Norwich Cathedral

The Great Cathedral of Norwich has always impressed me with an air of serenity which belies its turbulent history. An extremely well maintained and managed institution (with a voluntary contribution rather than an admission charge, others please note) there are welcoming and knowledgeable volunteers on duty ready to fill in the delicious little snippets of information that help to personalise a visit.

But before we get on to the gossipy bits it is probably better to appreciate the whole; a unified construction of creamy Caen limestone which was transported over from Normandy in specially designed boats nearly nine hundred years ago and brought up river to be landed on a specially built quay. This is an engineering feat that would challenge even the builders of today but in its time it stood as one of the greatest achievements of the medieval cathedral building period. The mental picture this story evokes never fails to stir my imagination, just as I can never gaze at the wonderful geometric detail of the Romanesque architecture without noticing something I have never seen before.

An obvious question that springs to mind is how can someone who claims to have such an affection for a place that she has been visiting for much of her life not have any photographs of her own? There are probably some family holiday ones hidden away somewhere but I’m as yet unable to lay my hands on them, so I set off on last week’s visit to obtain another set and underwent such an all-out camera crisis that people in the city will probably be talking about it for weeks to come.

Not for the first time I had failed to listen properly to my son’s instructions and, as a consequence, left the replacement battery for my new(ish) camera at home. I dragged my companion around the camera shops of Norwich in increasing desperation, telling anyone who would listen that I was not prepared to visit one of the most beautiful buildings in England without a functioning camera but all to no avail. Either the type I needed could be ordered for next week or it was just not available any more.

Reduced to sneaking around the cathedral looking for power points where I could top up the few remaining shots available on my dying battery, I was in danger of overlooking the fact that Grahame seemed to have overcome his own camera’s sympathy strike and was snapping away with a convincing display of enthusiasm. Between us we seem to have made a reasonable job of it although perhaps it was just as well that the celebrated Norwich falcon chicks had already fledged and departed. Somehow, I don’t think either of us was really equal to the challenge.

Norwich cathedral got off pretty lightly during the Reformation by means of a “voluntary surrender” to the crown although quite how much was actually surrendered is debatable. Any stability bought by this expedient decision was lost, however, when an angry Puritan mob attacked the building a little over a hundred years later and set about stripping of all its “idolatrous” imagery. Whether the images were fashioned in stone, wood, glass, metal or textiles, a positive orgy of destruction ensued, as can be seen from the poor vandalised remains of the (eight-sided) Seven Sacrament font. At least it would if I had taken a better picture.

Nor did I manage to get a shot of the musket ball embedded in Bishop Goldwell’s tomb or several other visitors’ favorites but I did at least manage to become re-acquainted with a couple of old friends: the fourteenth century Pelican Lectern which escaped centuries of turmoil by being buried in the Bishops’ garden and the absolutely splendid alterpiece, the Bishop Despenser retable, which survived by the rather undignified means of being turned upside down and made into a refectory table.

The Stories in Stone: the fascinating sets of bosses that adorn the beautiful Gothic vaulting of both the nave and the cloisters probably merit an excursion in their own right although I don’t think I need to beat myself up too badly over my lack of the appropriate photographic skills. I’ve managed to include a few examples and, after all, Mr Professional Photographer who was hard at work in the cloisters told us that he was dissatisfied with most of the pictures in the official publications anyway.

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