Newest Review: ... for the average person in the middle ages was like a journey to heaven itself. It was an escape from a bleak and hardworking life to... more
Ring the Bells for Wells
Member Name: zebra
Date: 21/09/00, updated on 21/09/00 (62 review reads)
Advantages: Wells is an interesting and beautiful city.
As you approach the cathedral one is faced with the imposing West Front which, with its 293 statues, is considered to be the greatest array of medieval statuary in Europe.
Admission to the cathedral is by voluntary donation with a suggestion of £4 per adult. I thought this was somewhat expensive to begin with but later, having taken advantage of the excellent free guided tour, I realised that this was indeed excellent value for money.
Our guide was absolutely superb. She was so enthusiastic about the cathedral it was catching and she pointed out many things, which could have been overlooked. She also managed to bring out the sense of awe, which the very first worshippers must have felt as they entered this beautiful building.
The cathedral was begun in c. 1180 and to fully appreciate its impact it is best to forget modern skyscrapers and other impressive architecture and view it as it were with the eyes of a child who has just been told to build a cathedral with his building blocks.
Entering the great cathedral for the average person in the middle ages was like a journey to heaven itself. It was an escape from a bleak and hardworking life to a sacred space of immense size, beauty, colour, and sound. When we enter the cathedral we see a large grey stone place but originally it would have been painted and gilded more akin to what one would expect of a garish eastern temple.
The majority of people of the time could not read or write so the pictures and sculptures were for their interest and education. Gazing up one finds depictions of everyday life, humour and moral stories carved into the fabric of the ca
thedral: a man with toothache, a thief who gets his just deserts are only two of the details.
We visited the cathedral on Ascension Day, a day of pomp and ceremony at the cathedral, and our guide showed us a wonderfully naïve depiction of the Ascension. This was basically Jesus’ legs sticking out of a cloud while his footprints were left in the rock.
Wells cathedral is famous for its scissor arches which are amazing feats of engineering and architecture but which also have an elegance which is timeless. The arches were built c. 1338 to prevent the central tower collapsing. There was rivalry between local cathedrals regarding which had the most impressive towers and when the central tower was added the cathedral began to sink. One can imagine the horror of the architects and masons but without this near disaster one of the most impressive features would not exist.
I also loved the Chapter house which is reached by a beautifully worn curved staircase. It is an octagonal room where the cathedral bosses carried out their business. The architecture of the chamber suggested to me a sense of standing in a forest of palm trees.
The guided tour ends at the second oldest mechanical astronomical clock in the world. As it strikes the hour mounted knights joust and further along the wall is more action. A particularly nice touch, I thought, is that the tour is concluded with a prayer thus tacitly reminding visitors that the cathedral is not just an example of some beautiful gothic architecture but also a house of prayer.
Behind the cathedral is Vicar’s Close which must be one of Britain’s best kept secrets. It is apparently the oldest complete and inhabited medieval street in Europe. The close was built with an intentional illusion of perspective and is surely not only the oldest but also one of the prettiest streets around.
The Bishops palace and gardens (entrance price £2.50) are also very impressive. The
palace is actually more akin to a castle and has its own moat and drawbridge. The palace gardens cover around 14 acres and have pleasing views and vistas through the ruins of the original hall. Set within the almost secret entrance which leads to the ‘Wells’ is a beautiful carved wooden sculpture of Adam and Eve. Strolling in this part of the garden we met the Bishop, one of the luckiest around to live in such delightful surroundings, walking his dog. After a delicious tea in the gardens we paused to watch croquet being played on the lawns in front of the palace and reluctantly left this idyllic place.
Strange as it might seem I didn’t intend to visit Wells at all but that I did was one of those happy accidents. The real reason I ended up in Wells was in search of yet more books. We had just been to Glastonbury and there I had found a marvellous secondhand bookshop called Your Bookshop with a vast selection and which also had a branch in Wells. So it was I discovered Wells.
A visit to Wells might be combined with a visit to one of the many places of interest in the area. Glastonbury is only 5 miles away and Street, which has the money saving designer village Clarks shopping village, about 7 miles. For the children the Wooky Hole theme park is only 1 mile away.
There is a Wells website at: http://www.wells-somerset.com/