"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Friday, 24 October 2014

Brief Visit to a Gothic Cathedral

We were passing through Lichfield mid afternoon last Sunday when D suggested we should stop off and have a look round the Cathedral and the Close. I was happy to oblige - its long been on my list of places to visit especially since my interest in church architecture and history was renewed a few years ago.

Lichfield Cathedral is unique in being the only Medieval English Cathedral with three spires. Over 100 life-size statues adorn the West Front alone and include Chad, Saxon Kings, Biblical Prophets and Christ and the Apostles.

Apart from slight repairs in the Nineteenth Century, the Great West Doors are the original Fourteenth Century Doors.

As we'd stopped off on speck I hadn't had chance to check opening hours etc., and when we arrived a service had just started and, although you can sit quietly inside you obviously can't wander round at will, so we decided to have a toasted tea cake and cup of tea in the Cathedral tea-room and then walked round the Close looking at the exterior of the Cathedral.

Early 18th Century Deanery now used by the Cathedral School.

There has been a place of worship on the site for 1300 years. The first Cathedral was Saxon and consecrated in 700 AD - it was built to house the remains of Chad. Chad was trained by St Aidan on Holy Island, Lindisfarne and later became the first Bishop of Lichfield in AD 669. The second Cathedral was Norman and building began in 1030. The third Gothic Cathedral was started in 1190 and completed in 1340. The Cathedral was badly damaged during the Civil War - restoration took place between 1660 and 1669. A Victorian Restoration occurred between 1856 and 1908.

Finally, about twenty past four we were able to look round the inside. Needless to say it was a very brief visit - I can look round a church in half an hour but really would need at least 2 hours to explore a Cathedral. Additionally, it was only when we were leaving that I found someone I could ask about the use of flash photography! So the shots I could take were limited and I am afraid yet again there is a lot of stained glass (with skewiff horizons) and some blurred pictures!.

Looking along the Nave towards the Lady Chapel

Tree of Jesse window which shows the genealogy of Jesus - glass by Clayton and Bell 1893.

Victorian Font in the North Transept

Bishop Ryder - marble statue by Sir Francis Chantrey. Bishop Ryder (1777 - 1836) was a great nineteenth century bishop who was well known for his vigour in evangelistic work of all kinds. In his first 8 years as Bishop 22 new churches had been opened with another 10 planned.

I was really disappointed that the Chapter House was closed - this is where 3 of the treasures I was most hoping to see are located So we missed the St Chad Gospels which have been dated at 730 AD (one of the oldest books in Britain) and containing the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and the first few verses of Luke. The Lichfield Angel which was found in the Nave during excavations dates back to the 8th century and was probably part of the Shrine to St Chad who (with the Blessed Virgin Mary) is Patron Saint of the Cathedral. It is believed to show the Archangel Gabriel. Also in the Chapter House are a medieval wall painting - one of only 3 left after the Reformation and Civil Wars. There is also a selection of artefacts from the Anglo Saxon Staffordshire Hoard. Another one of the disadvantages of just stopping off without checking what is open and when!!!

This the Lady Chapel currently undergoing restoration and repair as it was in imminent danger of collapse. The famous Herkenwode Glass acquired by the Cathedral in 1803 from a disbanded convert in the Low Countries has been removed for restoration too. I believe it will be replaced next year.

I was really pleased to find a small Green Man high up on one of the Stained Glass Windows - sorry truly dreadful photos as I had to crop it very very heavily to get the images.

Medieval Wall Painting

The Hacket Window by Kempe. The window was commissioned to celebrate the completion of the Victorian restoration but it was decided to commemorate the earlier restoration following the Civil War.

Another Kempe Stained Glass Window - this one shows the Spread of the Christian Church (1895).

In retrospect with the small amount of time we had to spend in the Cathedral perhaps we should have spent time looking round Erasmus Darwin's House instead. He was the Great Grandfather of naturalist Charles Darwin and Erasmus himself was a poet and physician and studied physics, chemistry, geology, biology and meteorology.

Now I've discovered Lichfield is not much further than 30/40 minutes from home I will definitely be returning to visit Darwin's house and have a more thorough look round the beautiful Cathedral.

I've had to finish off the post in a bit of a rush so apologies for any typing errors!!


Bovey Belle said...

That's just down the road then. I look forward to your return visit and getting into the Chapter House to see all the goodies in there.

It certainly sounds like Erasmus Darwin's thirst for knowledge went down the family tree!

David Turner said...

An interesting account of your visit to this fascinating looking cathedral. It was a shame that parts of the building were closed but at least that gives you an excuse to return in the not too distant future :-)

PS. On a kind of related matter I don't think I thanked you properly as regards highlighting a fascinating book about wildlife imagery in Yorkshire churches. It has indeed been a fascinating book and has allowed me to look afresh at a number of local churches so may I now take this opportunity to thank you very much :-)

Ragged Robin said...

Bovey Belle - Thanks so much. Yes, its much closer than I thought! Can't believe I've never visited!

According to the Erasmus Darwin House website, Erasmus formulated a theory on biological evolution by natural selection - later proved by Charles!! What a fascinating family :)

David Turner - Thanks so much - yes I will return.

That is great news re: the book on wildlife imagery. Am really pleased it has proved to be so useful. I have it on my Amazon Wish List because I gather information in there may be relevant to other churches.

So sorry I haven't yet tried to leave a comment on your blog - its been a bit hectic the last few days - but I haven't forgotten.

Ian said...

Another wonderful tour of a cathedral that we wern't able to fit into our schedule. I am in awe of the number of photos and detailed commentary that you put into your blogs :-)

SeagullSuzie said...

I love Lichfield but haven't been since I was a teenager. Your tour has been lovely to go through, it really is a stunning building.

Ragged Robin said...

Ian - Thanks so much :) Far too many photos really but I am so glad you enjoyed :)

SeagullSuzie - Thanks so much - I couldn't believe how many statues there were inside and outside the building!

Countryside Tales said...

Glorious building! And all the stories about the glass etc were fascinating. Cathedrals are such interesting places. Frustrating to miss the Chapter House treasures but a perfect excuse to go back. Have a lovely weekend x

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales Thanks so much. Its good to have an excuse to return :) Have a great weekend too.