Gloucester Cathedral What to see

There is so much to see if you are short of time you will need to prioritise.

Here are some short descriptions of some areas and a list of the main statutes tombs or plates.

Under half an hour visit

There are a number of statues, tombs and plaques celebrating lives of a range of characters. Have a look at the list below to see if there is something that might be of special interest so you can look out for it as you go. The ‘don’t miss’ ones would be Robert Duke of Normandy and Edward II.

Turn right from the main entrance along the South Aisle Look up at the plain roof of the Nave held up by 14 Norman pillars. There is a stained glass window of Henry III’s coronation on your right. Pass the organ, its casing is the oldest in the country. Step into the Quire and imagine the 10yr old Henry being crowned. Here is a good place to view the stained glass windows. Continue along the Aisle passing Duke Robert and  the Lady Chapel pop in to see the Ivor Gurney tribute if you have time. Carry on down the North Aisle pass Edward II and as you go down a couple of steps to your left is the Coronation cross used for our Queen’s coronation. To your right will be the entrance to the Cloisters. This walk is not to be missed, especially so for Harry Potter fans, and it will lead you back towards the Naïve a magnificent window and the exit.

Highlights of Gloucester Cathedral

The Nave

In 1089 King William I appointed Bishop Serlo, a Norman monk, to rebuild the 400yr old Abbey. Previous structures were wooden and thatch and had been raised by fires, rebuilt and even slightly re sited. This new Norman structure was very different, magnificent yet imposing authority upon the locals. The cathedrals that were built in the medieval period remained the largest single structures visible until the Victorian period. The great doors to the entrance (hung by Norman craftsmen and swing beautifully today), permitted entrance into the Nave where 14 Norman pillars of power displayed who was in control in C12th England.

The original roof was wooden and prone to fire as the previous structures were. Some pillars have a pinkish tinge, evidence of a fire. The stone roof (or vault), replaced wood in 1242. The simplicity of the Early English style roof lends to the serenity of the Nave.

The Quire

This is where ‘Perpendicular’ flowered; Gloucester Cathedral is the archetype of the style. The monks and masons chipped away at the Norman and rebuilt a church within a church a unique feat in English Cathedral history. You can really appreciate the size of the cathedral from here, only two other Cathedrals are taller – York and Westminster but neither are as grand as this. The Quire was the centre for the monks who would have got a lot of use from the ornate misericords which are worth looking at closely – there are many animals and scenes depicted in the carvings.

The Tower

The present tower was built in the 1450’s. It originally had a peal of eight bells. Two were added in 1956 from the tower of St Michael’s Church. In 1979 two bells were added having been recast from one larger broken bell from St John’s Church. The tower houses Great Peter is the only surviving ‘bourdon bell’ which remained silent from 1878 till 1927 due to fittings being dangerous. It took 10 men to start and six to swing this three ton bell, the largest medieval bell in existence. There is a chantry dedicated to Thomas Seabroke the Abbot who oversaw the majority of construction of the tower. Note the figure at the apex.

The Great East Window

Great East Window is the second largest medieval window in England. It is the size of a doubles tennis court and was the largest in Europe when it was created. It was installed around 1350 not as a celebration of the battle of Crecy as many guidebooks say but most likely as a celebration of the coronation of the Virgin Mary. It shows the crowning, canopied saints, angels, apostles and coats of arms. The best view is from the first floor.

The Cloisters

Fan vaulting was born here; the monks helped the masons shape the fan vaulting by hand. This first fan tracery was a model for fine buildings all over and is a draw for Harry Potter fans. This was the living area for the monks who had a garden or ‘Garth’ in the centre with a well. In the Cloisters us the Lavitorium; the washing area for the priests and opposite is a recess where they kept towels. Other recesses in a line are the Carrels; seats where monks would study – look out for the medieval graffiti where the attention span of some monks must have wandered. The Chapter House is where the monks met daily to talk about affairs of the monastery.

Tombs statues and monuments plaques

King Edward II’s body was brought into Gloucester with much pomp and ceremony. The circumstances of the King’s death resulted in his martyrdom, his tomb (like St Oswald’s tomb of the Saxon period) brought many pilgrims to Gloucester which in turn boosted the economy and gave the Cathedral money to spend on the Perpendicular refurb. Edward III commissioned the ornate tomb out of guilt from his part in his father’s demise and paid homage as pilgrims as did; Edward the Black Prince, Joan Queen of Scotland, and Richard III who also tried to get his grandfather canonised.

Robert of Normandy, William I’s son was buried here in 1134. His youngest brother, King Henry I, defeated him in battle, usurped the crown and imprisoned him in Cardiff Castle for nearly 30yrs where he died. This unusual wooden monument was built 150yrs later and has been pieced together after being broken up.

King Lucius thought to be the first Christian king of Britain is depicted in a stained glass window of the North aisle showing his coronation. An ancient effigy of him can be seen in St. Mary de Lode Church. It is thought that he was buried beneath one of these places.

King Osric, founder of the first religious house has a monument. Installed in 1530 it shows Osric holding a model of the church as does his statue at the entrance of the Cathedral.

Edward Jenner who discovered and pioneered vaccination has a statue near the West Window.

George Onesipherous Paul has a bust on a marble tomb. He was an eminent prison reformer integral in the remodelling of Gloucester Gaol as an example for others to follow.

Dorothea Beale founder and first headmistress of Cheltenham Ladies College and suffragist is buried here.

There are plaques to John Stafford Smith composer of the Star Spangled Banner, to Robert Raikes and Thomas Stock founders of Sunday schooling.