Gloucester Cathedral, formally the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity is a Norman and Gothic cathedral located in the historic city of Gloucester, in the West of England.
It is accessible from the M5, and by train.
From London Paddington, it will take you approximately 2 hours, and from Birmingham New Street, it will take you approximately 1 hour.
With history dating back to the Anglo Saxon’s over 1300 years ago, it is a varied and fascinating church, and the heart of the city of Gloucester.
There has been a religious presence on this site since the late 7th
century, when in 678/679, an abbey was founded by a Saxon King called Osric, dedicated to St. Peter.
The Anglo Saxon Abbey was built of wood over Roman foundations, and replaced by a stone building in the 9th century.
As with much of this time, there is not a lot of information to go on but it is thought that from the 11th century, the Abbey of St. Peter followed the Benedictine way of life.
In 1058, the church was rebuilt by Ealdred, the Bishop of Worcester.
Norman Building and Design
The church built by Ealdred only survived 30 years before it was decimated by fire in 1088.
Serlo, a monk from Mont St. Michel arrived and in 1089, the re building of the cathedral began, starting with the crypt.
The church was similar in style to Worcester Cathedral, which was also being built at the time (beginning in 1084), along with other contemporaries such as Winchester Cathedral (1079), and the Abbey at Bury St. Edmunds (1081).
The Nave also resembles the nearby Tewkesbury Abbey.
Serlo’s church was consecrated on July the 15th, 1100.
In 1134, Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror died at Cardiff Castle and was buried in the church. His effigy is most unusual, and was created about 100 years after his death.
12th Century Strife
The church was consecrated on July the 15th, 1100, and only 22 years later another fire swept through the Abbey.
Rebuilding was slow due to the monastery being in financial trouble, and the southern tower collapsed in 1170.
The early 12th century saw the conflict between the Empress Matilda and King Stephen, known as the ‘Anarchy’, and in 1194, the monks were ordered to sell their silver to help towards the ransom payment for the Empress Matilda’s grandson, then Richard I.
13 years later, Richard’s brother and successor King John seized one third of their property.
The 13th century was looking brighter, with the coronation of Henry III being held in the Abbey Church in 1216.
Middle Ages Revival
King Edward II, son of Edward I, the mighty Hammer of the Scots died in 1327 and was buried in the cathedral.
Legend dictates he met a gruesome end at Berkeley Castle. You can still see his magnificent tomb today, complete with one of the earliest known alabaster effigies in England.
Due to the King’s murder, he became something of an middle age sensation, and his tomb became a place of pilgrimage.
Edward III made generous donations to the Abbey to ensure that his father would be richly commemorated, and his son Edward the Black Prince donated a piece of the ‘True Cross’.
Royal patronage and pilgrim wealth allowed for building work to continue at a faster pace, and in 1331 work
began to redo much of the church in the Perpendicular Gothic style.
The work began in the South Transept, and moved towards the choir. Choir stalls were completed at this time, with misericords.
The wonderful Great East Window was completed in the 1350’s and is as large as a tennis court, with many figures of Bishops, Abbots and Angel’s depicted.
The vaulted ceiling over the East end of the cathedral is a beautiful complement to this wonderful window.
Between 1351 and 1377, the Norman Cloisters were replaced by the ornate, spectacular cloisters you can see today. They are roofed with the earliest vaulted ceilings in England and are a remarkable treasure.
At the North end of the cloisters is a Lavatorium, a place where the monks used to wash, making use of a local stream.
By the close of the 15th Century, the Abbey church was mostly complete with the Central tower completed between 1450 and 1457, and the Lady Chapel by 1499.
Turbulent 16th and 17th Centuries
The religious reforms of the 16th century came to Gloucester in 1540 when
Henry VIII created the Church of England and among many others, ordered St Peter’s monastery to be dissolved.
The Abbey Church became Gloucester Cathedral in 1541, and seems to have escaped much damage due to its royal connections.
During the reign of Mary I when the country reverted back to Catholicism, the then Bishop of Gloucester John Hooper was burnt at the stake for his Protestant views in 1555.
There is a monument to Bishop John Hooper, just behind the cathedral in St. Mary’s Square.
The English Civil War came to Gloucester in 1634 and the cathedral sustained minor damage.
One of the most amazing acts that the parliament put through in 1649 was to abolish the Dean and Chapter, and put plans into place to demolish the cathedral!
Thankfully (thankfully thankfully!) the Mayor and Burgesses of Gloucester took over the cathedral in 1656 and in gratitude of the Dean and Chapter (reinstated in the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660) the Mayor was given a throne, across from the Bishop’s throne in the choir.
More Recent Times
In the later half of the 19th century, the well known architect Sir George Gilbert Scott refurbished the cathedral.
During World War II, the Great East Window was removed and stored in the crypt for safe keeping, and thankfully the cathedral didn’t sustain any damage.
In the later 20th century, scenes from the Harry Potter films were filmed in the Cloisters, and more recently some scenes from the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall were also filmed in the Cloisters.
What to say but visit!
I love Gloucester for it’s intricate detailing of it Gothic architecture, its sturdy Norman nave and crypt, and of course it’s cloisters where you can truly pause for a moment and wonder if you have gone back to the 14th century.
It is very easy to imagine rounding a corner in the cloisters and bumping into a monk…
My next post will be about my favourite Points of Interest at Gloucester Cathedral
If you would like to see more of my photos of Gloucester, please visit my flickr