Saturday 25 September 2010


I recently went to Wells Cathedral for the first time. Obviously medieval cathedrals are a bit of a specialist subject of mine, but I still constantly underestimate their ability to surprise and amaze.

Wells is so extraordinarily beautiful, I think anyone who lazily uses the word 'medieval' as a synonym for 'backward' or 'barbarous' ought to be forcibly marched there and made to sit and just look at it until they recant.

Photos, with a wonderful carol by Geoffrey Dearmer.

The Builders

Sing all good people gathered,
Your voices raise in song
Within this church that fathered
Our ancient faith so strong,
So tried and wrought to fitness
In scorn of fire and sword;
Sing, as these stones bear witness,
Of men who praised the Lord.

Each rib from pillars springing
A frozen fountain plays
Above the chancel singing
In harmony of praise;
Like tall trees ever growing,
The differing columns stand
To bear the vault down-throwing
The shadow of God's hand.

At all times and unceasing,
Work well and truly done,
In loveliness increasing,
And mellowed here in one.
The towers and piers unshaken,
The vaultings finely groined,
Time in its span hath taken
And in one glory joined.

Of wealth and fame and power
These masons did not know:
'Let's build,' they said, 'a tower,
Square to the winds that blow;
We are not men of culture,
Yet we are here to build
Room for a king's sepulchre
And worthy of our guild.'

So came each beam and rafter,
Each wingèd flight of stone.
Their deathless work lives after,
Their names were never known:*
For beauty did they plead not,
Yet beauty they did win,
And, like a child you heed not,
The grace of Heaven crept in.

Here, for a workman's wages,
This glass so surely stained
Down the long aisle of ages
In glory hath remained.
As brother works with brother,
The glaziers worked to paint
The blue robe of the Mother,
The red robe of a saint.

Proud heads lie here, disowning
All but a drooping Head;
Whole hands worked here, atoning
For open hands that bled;
Full hearts and living voices
A broken Heart proclaim;
Life after death rejoices,
And after silence, fame.

* Although we do know these: William Wynford and Elias of Dereham.

1 comment:

Trychay said...

Some years ago - probably about seven years before you were born, if you are a current D. Phil student - I was wandering around Wells Cathedral during a rehearsal of Haydn's 'Creation' in which a friend was taking part. As I gazed upwards at the stonework, I became aware of the note D above middle C being played pianissimo by the violins, then of other instruments joining, to a climax of portentous chords of D major. It was the rising of the sun - Haydn's version of Milton's sun beginning his state - and I was transfixed. Your blog brings it acutely back to me.