Wells, Somerset, England – Wells Cathedral
Wells is a small cathedral city and civil parish in the Mendip district of Somerset, England, nestling in the Mendip Hills.
The name Wells derives from the three wells dedicated to St. Andrew, one in the market place and two within the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace and cathedral. During the Middle Ages these Wells were thought to have curative powers.
Main article: Wells Cathedral
Wells Cathedral is the cathedral of the Church of England Diocese of Bath and Wells. Parts date back to the 10th century. It is known for its fine fan vaulted ceilings, Lady Chapel and windows, and the scissor arch of the west facade. Together with the Bishop’s Palace (still used by the Bishop of Bath and Wells) Wells has been an ecclesiastical City of importance for hundreds of years. The cathedral is a grade I listed building.
The cathedral is notable for:
the West front – said to be the finest collection of statuary in Europe, containing 356 individual figures carved from the cathedral’s warm, yellow Doulting stone.
the east end of the nave – an unusual scissored arch design of striking beauty, which saved the cathedral’s central tower from collapse. In 1338, the original construction was found to be weakening underneath the tower. About 1340, the Master Mason, William Joy, implemented his ingenious solution of the inverted arch to redistribute the weight on the foundations.
the Chapter House- at the top of a flight of stone stairs, leading out from the north transept. It is an octagonal building with a fan-vaulted ceiling. It is here that the business of running the cathedral is still conducted by the members of the Chapter, the cathedral’s ruling body.
the Medieval Clock – facing the Canon’s houses to the north, is a still-working medieval clock, originally to mark out the many services conducted during the day at the cathedral
Tourism and Architecture
The Cathedral rising behind the market place Wells is a popular tourist destination, due to its historical sites, its proximity to Bath and Stonehenge and its closeness to the Somerset coast. Also nearby is the Wookey Hole cave system and the Somerset Levels. Wells is part of the West Country Carnival circuit. Somerset cheese is made locally.
A walled precinct encloses the twelfth century Wells Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace, Vicar’s Close and the residences of the clergy who serve the cathedral:
the Bishops Palace – the medieval Palace has been the home of the Bishops of the Diocese of Bath and Wells for 800 years. The hall and chapel are particularly noteworthy, dating from the 14th century. There are 14 acres of gardens including the springs from which the city takes its name. Visitors can also see the Bishop’s private Chapel, ruined Great Hall and the Gatehouse with portcullis and drawbridge beside which the famous mute swans ring a bell for food
Vicars Close – the oldest existing street in the world, which still has the original cobble stoned surface
the Church of St. Cuthbert – often mistaken for the cathedral, the church has a fine Somerset stone tower and a superb carved roof. Originally an Early English building, it was much altered in the Perpendicular period.
Elizabeth Goudge used Wells as a basis for the fictional Cathedral city of Torminster, in her book City of Bells