnight. So maybe you should donate £6 to get an annual pass to the cathedral and go back all the time to look at them? I mean, if you live in Winchester, it’s probably not worth doing if you don’t. Today one of the pages has a big whole in it- people used to cut out illuminations, apparently. When one got found by this woman who ‘bound’ the Bible in the last century (I dunno what state it was in before) she sewed some back in. That’s pretty cool. I get into a conversation with the woman guiding people around about the inks when she asks if I’m interested in art and I say yes. Then she asks if I’m studying it at university. In hindsight I should have just lied, it would have made a fun lie to be a fine arts student. You can get a book describing how they make the inks, though. Like crushing up red earth for the reds and stuff. I mean, given like a book of information, you can’t take it away, mind. Still.

    Arguably just as good, yet undoubtedly just as frustratingly un-touchable, is a pair of these amazingly 17th-century Dutch globes in the room across, one of which is of the actual world, and another of which is of the constellations, only it has pictures of the constellations instead of just dots, so there’s a big pictures of a bear on it and stuff, you can imagine just how stunning this is.

    Up the stairs from the library is the Triforium Gallery, which has a scattering of artefacts from the cathedral, like smashed bits of shrine ruined in the reformation and such, it’s OK.

    Compleat Angling

    izaak walton

    Winchester has a lot of nice little chapels in it- from the one in the north transept with those amazing stained-glass windows to the one opposite with the bits of really old mural uncovered to the ones in the Retrochoir with painted ceilings (one of which is similar to how all the ceiling in the surrounding R-choir would have been, but not the stone-vaulted ceiling in the nave, apparently- I asked). But obviously the best one of all is the Fisherman’s Chapel in the south transept- a shrine that not only contains this really cool modern sculpture that looks like a treetrunk with lots of fish on it, but also because it has stained glass relating to Mr. Izaak ‘Study To Be Quiet’ Walton, author the Compleat Angler, one of the most brilliant books EVER, a veritable Civil War-era Bible of apparently often not-very-useful fishing tips and why otters suck so hard, as told in dialogue between wise old master Piscator and eager-eyed student Venator. The pair stroll around rivers on there way from and back to Tottenham High Cross, establish convincingly why fishing beats all other pursuits, play a bit of shuffleboard, chat up a milkmaid, get up to all sorts really. Me and my girlfriend are going to adapt it for the stage. This probably won’t involve much actual adapting, because it is perfect. It’s hilarious both for all the wrong and all the right reasons, and plus it’s central mantra singing the virtues of quietude and humble leisure is an account of the good life that I can really get on board with (not that I’ve ever been fishing in my life, but consider it a metaphor). It’s really good stained-glass of Walton, too, you should definitely go see it.

    Tower Tour

    tower view

    Sure, I’d been to Winchester cathedral before, but before yesterday I’d never taken the tower tour. I’m going to start taking more tower tours at cathedrals (Salisbury do one, so defs that, spires) because I’d never actually been on one before, but this one was like, really, really good. I got to see all sorts of things I could only have ever dreamed of seeing before, and all for only £3 extra on the door price. It’s practically the deal of the century. You get to see the inside of the cathedral from high up, and then you get to go to a bell tower, where you can see the bells, and they tell you about bells (and like how one of them- because they’re all inscribed with whoever was king or queen when they were cast, and one of them is inscribed with Edward VIII’s name, but then he abdicated before the bell was put in, so they had to clumsily cross it off and put George VI’s, it’s pretty amusing), and then we were in it and then the bells went off because it was the hour, they were really loud, its was pretty intense. Apparently the floor used to shake when the bells went off so they had to fix it using steel. The steps up to the bell tower are really steep and I thought I was going to slip and injure myself like I did when I went to Old Sarum. But I didn’t. There were then a whole lot more steep steps, so steep I was climbing them like a ladder, on all fours, up to the very top of the tower, but it was worth it, because the top of the tower is AMAZING, you can see all of Winchester from it, and then they point out stuff and tell you fun facts you’d never otherwise know even as a Winchester native, like how St Giles’ Hill used to have a trade fair of international importance on it which merchants from the continent came to, lasted upwards of fourteen days, and during which all other trade in the surrounding area was halted. Only it ended completely about the start of the 19th century after not being that important or big for years and years, and now St Giles’s Hill is covered in trees. Awesome. Plus you can see people and stuff, and hear ambulances and then see them zooming about like this was SimEmergencyservices or something. On clear days apparently you can see to the Isle of Wight. Yesterday was not a clear day, though, so I didn’t.


    Then the way they lead you back, takes you through the ringing room (for the bells), and then what’s even better is it takes you through the insides of the stone vaulted ceiling in the nave. The stone vaulted ceiling, by the way, is a mightily impressive sight, staring along the nave looking east, it’s absolutely majestic. And then you see the back and, well, you know it’s not as impressive, because obviously it was never meant to be seen by the general public, but still. It’s really cool, there are polystyrene bungs in it underneath rat cages for if the ceiling ever floods, so they can take them out to prevent damage to the ceiling. Well, the nave will get wet but that’s preferable.

    So yeah, take the tower tour.

    Other stuff I haven’t mentioned

    • One thing that I really like about Winchester cathedral is how the stained glass in the big, west window is all jumbled up because of it being smashed by evil Cromwellians (like how a lot of stuff in cathedrals was smashed/ruined by them), but it’s just been glued back together randomly. It’s especially good how if you go up to the otherwise not-that-interesting treasury you can see the glass from eye level and pick out little bits of it.
    • Another cool thing is St Swithun’s shrine, which is a crawl-in. People used to literally crawl into it. I also really like the St Swithun legend, that whole if it rains on St Swithun’s day (July 15th), it will rain for another forty days and forty nights. It’s a good prophesy, because if it rains on a random day in the middle of summer, it probably will be a wet summer. So, the lives of the saints are really coming around in a relevant way for all of us. Also, check the Orthodox-style icons above where the crawlspace is (but no bones are, anymore, cheers Cromwell. Oh wait maybe that was Reformers. Well, anyway, it was someone lame).
    • Behind the High altar is this amazing 15th-century stone screen which is filled with 19th-century statues of saints and the likes (as well as, tellingly, Queen Victoria)- the original statues got smashed up, again by lamewads, but the newer ones are pretty cool too, they make it look all grand. Well, it would look grand anyway. But a different sort of grand, a Victorian grand.
    • There is a Parcel Force logo in the choir, recently installed as a tribute to one of the city’s favourite musical acts. Underneath it the inscription: “seat ye hear Widely Spread,” another intriguing reference to the Winchester music scene circa 2006-07.

      parcel force logo winchester cathedral

      Top Tip: If you should happen to find your way down the crypt, don’t panic- that’s not a real man standing there mysterious, downcast and all alone. It’s actually a statue by ‘English David Cerny on acid!!11!’ Anthony Gormley.

      Hot fact: A lot of the pillars used in the ‘Romanesque’ pits aren’t made up of lots of little drums of pillar mortared together like the Normans liked to make them- they’re solid pillars. This means that they’re either from the original Saxon minster that stood on this site before the Norman conquest or else they are Roman in origin! So, it’s not just Roman’esque’- it’s literally ‘Roman’! (maybe)


      Ely Cathedral

      July 27, 2009


      Ely cathedral is really what gave me the idea for going to see every cathedral in England, I guess that and also the fact that I could go to it in the same day as Peterborough cathedral, when I saw it from the train passing through Ely train station when I was travelling from Norwich to Manchester when my band were on tour. It’s amazing how it does sort of rise up from the dead-flat landscape of the Fens, but I guess that’s what you get when you’re a really big building at the top of a hill. Its nickname is ‘The Ship Of The Fens’- a sad reminder that the Fens used to be a lot better than just flat, as they were previously half-full of water.

      Ely is a really magnificent building but unlike Peterborough, its not so immediately obvious why. But just check out that great late 12th century west tower with the clock in it- yes, excitement of excitements, Ely is a cathedral with a clock in its tower! I ate a peanut butter sandwich in the rain in the grounds outside, across from a cannon.

      Inside (you have to pay to get in- I recommend getting combined entry for both the cathedral and the adjacent stained glass museum- you can also get tours of the tower and the Octagon thrown in as a different deal if they’re doing them that day), the main “omg wow” feature is- mentioned in the brackets- the Octagon, which is just like this amazing lantern thing in the ceiling of the central tower, with these wondrously coloured pictures of angels (or maybe saints or something I dunno, but I think they’re angels at least), and in the centre Christ looming out all 3D-like (I didn’t want to ask whether or not it actually was 3D, for fear of looking stupid).

      Another interesting feature about Ely is how, for a cathedral, it has this strange ‘religious’ vibe to it, which I know probably sounds like a dumb thing to say, because obviously cathedrals are religious buildings, but culturally I think they’ve by-and-large become secularised, or at least the religion in them is never in-your-face, unless you’ve stumbled into a service by mistake, but in Ely the religiousness is almost, like, evangelical and stuff. So the brochure has the slogan: “striving to be a Christian community of worship, welcome and care.” And they make you stop every hour for prayers to remind you its a house of worship. And when talking about the acoustics the tour guide (there are regular tours throughout the day inclusive in the price) was all like: “sometimes if there are children we get them to shout out ‘hossanah’ or ‘hallelugah’ or something to test the acoustics,” which is, you know. Kind of weird.

      Oh and throughout the cathedral there are these little cards you can pick up with photos of bits of the cathedral on them, and then on the back they have a description, but then- get this- they have like a Bible quote, and a website to go to to learn more about the Christian faith. However on the plus side the cards are really cool, look:

      ely cards

      (the best one is the one of 3D Jesus in the Octagon, only that’s on my wall in Manchester)

      Nowadays, no cathedral is complete without a few conspicuous modern sculptures, and you can see two of them from those cards. The winding one with the cross at the end is called ‘The Way Of Life’ and is on one of the walls of the West Tower and is some sort of Christian allegory. The other, cooler one is a sculpture by this guy David Wynne of Mary Magdalene encountering the risen Jesus and is in the South Transept. Radical.

      Another sculpture by David Wynne forms the centrepiece on the refurbished Lady Chapel, complete with recently-built walkway connecting it to the main body of the cathedral. However, it is absolutely hideous. It is ostensibly of the Virgin Mary as a “powerful, attractive” woman (not a passive image of her), which is fine, only the colour and stuff make it look really tacky. The Lady Chapel is pretty cool though, the best part being the decorations round the side which have all had their faces chiselled off (something to do with the dissolution of the monasteries). Apparently the Lady chapel used to be much more separate and functioned as the Parish church. The glass round the sides is mostly empty of stain, which always gives church buildings an odd feel- however there are little logos in some of them announcing the sponsors of its refurbishment- Barclays, TSB, and so forth.

      From the cathedral brochure’s description of the statue of Mary in the Lady chapel: “The words on the base are from St Luke’s gospel: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. You may wish to ask yourself what God is calling you to do?” Idk, I think God is calling me to visit loads of cathedrals maybe?

      Ely was originally founded (as a monastery) in 673 by Queen Etheldreda (now St.) who was a Saxon princess, married twice to a couple of princes, but she wished to be a nun and had made a vow of perpetual virginity, so neither of her marriages were consummated, which eventually caused her second husband to try and forcibly capture her and force her to have sex with him, but his plan failed. Her shrine is in front of the High Altar, and she kind of permeates the whole cathedral. Ely became a cathedral in 1109. Nearby to Etheldreda’s shrine is the chapel to Bishop Alcock, bishop of Ely between 1486 and 1500, and nowadays perhaps best known as an ancestor to trendy rock trend-setter Christopher Alcxxk of Internet Forever.

      Ely the town, unlike Peterborough, a really great place to visit in and of itself. It’s a bit like a version of Alresford- the small, watercress-producing town where my parents’ house is- only good, in that it has a cathedral, the river is way better, the surrounding landscape more interesting, it has this really cool antiques centre called the Wharfside Antiques Centre which is mostly quite reasonably priced and had a LOT of great old cathedral postcards- again, on my wall in Manchester- which I bought up, and even an ‘Ely Stamp Shop’, but that one didn’t seem to be open. The ducks are also FUCKED UP. What’s with this? When I first saw it I thought: “fuck, a duck’s mated with a chicken and produced offspring, why doesn’t science know yet?” but this was in the centre of town… then I went to the river and ALL OF THEM WERE LIKE THAT. What is going on? Ely’s ducks: the great new cryptozoological mystery of our time.

      ely DUCK?!?!

      I have never had eel, but I want to now. Apparently Ely is so associated with eels, taxes there used to be payable in eels. How’s that for trivia? If I was back in Ely, I’d go to the tourist centre earlier to get a riverside walk pack.

      Fun tip: half-priced Ely cathedral Christmas cards can currently be purchased in the gift shop.

      Hot fact: The word ‘tawdry’ originates in Ely due to cheap lace souvenirs related to ‘St Audrey’ (an for Etheldreda) being sold to sucker tourists at the annual fair there!

      Peterborough Cathedral

      July 26, 2009

      There is one thing that is really amazing about Peterborough Cathedral and that is its AMAZING west front with these huge arches which look like three big gaping mouthes threatening to eat Peterborough up. This is maybe preferable, because the non-cathedral part of Peterborough that I saw is kind of ugly. This cathedral book I have says that “the standard authorities vary in their assessment [of the west front] from lavish praise to severe criticism… the praise comes from those who enjoy the drama of the overall effect; the blame comes from those who worry about the way it is achieved.”

      How you could fail to be as excited and awestruck as I was by the west front is probably beyond my powers of reasoning, but one potentially rational explanation is that it is- OK- lopsided due to one of the intended towers on it being missing. Also, as the book points out, “for some unknown reason the original plan, to make the central opening wider than the other two was altered so as to make it narrower, which gives a rather cramped effect [to the design]”. It seems really you have to be kind of a killjoy not to love it, it really is one of the most impresses pieces of architecture in the whole world I think maybe, or at least I’ve never seen anything else like it myself.

      After admiring the west front and giggling a little, I decided to trot round the sides to get a good impression of the whole thing before looking inside. Peterborough cathedral looks mightily impressive from the sides too, however I failed to do a complete circle of it and had to track back and walk the way I’d come to get to the main entrance after reaching a dead end, which is a minus point for it. My favourite thing about the sides is the little statues of people on pillars.

      Peterborough cathedral is free to visit- this is definitely a plus point. Inside you can buy a lovely little pocket guide for £2 which has lots of pictures of the interior- the other alternative is you could buy a photo pass and take your own, which might be better if you want pictures of lots of the details. You can learn a lot interesting facts about the cathedral’s founding (as an abbey) and how it later became a cathedral (in 1541). Prior to this it was part of the absolutely vast diocese of Lincoln. Of course, back then, Lincoln cathedral was the tallest building in the world, so you can understand it covering a large area. The cieling in the nave is painted very prettily and- surprisingly- has been consistently since the early 13th century, apparently (by contrast, Salisbury’s painted cieling was whitewashed over and is only partially restored- you can see big ugly splashes of whitewash on the cieling there though).

      Other fun facts about Peterborough cathedral include the fact that Catherine of Aragon is buried here, and also the Mary Queen of Scots was buried here, because she was executed at (nearby) Fotheringay Castle, but is no longer buried here because James I moved her to Westminster Abbey.  If you go to Peterborough you can also see the Hedda Stone, which was a grave marker for the monks slaughtered here in 870 by the Danes. There is also a painting above the entrance of some guy called ‘Old Scarlett’ who turns out to be a former verger. They sell books about him in the gift shop.

      Overall I don’t know if I really got as much as I could out of Peterborough cathedral- I didn’t get a tour because they were only happening at 2 and I had to rush on to Ely cathedral. And, if I’d gone a day later (on the 22nd) I could have had a tour of the tower :(. Peterborough cathedral also do this amazing-sounding scheme where you can pay £200 to become a “Pinnacle Pioneer” and climb one of the towers, its great they let you do that.

      In conclusion, I give you my guestbook entry: “I’m a fan of Peterborough cathedral!”