Sorry for the gap between posts, the times they are dispiriting; I shall return to happier ones. The second step on that short medievalist tour I and two other scholars undertook last summer was Wells. Whereas I had a hook for the visit to Oxford Castle, I have none for Wells, indeed I barely have more of an organising principle for this post than “look at the architecture”; Wells’s medieval importance is later than I really know about and its surviving fabric, very much so. That fabric most famously comprises the cathedral. Its inside is as famous as its outside, especially the architecturally rather special scissor arch, which I’m afraid to me looked more like a very large squid made structurally integral to the nave than a vaulting technique, but each to their own… Interior photography is not allowed, however, and even if I had broken that prohibition as, evidently, did the photographer I just linked to, I wouldn’t put the pictures here and I doubt they would be as good as the ones the Cathedral would like you to buy anyway. So instead you have a variety of shots that illustrate how overwhelming the exterior is, and it’s enough, I think!
This is in fact a fully operational
battle station place of worship, and indeed there are stories I could tell about conscientious vergers busy operating it and misunderstood suitcases, but I shall hide the embarrassment of the implicated and just distract with you more cathedral!
This building, in its more wrought bits, has something of the fractal about it; you move in more closely to examine ornament and discover it is itself ornamented, and so on.
The overall decorative scheme is difficult to take in; one winds up trying to do it by pieces and then reassemble your impressions, but each recollection sleets over the last in a cascade of ornamental stonework. I don’t know how to make a building of this scale and complexity comprehensible as a single artwork. Apart from anything else, it is a huge canvas for the artists who put its decoration together. The four evangelists? Why stop there when you have room for all the disciples?
And it gets down to really quite small scale. Here some local occupants give you a sense of the kind of size I mean.
Even the humblest bits of the complex are often what one might uncharitably call overdone; this, perhaps, one should call charitably overdone, as this is apparently where the handouts to beggars were made, but that vaulting must have let them known inescapably about the elevated status of those who did the handing out.
A slightly sadder aspect is that even this fabulous place didn’t entirely escape the various early modern destructions of ecclesiastical finery. It’s all still standing, but if you look at the west portal here it doesn’t take an art historian to spot that the two saints in conversation above the arch have suffered more than just erosion.
The vandals in question here drew the line at defacing Mary, however.
What I am saying is, basically, you ought to see this place at least once in your life, and I hope the weather is fine for you when you do.