March 13 – Norwich Cathedral

Edith Cavell

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

We made an early start to go to Norwich Cathedral. It was a good trip up via Beccles and we did not stop anywhere on the way although it was difficult to resist those churches at times. When we arrived at the cathedral we were just in time for a tour which we shared with a young Australian guy. The guide taking us around the cathedral was very knowledgeable and told us lots of stories.

Norwich Cathedral was built in only 50 years from 1090 by the Bishop of the time Herbert de Losinga. He founded the monastery too but died in 1121 and so did not live to see the cathedral completed. The cathedral was constructed out of flint and mortar and faced with a cream-coloured Caen limestone. There are Norman arches throughout with the Norman tower still seen today topped with a wooden spire covered with lead.

One of the things you notice first is the 15th-century Gothic stone vaulted Nave ceiling, created under Bishop Walter Hunt. The stone which replaced the original wooden ceiling. All the way down the nave ceiling are over 1,000 bosses including several hundred carved and ornately painted ones. The bosses depict the story of the Old Testament from creation to the birth of Christ in the first seven. The second seven areas tell the stories of the New Testament. These bosses are not just decorative but also structural and hold the ceiling in place. There are even more bosses all around the cloisters outside the cathedral. It is the second largest cloister in England, after Salisbury.

There are some wonderful stained glass windows all around the cathedral. They are mostly Victorian windows with one being made of medieval glass. My favourite window was one with Saint Elizabeth in the centre and roundels in yellow and white all around it. At the bottom is the name Elizabeth Graham Hunt who died 4 May 1961. I questioned Graham Dickerson, one of the guides whether this lady was a saint, which I thought unlikely. He kindly looked up the information and later emailed me. The central panel is a modern depiction of St Elizabeth and her face is a portrait of Elizabeth Hunt. The window is made up of 15th, 16th and 17th-century roundels and other pieces of Renaissance glass gathered together by the makers, King and Son in 1965. They are mostly Flemish.

The copper baptismal font, which stands on a movable base in the nave, was fashioned from bowls previously used for making chocolate in Rowntree’s factory in Norwich and was given to the cathedral after the factory closed in 1994.

There was a lovely quilted banner, one of about six for the various seasons of the church year, this one was for Lent.

The huge organ, by Norman and Beard 1899, stands above the rood screen and has about 6000 pipes. The rood screen in made from stone with a wooden balcony on top in front of the organ. Behind the rood screen is the choir which has a wonderful selection of 61 misericords, dating from three periods — 1480, 1515 and mid-19th century. The subject matter is varied; mythological, everyday subjects and portraits. One of the most recent ones was made for Norwich City Football Club. The choir was carved in the 1400’s. The pulpit and the Bishop’s throne are very ornately carved in wood. The North and South transepts cross through the choir which is different to most other cathedrals that we have visited. Behind the altar, up some steep steps is a smaller, modern Bishop’s throne. There is no reredos. but the shape of the end of the cathedral and the stained glass windows are fantastic.

There are several chapels, the Jesus Chapel and St. Lukes Chapel are round shaped to each side of the Ambulatory. St. Lukes Chapel had an octagonal font with the seven sacraments and a wonderful 1300’s Despencer reredos in gilt and paint. Many of the other paintings were closed for Lent. St Saviour’s Chapel is the military chapel and has a panel depicting all the wars that the Royal Norwich Regiment has taken part in up to the Korean War. Outside a door here is the grave of Edith Cavell (4 December 1865 – 12 October 1915). She was a British nurse and is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without discrimination and in helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during the First World War, for which she was arrested. She was accused of treason, found guilty by a court-martial and sentenced to death. She was shot by a German firing squad. The Lady Chapel had a 1960’s window depicting the Benedictine history of the church and was a real highlight of our visit. There was also a plaque to Thomas Fowell Buxton for his efforts for the emancipation of 700,000 slaves on 1st August 1834. He was on the back of the old £5 note with Elizabeth Fry.

The floor of the presbytery was a mosaic tiled floor created in the style of Cosmati flooring. It is made from granites, marbles and coloured stones and it was designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield in 1878. The 19th-century altar rail had roundels of Blue John stone set in blue enamel and mounted on marble pillars. 

We also visited the Treasury which had wall paintings on the walls and ceilings. There was also a plaque to Osberto Parsley in the nave, who was a chorister for 50 years from the time of Henry VIII to Elizabeth I.  This was a turbulent time, changing from Catholic to Church of England and back again, through the time of the Reformation.

Parts of the church including the visitor’s centre with its impressive exhibition area, a hostelry and an education centre have been added to the front of the cloisters. A modern refectory has been added to the side where the original refectory would have been. These new features have been very tastefully done to mix the old with the new.

We collected the numbers for the church micro near to Edith Cavell’s grave but the coordinates took us a long walk away and in the end, we left it for another time as we wanted to leave the city before the evening rush. This was not very successful as we turned the wrong way and had to go quite a way before we were able to correct ourselves. We did drive past the Norwich Castle so that Mike could get a photograph but a visit will have to wait for another time. We drove home via Bungay which included some very narrow roads and a drive through a small lake across the road at one point.


The Bauchon Window, 1964
Norwich Cathedral

Names appearing on the window are as follows :

St Benedict, Patron Saint of Europe, 480 – 543
St Gregory, Patron Saint of musicians, 540 – 604
St Augustine, Patron Saint of brewers, 354 – 430
King Æthelbert of Kent. First English King to convert to Christianity, 550 – 616
Benedict Biscop, Patron of St Benet Biscop Catholic Academy, Northumberland, 628 – 690
The Venerable Bede, “The Father of English History”, 672– 735
St Dunstan, Patron Saint of goldsmiths, 909 – 988
St Oswald of Worcester, Archbishop of York, 925 – 992
St Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester, 904 – 984
St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1033 – 1109
Henry I of England, 1068 – 1135
Julian of Norwich, English anchoress and Christian mystic, 1342 – c. 1416
Herbert de Losinga, first Bishop of Norwich, c.1054 – 1119