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Published: July 14th 2017
We were in need of lunch - so where to eat ? The cathedral seems the obvious choice. Where was it? It seemed hidden . The castle was the most prominent landmark and there seemed little to see of the medieval cathedral. It was there somewhere. The folks of medieval Norwich would be used to being overlooked by the nobility in the castle and by the clergy in the church. So it has to be here somewhere. How can you hide such a big structure with a spire that points skywards? We wandered the streets looking for the 44 acres that the church sits in.
Our first sight of it was its gateway. Well one of the two gates in which you can enter the close. The cathedral precinct or 'Close' is the largest to survive in England and also has the largest number of residential houses within it. These houses range from eighteenth-century townhouses to homes converted from what remained of the fourteenth and fifteenth century monastic buildings. The Close is generally entered by one of two main gates in the western wall: the Ethelbert Gate to the south or the Erpingham Gate to the north. We completely missed
the Erpingham Gate . This sometimes happens . We fall on e and miss the other.
We had not expected to see such a wonderful entrance to the cathedral close . The Ethelbert Gate was built in about 1316 after the original gateway and the nearby Anglo-Saxon church of St Ethelbert were destroyed during an uprising in 1272. The story goes that after a local fair just outside the priory gates a disagreement occured between the monks and some of citizens of Norwich. gates to the Some of the citizens were killed and a warrant was issued for the arrest of the murderous monks. The monks argued that they were exempt from city laws as they would do and they and locked the gates to the Close. They attacked the passers by. Their hired men went on a rampage into the city. As you would expect when trouble happens it escalated and the aggrieved Norwich citizens retaliated. They set fire to the Close, the church of St Ethelbert and the cathedral, as well as plundering the priory.. Several were killed in these attacks and more deaths followed when Prior Brunham strengthened his side with hired men from Great Yarmouth.
King Henry III had to intervene, fining the citizens and putting many to death. As part of the settlement, the citizens of Norwich paid for and built the Ethelbert Gate with a chapel at its first floor to replace the former church of St Ethelbert. It was this gate that we were standing in front of. Beyond it was the close with the remains of the infirmary.
All four of its sides are decorated in flushwork, which is a decorative technique developed in Norfolk. The technique uses hard to come by freestone, such as limestone, to edge panels of the more readily available knapped flint. As with the Ethelbert Gate, the decorative panels are often in a geometric design and the work on this gate probably represents the earliest known example of this technique. It is also one of only nine gatehouses with flushwork on them.
We entered the close and in front of us was the modern addition to the cathedral. It blended well with the older building and housed the reception desk and the entrance to the cathedral. Entry was free but donations of £5 each were suggested. The new part of the building was designed
to act like the older versions of the welcoming house of medieval cathedrals where the monks welcomed guests. The cafe was in the same part and we partook of hot sausage rolls and carrot and walnut cakes before we headed for the cathedral interior. Outside were a couple of drunks shouting at passers by. A old lady sat on a seat. She looked asleep , her hair matted into her glasses and her clothes ragged. I wondered what had brought her to this point . What action in life had forced her to live rough?
Our journey through the cathedral started at the west end of the nave. The founder Herbert de Losinga had the cathedral church and cloisters designed as a whole. It has one simple spire that reaches up into the sky. The first phase of building was begun at the eastern end of the church so that the essential ecclesiastical elements of the church were in place and it could be consecrated as soon as possible. This phase, up to the fifth bay of the nave and the tower to the top of the church roof, was built in Quarr stone from the Isle of Wight
and was completed by 1119 when Losinga died, never seeing his design fully realised. How many times does that happen? Gaudi never saw his masterpiece completed and the same could be said for many medieval church builders.
The western portion of the nave, the remaining nine remaining bays and upper storeys of the tower, were completed by Bishop Eborard in Caen stone brought from France and Barnack stone from Cambridgeshire. The whole church was built in just fifty years. Not a bad achievement when many cathedrals took centuries to complete .At its completion the cathedral was the largest building in East Anglia and measuring 141m (461ft) long and with the transepts, 54m (177ft) wide. It has the second longest nave and the largest and most beautifully decorated Norman tower in England. It also had more patrons than any other cathedral in England. The leaflet we used to guide us around the church pointed out the burnished copper font and the world globe covered with candles . The windows along the side walls were either Victorian or modern. In places the light coming through the modern glass coloured the stone walls purple and bright yellow.
The columns holding the
roof up were slender. The pews in the nave had been removed and replaced with plain light oak seating . I was not overfond of that and preferred the medieval dark oak pews and misericords in the closed spaces near to the main altar. At the crossing of the church is the tomb of Bishop Losinga.
We were heading for the tomb of Edith Cavell. We found the chapel . We tried the door . It was locked . We tried again . Still nothing. We gave up. In the end looking for this we failed to see the Treasury which was full of silver and gold goods and also medieval wall paintings.
So what was the best part ? The cloisters by far were most beautiful and rivalled much we have seen in Europe. Hidden away in the south east corner of the nave, next to the south transept, is the more spectacular of two doors leading from the priory cloisters into the cathedral church. This is called the Prior's Door. The door dates to about 1300 and has a finely carved arch decorated with thin piers at its sides and decorated recesses in the arch. These
recesses contain statues of Christ at the top, John the Baptist and possibly Aaron to the left, and David and Moses bearing a scroll detailing the Ten Commandments to the right. To the right of the doorway are three sedilia, or seats, recessed into the wall of the cloister. The cloisters themselves have been described as one of the largest and most beautiful surviving monastic cloisters in England. Unfortunately the original single storey Norman cloisters were damaged by fire during the 1272 riots prompting an extensive remodelling. The buildings around the south, west and east sides of the cloister contain remnants of twelfth-century masonry, including arcading, and the western buildings retain five circular windows with splayed openings. The majority of the cloister, however, dates from the late thirteenth to early fifteenth centuries. We walked round with our heads up looking at the bosses on the ceilings and then looking down to see the gravestones set in the flagstones. The monks paid for the cloisters and it took 133 years to complete the work. As always the lack of money and manpower was due to the outbreak of the Black Death (1347-1350). The window tracery was as good as anything we have seen before . Delicate tracery filled the windows. We loved it . We have seen many cathedrals and all have something special or different in them - Norwich was no exception .
We caught the bus back to our campsite and set up for the night. The rain poured down. It pitter pattered on top of Suzy's roof. Normally it would gently rock us to sleep . Tonight it bucketed down banging on the roof like a drum. We tried to sleep . We could not. It was like the worse water torture as it poured down. The water sat on the leaves of the trees above us and when saturation point was reached it flooded down like thunder onto Suzy's roof. All night it went on. We were both glad to see the light of the morning and with it the rain finally stopped and the water torture ended.
We packed up - a five minute job and head south to Suffolk to visit a castle with a connection to Mary Queen of Scots . Before we left the phone pinged to life . Before we had left home we realised that Glenns passport would not be valid when we arrived home from our October holiday. There would not be six months left on it so we ordered a new passport . We received the confirmation it had arrived at the Passport office a few days ago. This message told us the passport was ready and would be with us within a few working days. Another job sorted before our next big holiday. We still dont know where to go to ?
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