- Robert Louis Stephenson said “I never weary of great churches. It is my favorite kind of mountain scenery. Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral.” – Robert’s grandfather also named Robert began the tradition of lighthouse building The author’s father and two uncles were also lighthouse keepers. If you’d like to know more then Bella Bathuhurst’s book The Lighthouse Stephensons is for you.
- Charles Dickens wrote this description of Canterbury Cathedral in David Copperfield which drew on his own childhood experiences after his father was imprisoned for debt. “The rooks were sailing about the cathedral towers; and the towers themselves, overlooking many a long unaltered mile of the rich country and its pleasant streams, were cutting the bright morning air as if there were no such thing as change on earth.”
- “Intellectuals are cynical and cynics have never built a cathedral.” Henry Kissinger won a Nobel prize having served in Richard Nixon’s administration.
- Thomas Carlyle, also known as the Sage of Chelsea, said “The old cathedrals are good, but the great blue dome that hangs over everything is better.”
- “Cathedrals, luxury liners laden with souls, Holding to the east their hulls of stone.” – W.H. Auden wrote this line in On this Island.
- “The most expensive part of building is the mistakes.” – Ken Follett wrote two books which featured the town of Kingsbridge – The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End which is placed two hundred years after the first novel. For those of you looking for something historical to get your teeth into there are the books and a mini-series featuring Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen and Eddie Redmayne.
- “The most solid thing was the light. It smashed through the rows of windows in the south aisle, so that they exploded with colour, it slanted before him from right to left in an exact formation, to hit the bottom yard of the pillars on the north side of the nave. Everywhere, fine dust gave these rods and trunks of light the importance of a dimension. He blinked at them again, seeing, near at hand, how the individual grains of dust turned over each other, or bounced all together, like mayfly in a breath of wind. He saw how further away they drifted cloudily, coiled, or hung in a moment of pause, becoming, in the most distant rods and trunks, nothing but colour, honey-colour slashed across the body of the cathedral. Where the south transept lighted the crossways from a hundred and fifty foot of grisaille, the honey thickened in a pillar that lifted straight as Abel’s from the men working with crows at the pavement.” – The author of this rather lengthy quote about the building of Salisbury Cathedral is William Golding better known for his work The Lord of the Flies. The book featuring Salisbury Cathedral is called The Spire.
- “If you seek his monument, look around.” – whose epitaph is this and where can it be found? This particular epitaph can be found in St Paul’s Cathedral on the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren, Seventeenth Century London’s great church builder.
- “Along the sculptures of the western wall I watched the moonlight creeping: It moved as if it hardly moved at all Inch by inch thinly peeping Round on the pious figures of freestone, brought And poised there when the Universe was wrought To serve its centre, Earth, in mankind’s thought.” Thomas Hardy wrote about Salisbury Cathedral after visiting it he is best known for his novels set in Wessex.
- “Somehow, cathedrals have contrived to snap free of the sectarian exclusivity of the parish church. They answer to a longing for congregation and communal space. Their key is a quality unfashionable to social analysis, the offer of solitude with beauty. You need not to be of faith to sit quietly and contemplate the loveliness of a cathedral. As a dean once hinted to me in a whisper, “Here we don’t bang on about God.” Simon Jenkins writes for The Guardian and wrote the book called England’s Cathedrals.
The invasion of 1066 was a crusade. William, Duke of Normandy, persuaded Pope Alexander II to approve his attempt on the English throne because of his reputation as a supporter of the Church and a builder of monasteries.
Following the conquest the next century saw the majority of medieval churches being founded. Church building had begun in England circa 900 but the Normans often rebuilt – perhaps to leave their mark on the landscape they now owned. Consequentially there aren’t many Saxon churches – though there’s always the possibility of a surprising remnant tucked away in a corner, or in the case of Ripon Cathedral, down in the crypt.
Early Norman churches, though sometimes built from stone, were often wooden. The Domesday Book of 1086 notes some churches but is not a comprehensive audit of churches and monastic buildings. From 1100 onwards parish churches were rebuilt and enlarged, nearly always in stone. The later medieval period saw churches being enlarged depending upon the wealth of each congregation and noble patronage. Following the death of Thomas Becket in 1170, Jenkins makes the point, that many parish churches and monastic foundations were supported by Henry II.
Many churches rebuilt on older sites of worship used pre-existing dressed stone as well as carved stones dating from Roman, Saxon and Viking periods of habitation. Hexham Abbey is a particularly good example of this.
The last quarter of the twelfth century saw architectural change with the arrival from France of the Gothic and the pointed arch. Churches and cathedrals became lighter and airier as well as becoming more ornate. Masons perfected fan vaulting and flying buttresses. Jenkins comments on the windows. It was during this period that rose windows and fanciful tracery became an essential part of any new church of note.
The Black Death left its mark on church buildings and so too did wool sales. Styles changed from Gothic to Perpendicular once again the style is best shown by the shape of the windows and the size of the churches. Perpendicular tends to be big with tall towers. They also have lots of tombs and monuments – largely on account of folk getting themselves needlessly slaughtered during the Wars of the Roses. This is of course rather a simplification but I did title the post a beginning. Norman and Gothic are styles that I recognise quite happily but I will have to confer with my consultant about later styles and no doubt do much more reading.
The Tudor period saw huge changes to the patterns of worship and belief. The interiors of churches underwent huge changes as the bright colours of the medieval period gave way to more austere whitewash of puritan belief. Henry VIII also encouraged the destruction of anything to do with Thomas Becket – taking his distant ancestor’s view that the cleric was a treacherous malcontent.
The Jacobean period saw the introduction of pews and pulpits as well as the return of altars which had been ripped out during the Reformation to be replaced with communion tables- to this day pre-Reformation tone altar slabs are being uncovered from the places where they were hidden when news of Protestant reform arrived ahead of the king’s men .
The nineteenth century saw many churches being restored and extended as well as new parish churches being built in industrial areas. The Gothic style was much favoured during this period. Seventeenth century box pews fell into disfavour and were often ripped out.