Worcester Cathedral

In simplicity, we may say plainness of decoration, the exterior of Worcester Cathedrae presents a striking contrast to that of Exeter, which we shall presently notice. The outlines of the form are light and beautiful, and the large size gives them grandeur; but, those objects achieved, the architects, unlike the architects of our cathedrals generally, seem to have rested content, and to have shunned altogether that elaborate richness of decoration which so generally characterizes these works, and which show so happily the unwearied desires of all concerned to be constantly doing something to render art more worthy of its sublime objects. They were surely the least conceited of men, those old ecclesiastical builders; it is a fine lesson they have bequeathed to the world, and usable in a thousand ways. The noblest temples ever raised by human hands were raised by them; works that, to all eyes but their own, not only in their own time, but to all time, present and future, appeared, and must appear, essentially perfect, demanding but one thought and sentiment,—yet compounded of a host of thoughts and sentiments—admiration, to them, on the contrary, appeared to be but so many centres of study and improvement. Art was long, and life was short, they saw; and they were content, therefore, to labour, each in his allotted space, in the raising of great works for others, and thought nothing of making great names for themselves. It is curious to see at how early a period a kind of antagonist feeling, a desire to check rather than to participate in such enthusiasm, exhibited itself at Worcester. We may premise that the see of Worcester was founded so early as the seventh century, by Ethelred, King of Mercia, and probably a church then existed in the city, on the site of the present building. In 969 the endowments of the Cathedral were removed to the church of St. Mary’s convent, which then assumed the rank previously attached to St. Peter’s, but the latter building, or rather its site, obtained, a few years later, the restoration of its privileges; St. Oswald having, however, first built a new church in the burial-ground. This was burnt by the followers of Hardicanute in 1041, and replaced by an entirely new edifice, erected by Bishop Wulstan. As the workmen were pulling down the remains of the spoiled church, the prelate was noticed weeping. One of his attendants told him he ought rather to rejoice, since he was preparing an edifice of greater splendour, and more suitable to the enlarged number of his monks. He replied, “I think far otherwise; we poor wretches destroy the works of our forefathers, only to get praises to ourselves; that happy age of holy men knew not how to build stately churches, but under any roof they offered up themselves living temples unto God, and by their example incited those under their care to do the same; but we, on the contrary, neglecting the cure of souls, labour to heap up stones.” One might fancy that the feeling thus evidenced remained in force at Worcester through all succeeding alterations and reparations, and more particularly those consequent on the extensive damage done in the fires of 1113 and 1202, when both city and cathedral were burnt; and that the plain exterior that we behold to this day at Worcester is in itself but an evidence of it. The works carried on after the fire of 1202 were so important, that the structure was newly consecrated; and it is that building which forms our cathedral. The plan of Worcester is on a very grand scale. It represents a double cross, the extreme length of which is five hundred and fourteen feet, with a noble tower, rising from the intersection of the nave, choir, and western transept, to the height of two hundred feet. This tower is the most embellished of all the exterior portions. The interior is remarkably light and airy. It is rich in both ancient and modern monuments; among the latter, there being several by our modern sculptors, as Roubiliac and the younger Bacon; and among the former, those of Sir John Beauchamp of Holt, beheaded on Tower Hill in the reign of Henry V., and of his lady, both striking examples of early costume; also of Lady Harcourt (Fig. 638), Judge Littleton, Prince Arthur (the son of Henry VII.), and King John. The Prince lies buried in a beautiful chapel of highly ornamented open work, the decorations of which are representative of the union of the white and red roses of York and Lancaster. The tomb of John (Fig. 633), the great object of interest and inquiry with all visitors, stands in the middle of the choir. Before the year 1797 it had been supposed that the remains of the King had been interred in the Lady Chapel, but as an opportunity then offered, during some alterations, of determining the point, an investigation took place of no ordinary interest. The effigy on the top (Fig. 637) was first removed, with the stone slab on which it rested; the interior was thus laid open, where two brick partition walls were discovered, raised no doubt for the more effectual support of the superincumbent mass. After clearing away a quantity of rubbish, and removing one end and a panel at each side, a stone coffin was found between the brick walls; and when that was opened, the remains of the monarch were visible, much decayed, and with some of the smaller bones no longer seen, but the whole presenting an almost exact counterpart of the effigy on the exterior of the tomb. The only differences were the gloves on the hands, and the covering on the head, which consisted of a crown on the effigy, and of the celebrated monk’s cowl on the body, placed there before burial, as a passport through the regions of purgatory. A feeling of the same kind actuated the fierce and bold, but superstitious king, when he desired that his resting-place in his favourite church should be between the bodies of St. Oswald and St. Wulstan, whose effigies, in small, also grace his tomb; the evil spirits, he fancied, would not venture into such company, even to seize him. The hood appeared to have fitted the head exactly, and to have been tied or buckled under the chin by straps, part of which remained. The body had been wrapped in an embroidered robe, reaching from the neck to the feet, made, it was supposed, of crimson damask, but the cuff, greatly decayed, alone remained. Fragments of the sword and of the scabbard were also found. On the legs there had been some kind of ornamental covering tied round the ankles, and extending over the feet, where the toes were visible through its decayed parts. The exposure of these relics of kingly mortality caused their speedy destruction, the whole mouldering to dust. On ascending the steps of the altar, visitors are shown another object of curiosity—the stone covering the body of William, Duke of Hamilton, who fell in the memorable battle of Worcester, in 1651. In the tower is a fine peal of eight bells, each bearing a different inscription. On the last we read:—

I, sweetly tolling, men do call

To taste a meat that feeds the soul.