Worcester Cathedral, more formally known as The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Mary the Virgin of Worcester, has a very warm and engaging feel to it, possibly because it’s a hodgepodge of every type of English architecture from Norman to Perpendicular Gothic, likely the result of the long period of time over which it was constructed, from 1084 to 1504.
One of the things I love about visiting cathedrals is the predictability of location and its thread of continuity; if you want to find the centre of town, just look for the cathedral or parish church.
They will be positioned on an East/West axis, with the altar in the east and the most imposing entrance door in the west.
And soaring above will be a bell tower, modest or grand.
Worcester has a particularly lovely bell tower, which was rebuilt in 1374 in the ornate perpendicular style.
A closeup of the carved limestone figures in the niches on the outside of the tower.
That’s the octagonal Chapter House sticking out on the left.
Shall we go inside now? This is the gate to one of the side entrances; the stained glass over the great west door is under repair at present, so that entrance is closed.
The school choir was rehearsing for Easter services while we visited. The choirmaster transferred his enormous enthusiasm to the singers through vigorous gestures, even leaping on one foot with arms outstretched to emphasize a particular passage. It was a hoot to watch and a delight to hear as we made our way around the interior of the cathedral.
The windows above the great west door are undergoing restoration at present, but…
… the windows on either side of the door will give you some idea of what a smaller version looks like.
Here is a view right down the entire nave, taken with my back to the west door. The Greek key tile pattern on the stone floor is very striking, and provides visual balance to the massive columns.
And this is from the middle of the cathedral, back down the aisle on the south side of the nave. Aren’t the ceilings magnificent?
Looking from the side aisle towards the choir, with the intricately carved screen. Breathtaking.
The ceilings over the choir and altar are painted with beautiful scrollwork and medallions. The clear, azure blue really stands out.
I received a new camera for Christmas, a Sony RX10 IV. It’s “mirrorless” so very quiet and fairly light. But its real claim to fame is the 24/600 zoom lens, which I tried out for the first time on this trip. It was enormous fun, though Glenn and I are now engaged in “competitive camera” sessions. We can be so childish…
You can get reeeallly close with that zoom lens! It’s motorized, too, which adds another whole element of fun.
This is the chancel. The rectangular box in the bottom left is King John’s tomb; more on him in a minute.
As you can see, the tomb occupies pride of place, right smack in the middle of the activities.
This, of course, is bad King John of Robin Hood fame (my favourite version is the Disney cartoon film featuring Clucky the hen as ladies’ maid to Maid Marian, who is animated as a fox. During one notable scene, Clucky shouts, rolling her r’s in a Scottish accent, “Long Live King Richard”. John was the youngest of five sons of King Henry II, married to Eleanor of Aquitaine. After the four elder sons carried out a rebellion against their father, John rose in favour (odd, that!). The elder brothers William, Henry and Geoffrey died young, leaving “good King” Richard I to inherit the throne in 1189.
Rebellion and intrigue must have been a family failing, as John tried to carry out his own uprising against Richard I whilst Richard was off on the Third Crusade.
Upon Richard’s death in 1199, John inherited the throne and was proclaimed King of England. He was vastly unpopular and endured his own rebellion from the unhappy Barons who served him, leading to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, just in time for John himself to pop off in 1216. There was a very humorous tea towel in the gift shop showing John being laid into his tomb with the caption “I didn’t really sign it…”
Here is a view of the altar with its very detailed screen at the back of the chancel.
The ceiling just glows, doesn’t it?
Prince Arthur’s Chantry Chapel is around here somewhere, on the right of the south choir aisle, but I don’t think I got pictures of it specifically.
Arthur Tudor, though short-lived is important because he was Henry VIII’s older brother, and the first husband of Catherine of Aragon, whom Henry married after Arthur’s death, and then divorced to marry his second of six wives, Anne Boleyn. That whole episode is one of the leading factors that set off Henry’s break with the Roman Catholic Church of Rome leading to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. The fact that the monasteries owned about 25% of the land in England and weren’t, in Henry’s view, paying their “fair share” of taxes is an additional factor (nay, the main factor, says my cynical, economic side)… Worcester was spared total destruction during the rather turbulent dissolution because Arthur’s tomb was located there. Whew!
Off to the cloisters now. We’ll come back and see some more of the stained glass before we finish up.
The cloisters at Worcester were built piecemeal, much like the rest of the cathedral, and there are a couple of styles of columns. I suspect the one below is the original bit stretching along the eastern side because the columns are thicker and protrude more into the aisle. Also, the oldest parts of the Cathedral feature alternate layers of green sandstone from Highley in Shropshire and yellow Cotswold limestone, and you can see those layers very clearly here.
The cloisters at Worcester are all enclosed with leaded and stained glass, making the areas quite cosy (well, as cosy as stone passages can be).
An unknown architect added the north and south sides of the cloisters between 1404 and 1432. The western range was eventually closed by John Chapman between 1435 and 1438. Notice how much slimmer the columns are here in the more “modern” bits.
A number of the bells from the tower line the walls in the cloisters. Five of these were among the original eight, two of which seem to date from 1220 when the original bell tower was erected and three from around 1374, when the “new” tower (the one you see today) was completed.
Some of them are huge (note Glenn, with his competitive camera…Ha!).
It seems that the bells have experienced quite the travelling history,
The stained glass is really beautiful.
Looking down the cloisters toward the gift shop.
The ribbed ceilings in the cloisters.
Back inside, we’ll have a look at some of the stained glass. Worcester Cathedral was extensively restored from 1857 to 1874 by W. A. Perkins and Sir George Gilbert Scott. Most of the fittings and the stained glass date from this time. Victorians were really big on stained glass.
This is one of my favourites. Happy sigh.
The way the stained glass is interspersed with leaded pieces provides additional visual interest, without such an overwhelming amount of colour.
Let’s take a look at some of the accoutrements that caught the camera’s eye. The pulpit was amazing.
The lions form part of the base of the pulpit, around the back, behind the pillar (sorry, they’re not in the photo above).
They’re located just at the base of the columns here, where the stairs wind down.
And these figures are around the pulpit itself.
Of course, as in any Cathedral, tombs abound. I’ve tried to keep my morbid fascination with these to a dull roar, as this is already a very long post.
An unnamed knight is tucked into one of the niches in the aisles.
Exquisitely detailed carving on all the stone is everywhere; it’s hard to take it all in.
Before we go, let’s head down into the crypt, the oldest part of the church. It was surprisingly light and airy. Not at all creepy, which I expected.
Back outside into the sunshine, we met the Cathedral Cat, trotting briskly by. She (I assume “she”, as it’s a calico), did not stop to chat, being about her important business.
The birds were swirling overhead.
One of the other entrance doors. There are several!
Cheerful tubs of flowers.
And bunches of daffodils.
One of the original walls of a prior building.
It turned into a lovely day. In England, you enjoy blue sky when you can get it; it’s not often.
We walked down to the river to see the swans. Apparently, groups of “juvenile swans” hang around for a couple of years outside the Cathedral on the River Severn until they’re grown enough to go off and start their own nests. Have you ever seen so many in one place?
No doubt the bags of food for sale in the gift shop provide a good deal of the provender that keeps them coming back.
Back to the car and off to the next adventure, we spotted these on the bridge. Helmets, shields and lances. So cool!
I hope you have enjoyed the tour! Please stay tuned for our next instalment of Entertablement Abroad.
I’m sharing this post with Between Naps on the Porch.