Archive for October, 2017

Worcester Cathedral Architecture

Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

King Richard’s Sword, the sixth book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, is set in the city of Worcester in the years 1399-1400.  At that time, the cathedral church was a priory as described in my previous posting.  The cathedral and priory play an important role in my story.

Saint Wulfstan is credited with planning and starting construction of many monastic buildings of the priory which was associated with the cathedral.  These were largely completed after his death in the first quarter of the 12th century.  There are some traces of what may be Anglo-Saxon or pre-Norman architecture in the cloister of Worcester Cathedral.  These traces are found in all the walls of the cloister except the north wall.  This suggests to me that the cloister, the refectory, and perhaps the dormitory may have been started before the Norman Conquest in 1066.

The chapter house was not started until the beginning of the 12th century after Wulfstan’s death but was completed by 1125.  Its Norman work was unusual because it was circular on the interior and polygonal on the outside.  The central pillar has a base which is 13th century.  Further revisions were executed in the 14th century, giving the chapter house a mixture of Norman and Gothic styles by the time of my novel.  That is still the case today.

Saint Wulfstan started his new church in 1084 from which the crypt still survives under the quire of the present church.  The crypt and the part of the cathedral directly above it were completed in 1089.  Wulstan’s church plain and massive, and plastered and white-washed inside and out.  The footprint of his church was essentially the same as that of the nave, the main transepts, and the western part of the quire of the modern church.

Two Western bays of the nave were rebuilt in Transitional Style around 1170.  A fire in 1113 (which I mentioned in my posting of October 17) and a tower collapse in 1175 contributed to a need for major restoration of the church.  This was almost complete by 1218, so King Henry III attended a service of rededication in that year.

The Edgar Tower is an impressive gatehouse which was originally built in the early 13th century and then remodelled in the 14th century.

Construction of a Lady Chapel in the Early English Gothic style began in 1224.  This led to a much-enlarged east end of the cathedral beyond the apsidal end of Wulfstan’s church.  The rebuilding of the nave under Bishop Cobham commenced in 1317.  By the end of the century, the largely Gothic church which has survived to the present day was in place, despite interruptions in construction due to the plague that struck England in mid-century.

The present central tower was completed in 1374.  It is interesting from an architectural viewpoint because the top portion is of the English Decorated Gothic style, while the section below is of the later Perpendicular style.  Perhaps, that section was originally more open and was modified subsequently.  It is also interesting that at some point buttressing for the tower piers was added in the eastern-most bay of the nave arcade.

The monastic buildings in 1399-1400 also included a great hall commonly called Guesten Hall just south of the south transept in 1327.  I had the pardoner in my novel, Brandon Landow, stay in that facility.  The ruin of that hall next to the church is pictured on the right.  The refectory survived the Dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII and is now the great hall of the King’s School which he founded.  The dormitory on the west of the cloister was not so fortunate.

The 14th century work on the cathedral also included a magnificent north porch to the church, completed in 1386, which Lady Apollonia used to enter the church in my novel.  It is shown in the picture on the top left.  I made one of the characters in my novel, Goran Carter, a patron of that project by contributing carving to the newly built porch around 1395.

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Worcester Cathedral History

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

King Richard’s Sword, the sixth book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, is set in the city of Worcester in the years 1399-1400.  As mentioned in my last posting, Worcester has been the seat of a bishop since before the end of the first millennium.  A diocese was founded, and Bosel was consecrated as first bishop in 680 although there had probably been a Roman Christian community with a church on this site since the 4th century.  The first cathedral was dedicated to Saint Peter.

Around 981, Saint Oswald became bishop and built a new cathedral dedicated to Saint Mary, and it stood next to Saint Peter’s until after the Norman Conquest.  Oswald also founded a Benedictine priory at Saint Mary’s, so the church served the priory and as the Cathedral of Worcester.  This remained the case for hundreds of years including the time of my novel and beyond into the 16th century when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.

The cathedral was known as Worcester Priory before the English Reformation when the Diocese of Worcester also included the present Diocese of Gloucester. The picture above shows the tomb of King John I in the Quire of the church.  As a monastic cathedral, it was included as one of England’s monastic cathedrals about which I posted on August 3, 2016.  After the Dissolution of the monasteries, it has continued to be a cathedral to the present.  Now it is known officially as the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Mary the Virgin of Worcester.

In 1062 Saint Wulfstan, already serving as Prior of Worcester, was appointed Bishop of Worcester serving until his death in 1095.  He was the last of the English, pre-Norman Conquest bishops when he died.  Under his tutelage, the number of monks increased from ten to fifty.  Wulfstan also developed a plan for the monastic buildings.  I will say more about them in my next posting.

There is an interesting story of how Wulfstan retained his bishopric after the Norman Conquest.  William the Conqueror, wanted to replace Anglo-Saxon bishops with Normans of whose loyalty he could be sure.  At a meeting in Westminster Abbey, the new Norman Archbishop Lanfranc therefore tried to replace Wulfstan as Bishop of Worcester. Legend says Lanfranc ordered Wulfstan to surrender his bishop’s staff and ring.  Wulfstan refused to remove the ring, saying he would wear it to the grave.  He placed the staff on the tomb of King Edward the Confessor, saying he yielded it to the king who made him a bishop and that St Edward ‘will surrender it to whom he chooses’.  The new appointee could not pick up the staff, which remained miraculously attached to the tomb until Wulfstan picked it up – and was allowed to continue as bishop. In the drawing on the right from Trinity College, Cambridge Archbishop Lanfranc, left, reads while Wulfstan, holding his staff, listens.

Wulfstan was canonised in 1203, and his tomb, as well as Oswald’s, became important places for pilgrims to visit.  I posted a blog article on Saint Wulfstan on October 10, 2016.  Another important burial at Worcester was that of King John in 1216.  The king’s tomb is pictured above left.

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Worcester History

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

King Richard’s Sword, the sixth book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, is set in the city of Worcester in the years 1399-1400.  Worcester is located on the east side of the River Severn midway between Gloucester to the south and Shrewsbury to the north.  These were principal medieval towns that grew at places where the river could be forded, especially at low tide.  Begun as Roman towns, they had each provided access to Wales long before the Roman period.  Worcester grew at a location on the river which could readily be defended.

The name of Worcester suggests that the Romans occupied this place, but very little is known about the Roman town beyond its existence.  The Roman walls probably enclosed a smaller area than did the later medieval walls, parts of which remain today.  Roman coins from the 1st to the 4th centuries have been recovered.  Enough fragments from the Roman period existed at the time of the Norman Conquest to recognise the site as a “chester” or Roman castre.

The Romans themselves may have called this place Vertis.  Its name then evolved over the centuries from Uueogorna in the 7th century to Weogorna ceastre (or Fort of the Weogorna) by the 9th.  The Weogorna were the people of the winding river.  The picture at the top shows a bend which the River Severn makes at Worcester.  The city name became Wirccester in the 11th and 12th, centuries, Wigornia from the 12th to 17th, and finally Worcester.

Christian churches in Worcester have been important for more than thirteen centuries.  In the later 7th century, a church dedicated to Saint Peter was built and soon became the seat of a bishop.  This has been the cathedra of a bishop ever since.  I will write about the history of Worcester Cathedral in my next post.

The defences of Worcester were bolstered in the late 9th century, a period when the country was threatened by the Danes.  It was also a time when Worcester achieved some status as a borough, complete with a borough court.  The market of the town was important and provided a source of revenue for the build-up of its defences which influenced the location of the walls built in the medieval period.

The map which is pictured below shows medieval Worcester and its city wall and gates.  Sidbury Gate and Frog Gate at the bottom play their role in my story.  Both Lady Apollonia, my heroine, and Bryan Landow, the pardoner, are mentioned in the story as passing through the Fore Gate at the top of the picture.  Although it is not stated explicitly, there are instances in the story when various characters passed through Saint Clement’s Gate on the upper left of the map because they crossed the river.

Worcester often endured turbulent times.  There was a rebellion in 1041 in reaction to the heavy taxes imposed by the Danish king.  Within three years of the Norman Conquest, a motte and bailey castle was built on the southwest corner of the town.  The 12th century saw four major fires consuming Worcester.  On 19 June 1113, the town including its cathedral and castle were destroyed in a major fire.  There were several local battles in the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda.  One of these resulted in a major fire in November 1131.  Eight years later, a part of the city was burned when it was taken by a garrison from Gloucester.  Finally, nearly the whole town was destroyed by fire in 1189.

Worcester was granted it first charter in in 1227 by King Henry III.  Among its provisions, the charter granted the town a merchant gild or guild.  It also provided that two local bailiffs would have precedence within the town over the sheriff of the County of Worcestershire.  The gildhall became the local court of justice.  Some Jews played a role in 12th century Worcester, especially as usurers, but by the end of the next century, Jews had been banned from England.  Thus, others emerge as usurers and money lenders.  They play a role in my story which is set at the end of the 14th century.

Worcester grew in prosperity in the 14th century despite the Black Death which reduced the population in 1348-49.  The town’s population was around 2,600 people in 1377.  It was important as a distribution centre for the western Midlands because of its bridge crossing the River Severn on the route to Wales.  The manufacture of cloth became an important local industry, and continued well beyond the period of my book.

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Links to buy Joseph

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

In recent weeks, I have been posting articles on this blog related to Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth novel written in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  This story is set in Glastonbury, England, in 1395.  If you have enjoyed reading the posts about medieval Glastonbury and have not yet read my story, this might be a good time to order it.


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Happy reading!

Glastonbury Legends

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Glastonbury in 1397 is the setting for Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, the fifth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  This location is rich in legends, particularly in the medieval period.  The two figures who are most important in the legends that arose in the medieval period and later are King Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea.  Glastonbury Abbey advanced the legends about these men, beginning in the 11th century in the case of King Arthur and especially from the late 12th through the 15th centuries with Joseph of Arimathea.

In 1191, seven years after the destruction of the abbey by a great fire, Abbot Henry de Sully ordered his monks to dig in the cemetery just south of the Lady Chapel.  The result of their work was the discovery of a body which they identified as King Arthur.  This exhumation is depicted in the drawing shown above.  Note that the Norman Lady Chapel was still under construction.  A second body was identified as Guinevere, Arthur’s second wife.

Meanwhile, the abbey sought to rebuild what had been destroyed by fire, and this led to the great Gothic abbey church on the site at the time of my novel.  The bones of Arthur and Guinevere were reburied in the new church in 1278 in a ceremony important enough to be attended by King Edward I and Queen Eleanor of England.  Obviously, this tomb attracted pilgrims to the abbey and helped contribute to its great wealth.

Glastonbury was viewed by many people in the medieval period as the Isle of Avalon.  Although it is not actually an island, the town and its Tor is on a peninsula which rises out of the Somerset Levels like an island.  This contributed to the legend of King Arthur in Glastonbury.  After the Dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII, the tomb was destroyed.  Today, there is a sign in the grassy area where the quire once stood which indicates that the tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere once resided there.

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Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Christ who made his cave-tomb available to house the dead body of Jesus after the Crucifixion.  There are extensive legends concerning Joseph of Arimathea making visits to England and Glastonbury.  The most basic is that he came after the Resurrection bringing the Holy Grail.  The Chalice Well near the Tor is involved in this legendary story.  The red colour which springs forth from this well is attributed to the blood of the Christ brought in the Holy Grail.  A variation has Joseph bringing two cruets, one containing blood of Jesus, another containing his sweat as shown in the picture on the right which is one of the stained-glass windows in Saint John the Baptist parish church in Glastonbury that tell the legends of Joseph of Arimathea.

Another feature of the basic legend has arisen in recent centuries.  It says that Joseph stood resting on Wearyall Hill on the southwest edge of Glastonbury.  When he brought down his staff hard onto the earth, it suddenly bloomed, becoming a hawthorn, which blooms every Christmas and May and sometimes in between.  The so-called Glastonbury Thorn is still part of modern folk-culture.  It has been featured on a British postage stamp, and a sprig of flowers from it is sent to the Queen of England every Christmas.  The Glastonbury Thorn on Wearyall Hill has been vandalised in recent years but copies of it are to be found in the abbey grounds and in front of the parish church of Saint John the Baptist as well as by the abbey tithe barn.

There are other legends about Joseph of Arimathea.  One is that he was the uncle of the Virgin Mary and brought his teenage nephew, Jesus, to Glastonbury.  We know that ancient peoples from the Mediterranean area got to Cornwall with the tin trade.  If someone sailed to Cornwall at that time, Glastonbury could also be reached by ship.  At high tide, the Bristol Channel reached all the way to Glastonbury.  This was before the Romans and the medieval monks began reclaiming vast areas of Somerset from the sea.  In Joseph’s time, such a voyage was feasible.

Another Joseph legend is that he led the first missionaries in bringing Christianity to Britain around 63 AD.  The abbots of Glastonbury used this story to enhance their claim to be the first monastery in England.  At the time of my story and in the next century, they were promoting some of these legends.  There is a well in the crypt of the Lady Chapel which was renamed Joseph’s Well, and I have used that well in my story.

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