Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Cathedral

Time to look around  St Albans Cathedral. One thing that strikes you as you visit different cathedrals in England is that they're not all the same. Every one has an individual history which is reflected in their architecture and fittings. As you walk around to the visitors' entrance you can't help but notice that St Albans Cathedral is big, 183 yards (167 metres) from one end to the other. The great bell tower dates from the eleventh century and is built with bricks which are even older, having been salvaged from the old Roman town.


It stands upon the place where St Alban was buried, having been executed for refusing to renounce his Christian faith over 1,700 years ago, at the very birth of Christianity on these islands. I'll tell you more about the Saint and his story in the next post. The place became a major focus for pilgrimages and a huge medieval abbey grew up around the site. What is now the Cathedral was the Abbey Church at that time.



Unsurprisingly, in the light of its external dimensions, it also has the longest nave in England. Although there has been much building over the years a surprising amount of the Norman church remains. 



These massive pillars in the nave still have their original medieval painting. This was discovered beneath the whitewash which had hidden them since the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Each pillar would have had a small altar beneath it and pilgrims would have prayed at each pillar on their way to St Alban's shrine.



On the above picture you can just about see the rounded Norman arches. The paintings were done by various artists, including one Walter of Colchester. You won't find anything like them in any other great church in England, and very few as well-preserved in smaller churches.


Paint and colour have survived here in all sorts of places, giving some idea of what our old churches must have looked like in earlier times. The ceiling in the bell-tower is actually a replacement and shows the brightness of the original colours. In fact it's not actually a replacement as the old ceiling has been preserved above the new one. You can also see the geometric patterns on the underside of the arches.



The High Altar Screen looks in remarkably good nick for 1484 and I was not surprised to learn that the statues in the recesses had been restored in the late nineteenth century. The lines of the screen led ones eyes upwards, as it was designed to do, though my heathen eyes stopped short of heaven and fell upon.....


....the painted ceiling of the Presbytery. It looks like it might be stone vaulting, but was in fact constructed entirely from wood way back in the thirteenth century. The wonderful decoration was added a couple of hundred years later.


The ceiling in the Quire, which was where the monks prayed separately from the congregation, still has its square panels which were painted in the medieval period.


And so we come to the Shrine of St Alban which has been the goal of so many pilgrims throughout the ages. Beside it, to the left of the picture above, is the only surviving example in the country of a wooden Watching Chamber. It's where monks would have sat to supervise pilgrims visiting the Shrine. It has some fine wood carving....


The symbol of St Alban is the rose. Every year, around the 22nd of June (which is claimed to be the anniversary of his death) roses are placed around his Shrine to honour his martyrdom. From the raised area of the Shrine you get a fine view of the beautiful Lady Chapel at the eastern extremity of the Cathedral.


We'll be back again at St Alban's Cathedral in the next post to see something more modern, but with deep roots in the past. You might have glimpsed it in a couple of the photos earlier in this post.


Take care.






19 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed you description of the church and its incredible beauty. I can only i imagine the poor folk of those early time, leading their poor lives, walking into such an incredible place. It must have been overwhelming, yet inspiring to them. Mission accomplished!

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  2. What a wonderful post! That cathedral is very impressive, so long, all those paintings, and the High Altar Screen, all amazing. No matter how often I hear about English cathedrals, I'm always amazed at how they actually got built 800 years ago! Looking forward to more.

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  3. What a gorgeous church! So glad it's been preserved for all to visit. I loved reading the story of St. Alban.

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  4. I am always impressed with the craftsmanship they had in the days of old. Amazing.

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  5. Beautiful soaring spaces and art work created with love. I have such a strong feeling for those creators when I visit these old churches and cathedrals.
    I love the old paintings saved from under the whitewash.

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  6. Your explanations of the different parts of the cathedral are most helpful. It's amazing to me how huge cathedrals were built and decorated all by hand, using primitive tools.

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  7. A very impressive cathedral and I appreciate the background history you provided.

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  8. What a beautiful cathedral. I love the paintings on the pillars - very impressive building.

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  9. Very interesting post, with all the particulars of this cathedral. Amazing how they can restore original color like that! Looking forward to hearing more about St.Alban.

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  10. I am speechless...it is just wonderful. I have never seen anything even near like this.

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  11. Lots of interesting elements. I guess they didn't want the grubby little hands of the pilgrims to sully the shrine so they put it way up in the air. The ceiling of the Presbytery looks like tapestry with the grain of the wood as the lines of weaving,and the design reminiscent of fabric art. The chapel is very lovely with the old patina on the stone.

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  12. Oh my, this is quite breathtaking. Is there anything modern as beautiful.....

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  13. What a monumental piece of architecture! How long did it take to
    build this beautiful place? -- barbara

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  14. Stunning. And beautifully photographed. I haven't been to St Albans Cathedral since I were a mere slip of a lad - can't say I was that impressed then, though I do still have the guide book! Do you suppose Alban is still in there - or ever was?

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  15. Oh my gosh John, exquisite details here. The medievil paintings on the pillars are swoonable, as is the Lady Chapel in the last shot. Beautifully shown here, merci beaucoup!

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  16. This is quite a place! Everything about it seems to be lovingly and wonderfully made.

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  17. Really beautiful churche and your photos are wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

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  18. The size, the magnificence and antiquity of this building are amazing to me. America is too 'new' and raw for anything comparable.

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