The Cathedral from Cumberland Basin

The Cathedral from Cumberland Basin Source: The Graphic of 14 September 1878, p. 76. Click on image to enlarge it.

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Commentary from The Graphic

The Cathedral, even with the newly-added nave, hardly ranks with first-class structures of its kind, but the critic must be diffi- cult to please who does not find its architectural features worthy of careful study. The blackened and heavy buttressed, long and somewhat low exterior rather contrasts than compares with such majestic fabrics as Salisbury or Lincoln, but it should be remembered that Filzharding, its founder, raised the massive Norman walls of the earlier structure for the services of a monastic church, and that the like purpose was kept in view when the chancel was rebuilt in the fourteenth century.

Though Fitzharding’s Norman church was destroyed three centuries ago to give place to a more advanced style of building, there are yet some noble remains of the early monastery. The hold archways of the Great Gatehouse, with their labyrinthine ornamentation, and the rectangular Chapter Room, with its arcaded walls and groined roof, curiously enriched with sculptured mouldings, are the chief of these features, but a diligent inquirer may distinguish many minor relics in the same style. The existing Decorated choir and chancel was built between the years 1306 and 1332 by Abbot Knowle, whose mitred figure lies within a rich canopied tomb in the holiest place of the sanctuary, where “warm gules” fall upon him from the great Eastern window above. The enamelled lights on the east of the north choir aisle are traditionally said to have been presented to the Cathedral by Nell Gwvnne. The tradition is at least as old as Horace Walpole, who, in mentioning his visit to the Cathedral in 1776, without hesitation declares them to be her gift.

The “Elder Lady Chapel” is so called to distinguish it from another and later chapel to the Virgin Mary at the south-east end of the church, to which the Lady Altar was removed after the rebuilding of the choir. The chapel is a characteristic specimen of pure Early English, and dates about the beginning of the thirteenth century, but the east window and wall, together with the groined roof, are Early Decorated, and belong to the end of the same century. The Berkeley Chapel attached to the east end of the south aisle was founded in 1348 by Thomas Berkeley for the soul of his wife. One of the ogee arches in the vestibule to this chapel has a chimney, which was used in pre-Rcformation days for baking the Sacramental wafer. Two of the windows are embellished with ball-flowers. The chapel of the Newtons at the west end of the same aisle belongs to about the same period.

By the obviously symbolical combination of the tracery of the great cast window, as well as by the triple compartments of the reredos beneath, we are reminded of the dedication of the Church to the Holy Trinity. The rich stained glass, “like an inestimable treasury of precious stone, and with all its brilliancy as soft as rose leaves," is among the best in England. It dates, according to Mr. Winston, from about the year 1320, but much modern glass has been inserted, which can be easily discerned by the comparative coarseness of tone. The window represents a stem of Jesse. The combinations of arches in the vaulting of the aisles are singularly striking, and the scientific architect can explain that the constructive utility of the arrangement is os useful as the effect is beautiful.

Besides many ornate Gothic tombs of abbots, bishops, and mailed barons, are other memorials that should be considered by the visitor. The tablet to the wife of the poet Mason, with its oft-quoted poetical inscription, “Take, holy earth, all that my soul holds dear,” is among these; also the carved mural monument to Sterne’s Eliza, who is here buried. Two pieces of sculpture by Chantrey, and an inscription by Southey to the author of the “Analogy,” are not likely to be overlooked. Lady Hesketh, the friend of Cowper, lies in the southern transept at the entrance to the aisle, but there is no indication of the spot.

The western towers of the new nave are yet to be erected, so that the full effect of the exterior has yet to be realised. So grand an ecclesiastical work as the entire construction of a cathedral nave has not been effected since Wren built St. Paul's. The present work is a reproduction of the choir. Whether so exact an imitation is a carrying out of the mediaeval builder’s design may be doubled, but on the whole it was the safest procedure for the modern architect, and the result is an edifice that may now claim to rank architecturally among the Cathedrals of the land — a distinction which it had, previously to the addition of the nave, a difficulty to maintain.


“Bristol Illustrated.” The Graphic (20 July 1878): 60-77. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of Illinois Library. Web. 16 August 2018.

Last modified 15 August 2018