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Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk, England

Norwich Cathedral Norwich Cathedral Norwich Cathedral

1066 was a very important year in English history. It was during that year that the Normans invaded England from across the Channel. They came from Normandy in Northern France and were led by William, Duke of Normandy, who was later to become King William I of England. The Normans defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings and then set about conquering the rest of the country. The Normans came to Norwich in 1067 when work started on the first castle. William and the Normans certainly knew that grand castles and cathedrals would be powerful symbols to the English of their new Norman masters. Churches as well as castles would play an important part in controlling peoples lives. When the Normans arrived in England, they brought with them an energetic churchman called Bishop Herbert de Losinga. He was the first Bishop of Norwich and in 1096 he began to build this great cathedral.

After the Norman conquest, similar great cathedrals and churches were built and then maintained all over England with the purpose of worshipping God.

The Cathedral is built of flint rubble and mortar faced with limestone ashlar, imported from Caen in France (the lighter, smoother stone) and from Barnack in Northamptonshire (greyer, fossil-filled stone). These two types can be seen alternately throughout the building, although this alternation was merely to distribute evenly their structural properties and was not intended to be decorative: originally, the interior would have been plastered and painted over.

A vast building, especially when viewed internally, Norwich Cathedrals height is accentuated by the slender Romanesque arcading and the elegant Lierne ceiling vaulting spanning the nave of the great Norman church. In 1091 Herbert de Losinga bought the bishopric of East Anglia from the Crown and within five years he had begun to build Norwich Cathedral, as part of a traditional Benedictine monastery. Nearly half a century later and this massive structure was almost complete. Now remembered by a 17th century black slab, Bishop Herbert de Losinga lies at rest in front of the high altar. Nearby is the Bishop's Throne, an interesting combination of 20th century wood set against fragments of stone that appear to pre-date the cathedral.

Many features at Norwich are unique among English cathedrals, the most noted of which is the preservation of the entire original floor plan created by Bishop Herbert de Losinga. Fourteen bays make up the length of the aisle and at the east end is an unusual arrangement of ambulatory and radiating chapels. Some of the oldest stained glass in Norwich Cathedral, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, can be seen in the ambulatory. A magnificent range of pictorial roof bosses in the nave provides yet further evidence that Norwich Cathedral was built to impress and educate.

The 1,106 highly-coloured, carved timber bosses depict the world's Christian history, and offered an easy method of learning in the early illiterate ages. A remarkable example of medieval wall painting has survived in the south nave aisle. It is amazing that any decoration from the 12th century exists because, during the riots of 1272, much of the cathedral was seriously damaged by fire, and subsequent repairs inevitably entailed redecoration. Unarguably the greatest treasure at Norwich is the reredos in St Luke's Chapel, often referred to as the 'Despenser Reredos', and dates from the 1380s. The painted oak screen is an extraordinary work of art, depicting the life of Christ.

Not only is Norwich Cathedral a complete treasure trove on the inside, but is also boasts substantial cloisters. To enter the cloisters, second only in size to Salisbury Cathedral, another piece of fine craftsmanship will be noticed. The Prior's Door has an elaborately moulded arch, beautifully detailed in colour and displaying a splendid array of sculptures. Many monastic buildings can be identified leading off the cloisters, and there is a strong sense of the importance attached to this area during the time it was used daily by the Benedictine monks.

Outside, there has been some alteration of the original, especially on the east side. The gallery walls were doubled in height in the 14th century to improve lighting, and likewise much taller windows were introduced into the clerestory during the 1360s.

Two of the chapels here also postdate the original building, the Bauchon Chapel dating from 1329 and St Catherine's Chapel from about 1375. About a hundred years later, sometime during the period 1472-1501, the 315 foot spire was added - among the English cathedrals, only Salisbury's is bigger.

Norwich comes second only to Salisbury in the size of its cloisters, too. These date from the 13th to 15th century - work was slowed down by financial problems and the arrival of the Black Death in 1349.

The West End exterior, often considered a disappointing feature of the Cathedral, was extensively remodeled during the 18th and 19th centuries, and little remains of the original design there. The Alnwick Porch on The West Front has recently been enhanced with two new statues, one of St Benedict and one of Julian of Norwich

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last modified: January 10, 2009


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