Norwich Cathedral

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Things to do


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February, 2017

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Norwich Cathedral with its tall spire rivalling that of Salisbury, is one of the glories of Norwich. It is one of the most complete Norman cathedrals in England, and one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture. Although the monastic buildings were destroyed after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the cloisters survive and the Cathedral Close is one of the largest in England.

“Peregrin falcons”: nest on the Cathedral spire and an observation post in the Close with a live web cam allows visitors a close view of these magnificent birds from April to June.

There has been a bishopric in East Anglia since the C7th, originally based at Dunwich. Later, the see was divided into two and a stone cathedral built at North Elmham. During the Danish invasion of 870, the cathedral was burnt and the Bishop’s chair badly damaged.

After the Norman Conquest, it was a policy to move the see to important cities. The see first moved to Thetford in 1075 but by 1095 Norwich had overtaken Thetford in importance and the see was moved to Norwich. The newly built cathedral and castle were a sign of Norman dominance.

Bishop Herbert de Losinga began building a Benedictine monastery and cathedral church in 1096. A Saxon settlement and two churches were demolished to make room for the buildings and a canal was cut to allow access for the boats bringing stone and building materials which were unloaded at Pulls Ferry.

By his death in 1119 the presbytery with its chapels and ambulatory, transepts and the first four bays of the nave were complete. Bishop Herbert was buried in front of the high altar. His successor, Everard de Montgomery was responsible for completing the nave, west end and the roof by 1145, along with the cloisters and monastic buildings. He began the tower which was finished by his successor, William de Turbe about 1170. This would originally have had a timber spire.

The ground plan of the cathedral remains very much that of a Norman cathedral with a very long nave and choir and a rounded apse at the east end with an ambulatory around it. There were no relics of a major saint to bring in pilgrims with their revenue to remodel the Cathedral. A Lady Chapel was added to the east end in the C13th but was demolished in the reign of Elizabeth I.

The spire was struck by lightning in 1169 and set the building on fire. The cathedral was badly damaged in the 1272 riots between the town and the monks. Henry III levied heavy fines on the city to pay for rebuilding the Cathedral. The cloisters had to be completely rebuilt. This took 150 years as work was slowed down by the Black Death and they display the change in architectural style during this period. The east walk was the first to be completed and and is early Decorated architecture. The north walk was the last to be finished in 1430 and is Perpendicular in style.

The spire blew down in 1362 causing considerable damage to the east end, destroying the presbytery roof and clerestory. This was rebuilt in the then modern Perpendicular style with large windows.

The spire was struck by lightning again in 1463 and fire ragged through the nave, destroying the wood roof. The heat was so fierce it turned some of the stone pink. Bishop Walter Lehart was responsible for replacing the nave roof with stone lierne vaulting, with carved bosses at the intersections of the ribs. This explains the difference in colour of the walls and nave roof.

The stone screen between the nave and choir was added at the same time.

The great west window dates from the mid C15th and dwarfs the earlier Norman windows.

The stone vault in the presbytery was added at the end of the C15th by Bishop James Goldwell and flying buttresses were added outside to support its weight. He was also responsible for the stone spire, added in 1480. It is brick, faced with stone and is the second tallest spire in England, after Salisbury.

The transept roofs were destroyed by fire in 1509 and replaced by stone vaults by Bishop Richard Nykke. Since then there has been little fundamental alteration to the cathedral apart from St Saviour’s Chapel built in 1930 on the site of the long demolished Lady Chapel at the east end.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries had little effect on the cathedral, although the monastic buildings were destroyed and used for building stone. The last prior became the first dean and the monks became canons. There were plans to pull the cathedral down during the Commonwealth as it was deemed as ‘no longer being needed’, and reuse the stone to rebuild Yarmouth harbour. Fortunately nothing happened and the building was restored when Charles II was restored to the throne.

There was a further sympathetic restoration in the C19th when new choir stalls and Bishop’s chair were added.

The cathedral is open daily from 7.30am – 6pm. Entry is through the remains of a C12th archway into the the newly built Hostry Visitor & Education Centre on the site of the original accommodation for pilgrims. This has the welcome desk and a small exhibition area. There is a small shop at the back of the cathedral and a newly built “refectory”: serving light lunches as well as cakes.

Entry to the Cathedral is free although donations are welcomed. There are free “guided tours”: hourly Monday to Saturday, 11am to 3pm. Advertised as lasting about an hour, ours took 75 minutes with another 15 minutes for the cloisters. As well as covering some of the history of the cathedral it shows visitors some of the highlights of the building as well as many other smaller points of interest that can be so easily be missed.

The inside of the cathedral can be quite dark, especially during the winter months, and this made photography difficult. In February, the lights were turned on inside the cathedral around 3pm, making photography a lot easier. Unfortunately I did not have time to go round and retake all of the pictures.
The nearest car park is St Helen’s Wharf pay & display car park. The post code for the cathedral is NR1 4DH and the grid reference is TG 235089.

There is some limited parking is available in The Close for Blue Badge holders. Parking permits for disabled visitors are issued by the gatekeeper upon entry to The Close, for a duration of two hours on a first-come first-served basis.

There is level access to the Cathedral through the Hostry, which is open Monday to Saturday 9.30am – 4.30pm and on Sunday 12.00pm – 3.00pm. Outside of these hours there is level access through the South Door, as well as a ramp and lift to provide access via the West Door.

There is level access into the cathedral from both the Hostry and south door. All of the cathedral is accessible to wheelchair users apart from the Treasury, St Andrew and St Catherine Chapels. There is ramped access from the choir to the Presbytery.

There are steps from the cathedral down to the cloisters, but these can be access by lift from the Hostry. There is also a lift from the cloisters to the Refectory.

There is a disabled toilet off the cloisters on the lower level of the refectory.

There are wheelchairs for hire and visitors are advised to contact the Sacrist in advance to arrange this.

There is more information and lots more pictures “here.”:


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