Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucestershire

Constructed on the site of an ancient monastery, Gloucester Abbey church was started by the Normans in 1089 and work continued on the building until the time of Dissolution in 1540. At that time the monastic buildings were largely demolished, or converted for residential use, but the abbey church was preserved and became a cathedral in the newly created diocese during 1541.

The Saxon monastery for monks and nuns was founded in AD681 but abandoned one hundred years later. Re-founded as a college for secular canons in AD823, the first stone church was built at this time. In 1022 an order of Benedictine monks were brought to Gloucester by King Cnut, and a larger church was constructed by the Bishop of Worcester. Recognising the strategic importance of the town, William the Conqueror gave his chaplain the task of putting new life back into the old abbey, and with this the final re-building of the church was begun by Serlo, the first Norman abbot. Extensive re-building again took place in the first half of the 13th century, but it was the huge programme of Perpendicular work undertaken between 1330 and 1360 that transformed Gloucester Cathedral into an elegant architectural delight. Had it not been for the untimely murder of Edward II, the glories of Gloucester Cathedral may never have been created. When his body was buried in the abbey church, his tomb attracted crowds of pilgrims which, in turn, brought much-needed revenue to the monastery. This money went a long way towards the magnificent decorative work carried out in the choir and presbytery, a place now worthy of accommodating the 'martyred' King's tomb.

Gloucester Cathedral is renowned for the exquisite lierne vaulting carved out of the soft white local stone and set with sculptured bosses, and for its massive east end window set above the apsidal crypt. This beautifully coloured expanse retains virtually all of the original medieval glass. Perhaps even more impressive are the 14th century fan-vaulted cloisters, the intricate patterns taking on the appearance of spreading branches forming an overhead arched walkway of trees. Beneath the vaulting along the south walk are superb examples of the monks' study niches (carrels) set in the wall. This area would also have been used as the scriptorium. Along the north walk the monastic lavatorium still exists, complete with its stone towel cupboard, and the whole length is encased with a miniature version of the lavish fan-vaulting. It is a wonderful preservation and gives the visitor a really good insight into life at the medieval abbey.

The Chapter House is yet another remarkable survival at Gloucester Cathedral, the fabric of the building dating from the 12th century. Sturdy barrel-vault and blank arcading, the architectural trademark of that period, remain at the western end, but the eastern bay was remodelled in the 15th century and a wonderful stained glass window adds a new dimension to the earlier Norman shell. In this chamber legend has it that William the Conqueror sanctioned the compilation of the Domesday Book and, over 900 years later, the important business of Gloucester Cathedral is still transacted from the same room.


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