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Gloucester Cathedral

History

Blessed Sacrament windowGloucester is one of the six former abbey churches which became
cathedrals at the Reformation under Henry VIII’s “New Foundation”. Before that it was the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter.

This has been a Christian site for over 1300 years, since a minster was founded here c 679 by Osric, Prince of Mercia. But the present building was (and still is, substantially) the work of the first Norman abbot, Serlo, chaplain to William the conqueror. The foundation stone was laid in 1089, the eastern end was dedicated in 1100, and the entire church finished by c 1130.

The abbey was a wealthy and important monastery church throughout the middle ages; in 1216 Henry III, then a boy of nine, was hurriedly crowned king here.

On 21 September 1327 King Edward II died (reputedly murdered) while imprisoned at Berkeley Castle. The funeral - in effect a state occasion - was held at St Peter’s Abbey that December. A magnificent shrine-like tomb was erected, and the noble families who supported the new young king Edward III paid for the re-modeling of the eastern end of the church in what was then a brand-new style of architecture, later known as ‘perpendicular’. For about 80 years the tomb was a focus for visiting pilgrims who brought further wealth to the abbey and the city.

The monastery was dissolved in 1540, and became the Cathedral Church for the new Diocese of Gloucester in 1541 - seemingly it escaped the destruction suffered by other monastic centres because of its royal connections.

During the next 100 years of religious turmoil the cathedral was home to some of the great personalities of the age - Bishop John Hooper, a zealous protestant, burned at the stake by Queen Mary; Bishop Miles Smith, a translator of the King James Bible; and Dean William Laud, a “high” churchman who later, as archbishop, was himself executed for his beliefs. During the Commonwealth period the cathedral was to be demolished, but was saved by the intervention of the mayor and burgesses of Gloucester.

During the comparative calm of the 18th century, the building was
relatively well cared for, and in the later 19th century some fairly light-handed restoration work by George Gilbert Scott left it as we see it today. Surviving two world wars, the cathedral remains in active daily use for the purpose for which it was built 900 years ago - the worship of God.

 

Architecture

“Its two main building periods are of outstanding architectural
interest” (Pevsner Architectural Guide.)

From the NORMAN period, the crypt survives with very little alteration. Gloucester has the oldest ambulatory chancel extant in either Normandy or England. The nave and chapter house are also Norman.

The development of the PERPENDICULAR in the re-modeling of the east end during the 1330s and 1340s remains as the oldest example of this style. The four-centred arch appeared for the first time in Europe here; the south window of the south transept is the earliest perpendicular window surviving anywhere; the Great East window was the largest area of glass ever seen in the 1350s.

Also of national importance are the fan-vaulted cloisters, complete on all four walks - full-scale fan vaulting was ‘invented’ here at Gloucester.

Of the later additions to the building, the glass of the Lady Chapel, by the Arts and Crafts artist Christopher Whall should not be missed.

Attractions

Outstanding Norman and Perpendicular architecture
Tombs of King Edward II and Robert of Normandy
Fan-vaulted cloisters with central garden, lavatorium and Norman chapter house
Re-created medieval herb garden
Great East window with magnificent glass from the 1350s
Memorial to Edward Jenner, pioneer of vaccination
Treasury of English Church Plate from the 16th - 20th centuries
Medieval misericords
Superb Arts & Crafts glass and memorials
Traditional choral Evensong sung by the Cathedral’s own choir
Concerts and special events
“Face to Face” Exhibition
Whispering Gallery
Tower Tours
Gift Shop and Coffee Shop

Local Interest

Gloucester Docks
National Waterways Museum
Forest of Dean
Regency Cheltenham
Berkeley Castle
The Cotswolds