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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Handbook to the Cathedrals of England

by Richard John King

published by John Murray, Albemarle Street,
Oxford, 1862

Text and engravings are in the public domain.


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Norwich Cathedral

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 p109  Part I. History and Details.

I. The changes of the East Anglian see, and its history before its removal to Norwich in 1094, will be found noticed at length in Part II. The first stone of the existing cathedral was laid (possibly on the site of an earlier Saxon church) by Bishop Herbert (called de Losinga, 1091‑1119), in 1096; and the building itself, together with the adjoining priory, was so far completed in 1101 that sixty Benedictine monks were then placed in the latter. Bishop Herbert's work is said to have comprised the choir and its aisles, the tower, and the transepts. Bishop Everard (1121, deposed 1145) added the nave. In the year 1171 the church was much injured by fire, but was restored and completed by John of Oxford (1175‑1200). The Lady-chapel, which was destroyed by Dean Gardiner, in the reign of Elizabeth, was added at the eastern end by Bishop Walter de Suffield (1245‑1257). In 1272, the last year of the reign of Henry III, the church again suffered greatly from fire, during a fierce struggle between the monks and the citizens of Norwich. It was restored, and was  p110 solemnly consecrated in honour of the Holy Trinity on Advent Sunday, 1278;​1 on which day also Bishop William Middleton was enthroned. The Bishops of London, Hereford, and Waterford, and the Archbishop of Seez assisted at the consecration; and the king, Edward I, his queen, and court were present. The present spire was added by Bishop Percy (1356‑1369). In 1463 it was struck by lightning, and was repaired by Bishop Lehart. The beautiful Beauchamp chapel was added during the Decorated period, but its exact date is unknown. The west front was altered by Bishop Alnwick (1426, translated 1436), partly during his life, and partly by his executors after his death in 1449. The vaulting of the nave was the work of Bishop Walter Lehart (1446‑1472); the clerestory and stone roof of the choir of Bishop Goldwell (1472‑1499). Bishop Nykke, or Nix (1501‑1536) added the vaulting of the transepts, and probably altered the lower arches of the choir. The cloister, commenced by Bishop Walpole in 1297, was completed by Bishop Alnwick in 1430.

[image ALT: The architectural plan of a large medieval church, with a 14‑bay three-aisled nave, a 3‑bay transept, and a 5‑bay choir, with lateral chapels and a large apsidal chapel in the axis; also, a large square cloister attached. It is a plan of the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]
A Nave.
B Central Tower.
C C Transepts.
D Chapel of St. Osyth?
E Choir.
F Apse.
G Eastern Aisle, or Retro-Choir.
H Jesus Chapel.
I St. Luke's Chapel.
K Site of Lady-chapel, destroyed.
L Beauchamp Chapel.
M Cloisters.
N Site of Chapter-house, destroyed.
1 1 Bp. Nix's Chantry.
2 Tomb of Chancellor Spencer.
Tomb of Bp. Parkhurst.
4 Tomb of Sir John Hobart.
5 South-west door to Cloister.
6 South-east, or Prior's door.
7 7 Ante-choir — Chapel of Our Lady of Pity.
8 Stalls.
9 Door into Close.
10 Entrance to Vestry.
11 Queen Elizabeth's seat, with Chantrey's figure of Bp. Bathurst.
12 Tomb of Sir Wm. Boleyn.
13 Monument of Bp. Overall.
14 Tomb of Bp. Goldwell.
15 Site of Tomb of Sir Thos. Erpingham, destroyed.
16 Entrance to St. Stephen's Chapel, destroyed.
17 Vault crossing aisle.
18 Monument of Sir Thos. Windham.
19 remains of Bishop's Throne.
20 Entrance to Lady-chapel, destroyed.
21 Font.
22 Monument of Bp. Wakering.
As printed: "Scale, 100 ft. to 1 in." — In this Web edition: 106 pixels = 100 feet; as in the scale bar above.

[image ALT: An engraving of the apse and the right transept of a Norman-style cathedral, with a tall spire on a square tower over the crossing. It is a view from the SE of the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]

II. The Norman work of this cathedral, and the magnificent series of lierne vaults above its nave, choir, and transepts, are its most important features. No English cathedral (with the exception, perhaps, of Peterborough) has preserved its original Norman plan so nearly undisturbed. "Although retaining the chevet termination of the continental cathedrals, the general  p111 plan of this church differs most essentially from them. Its great length as compared with its breadth is such as is never found on the Continent; and the bold projection of the transepts is also a purely English feature, though in this instance hardly carried to the extent which the length of the nave required. A central and two western spires or towers were absolutely indispensable to complete such a design as this, which could never be made to look short by such an addition, while they would have the full value of their height from the lowness and extreme length of the church."2

III. Leaving for the present the gateways leading into the Close (see § XXI), we commence our examination of the cathedral with the west front, which, originally Norman, was greatly altered by Bishop Alnwick (1426, translated 1436). The central door was completed during the lifetime of the Bishop, and displays in its spandrels his own arms and those of the see, with the inscription, "Orate pro anima Domini Willelmi Alnwyk." On either side are canopied niches, from which the figures have disappeared. The window above was added by the Bishop's executors after his death in 1449, in accordance with the directions of his will. It is of great, perhaps disproportionate, size, although the tracery with which it is filled is good, and resembles as nearly as possible that of the west window  p112 of Westminster Hall. Norman turrets rise on either side; and the fronts of the aisles are Norman, with Perpendicular additions in the parapets and windows. The pinnacles which crown the flanking turrets are entirely modern.

[image ALT: An engraving of eight bays of the nave of a Norman-style cathedral, with lierne-and‑tierceron vaulting. It depicts the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]

IV. The nave [Plate I], which we now enter, is throughout Norman, with the exception of its vaulted roof, and of the chapel constructed by Bishop Nix in the south aisle. Its lower part is assigned, and with probability, to Bishop Everard (1121‑1145), who no doubt followed the original plan of his predecessor, Bishop Herbert.

The nave, which extends 250 feet from the western door, and comprises fourteen bays to the intersection of the transepts, is the longest in England, with the exception of that of St. Alban's, which extends to 300 feet. Three bays of this length, however, are included in the choir. The great open arches of the triforium, which at once attract attention, thus form a more peculiar feature in the general view of the nave than its unusual length. The arrangement occurs in early Norman work on the Continent, but is found in no other English cathedral. There are, however, examples in some important churches, as at Waltham Abbey, and St. Bartholomew's, Smithfield.

The nave piers are unusually massive, and alternate regularly in design as far as the tenth pier from the west end. On the east and west faces of the first pier are circular half-piers, with cushioned capitals. On the inner face of the second are three semi-attached shafts,  p113 with plain caps. A single shaft is set in the angle of each pier, and a billet-moulding encircles the arch. Vaulting-shafts, alternately double and single, ascend to the spring of the triforium arches, and to the level of the clerestory, alternately. The bases of these shafts were apparently altered at the time of the erection of the roof by Bishop Lehart in the fifteenth century.

The triforium, of which the arches are scarcely less in size than those of the nave below them, extends over the whole space of the aisles, and is lighted at present by Perpendicular windows inserted at the back by Bishop Alnwick, who raised the exterior wall for this purpose. Throughout, the triforium arches have triple shafts on their inner sides, and a zigzag moulding above them. They reach to the level of the clerestory, which is set back within a wall-passage, forming a series of triple arches, as at Oxford. The central arch, at the back of which is the window, is raised on slender shafts, resting on the capitals of those below. A billet-moulding surrounds this arch. The clerestory lights are Perpendicular, like those of the triforium. The capitals and bases of piers and shafts are throughout plain, and there is no undercutting, either in the zigzag or billet-mouldings.

The alteration of the western doorway is at once evident from within, the original Norman arch remaining above Bishop Alnwick's Perpendicular insertion. A lofty Norman arcade of two arches remains on either side of the doorway. The two northern arches are some inches higher than those south; and following  p114 the indication thus afforded, it will be seen that all the arches of the nave on the north side are slightly higher than those opposite — a fact for which it is difficult to account, but from which we may perhaps conclude that one side of the nave was completed before the other.

V. The beautiful lierne-vault of the nave was the work of Bishop Walter Lehart (1446‑1472), the original Norman roof, which was of wood, having been much injured when the spire of the cathedral was struck by lightning in 1463. The shafts which carry the roof, and which rest on the capitals of the Norman vaulting-shafts already noticed, are of the same date as the roof itself. Bishop Lehart's device — a hart lying in the water (Wa'ter Lie-hart) — alternates with an angel bearing a shield, on the corbels at the bases of the longer shafts.

[image ALT: An engraving of an antlered hart lying down on a sort of stream. It is a punning corbel of Bishop Walter Lehart in the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]

The bosses of the roof are carved with minute figures, said to be 328 in number, which form a complete sacred history, beginning at the tower end with the Creation, and ending with the Last Judgment. All were originally painted and gilt, and a proper restoration of colour would render them far more decipherable than they are at present, even with the aid of glasses. In the centre of this roof, between the west door and the choir screen, is a circular opening  p115 of some size. Similar openings exist in the roof of Exeter Cathedral, and in other vaults of the Decorated and Perpendicular periods; and it has been conjectured that they served for censing the church on great festivals, and for other occasional ceremonies.3

The great west window is best seen from the upper part of the nave. It is filled with stained glass by Hedgeland, as a memorial of Bishop Stanley, died 1849. The design is of more pictorial character than usual, but the result is very far from pleasing. The subjects are — the adoration of the Magi, the finding of Moses, and the Ascension, after Raffaelle; the brazen serpent, after Le Brun; and Christ blessing little children, after West. In the centre of the nave, over the tomb of Bishop Stanley, is a black marble slab, the inscription on which should be read.

VI. The nave-aisles are covered by a plain quadripartite  p116 vault, springing from shafts set against the piers of the nave, and from half-piers with semi-attached shafts against the opposite wall. Each bay is divided by a plain arch, slightly horse-shoed. Perpendicular windows have been inserted, probably by Bishop Alnwick; and a blank arcade, of five arches in each bay, fills the wall below them. In both aisles some of the original Norman window-splays, with shafts at the angles, remain.

In the north aisle a door in the eighth bay, now blocked up, opened to the green-yard of the priory, in which was a cross, where sermons were occasionally preached. In the tenth bay is a memorial window for William Smith, died 1849, for forty years Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. Opposite, between the nave and aisle, is an altar-tomb, from which the brasses have been removed. It is that of Sir John Hobart, Attorney-General to Henry VII. This monument was enclosed in a chantry, which was destroyed during the Civil War. (See Part II., Bishop Hall.)

In the south aisle the seventh and eighth bays were converted into a chantry by Bishop Nix (1501‑1536). The sides of the piers and the vaulting are much enriched with panels and tracery of late Perpendicular character. The Bishop's arms occur in the spandrels; and at the east end of the eighth bay are three canopied niches. The iron-work on which the 'sacring-bell' hung, remains; but the railing which surrounded the chapel, together with a stone pulpit which projected into the nave, were destroyed by the Puritans during  p117 their occupation of the cathedral. In the sixth bay is the tomb of Chancellor Spencer, on which the rents of the dean and chapter were formerly paid; and in the ninth is the plain altar-tomb of Bishop Parkhurst (1560‑1575), from which the brasses have been removed. Against the wall is the monument of Dean Gardiner (1573‑1589), who pulled down the Lady-chapel; and against the pier at the foot of Chancellor Spencer's tomb, a mural monument for a Fairfax, one of the Fellows of Magdalen who resisted James II.

One of the windows in Bishop Nix's chapel has been filled with stained glass as a memorial for members of the family of Hales, of Norwich. In the last bay of this aisle toward the east, and in the fifth bay from the west, are doors opening to the cloisters. (See § XVIII.)

VII. The lower pier of the tenth bay of the nave on either side differs from all the rest, and is circular, with a spiral ribbed ornament, like that of the Norman piers at Durham. These piers probably mark the original extent of the choir, which, as in many other Norman cathedrals, seems to have stretched beyond the central tower, and to have comprised three bays of the nave. Beyond this point eastward, the vaulting-shafts are cut short about half way below the crown of the arches, and terminate there in heads, serving as corbels.

The organ-screen at present crosses the nave at the east end of the eleventh bay. The lower part, which is ancient, has been restored, and was no doubt the work of Bishop Lehart, whose device appears in the spandrels. The upper part, which was completed in  p118 1833, is heavy and ugly, and its effect is by no means improved by the decoration of the organ which stands above it. Extending westward, between the piers on either side of the screen door, were small chapels with altars; that north dedicated to St. William, a boy said to have been crucified by the Jews in 1137 (see Part II, Bishop Everard, and compare the notice of "Little St. Hugh," Lincoln Cathedral), that south to St. Mary. Both were destroyed during the Rebellion.

The ante-choir, which fills the space under the organ-loft between two piers, was the chapel of our Lady of Pity. Its upper portion is cut off by the floor of the organ-loft. The walls north and south are covered with a Perpendicular panelling, which is said to have formed part of a screen separating Jesus Chapel from the north-east aisle of the choir.

[image ALT: An engraving of some wooden church stalls in the Gothic style. It depicts the choir stalls of the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]

VIII. The choir itself extends beyond the screen to the extreme eastern apse, the graceful curve of which, seen beyond the Norman arcades of the central tower, is very picturesque and striking. Bishop Lehart's roof extends to the western piers of the tower. The lower arches of the choir have plain mouldings, instead of the billet seen in the nave. In other respects the two bays west of the tower differ not at all from those of the nave. The stalls [Plate II] are arranged on either side of the choir as far as the transept. They are sixty-two in number, for the prior, sub-prior, and sixty monks. Their carving and details, which are Perpendicular, and probably of the middle of the fifteenth century, are excellent, and deserve the closest examination. Remark  p119 especially the birds serving as crockets, and the curious circular heads at the foliation-cusps of the arches. Until very recently these stalls were encrusted with paint, which has been removed, and the broken portions carefully restored.

The misereres below [Plate III] are still more interesting than the stalls, and are of two periods: the earlier, dating probably from the commencement of the fifteenth century, are distinguished by a ledge or seat with sharp angles; the later, which date from the end of the same century, have a ledge rounded at the sides, and sinking inward at the centre. They have been carefully examined and described by Mr. Harrod.​4 All will repay careful notice; but the most interesting are as follow: —

South side of choir, beginning west.


A lion and dragon biting each other. The grouping very spirited.


A rose-tree.


A man seated, reading. Right, a shepherd, with his flock about him. Left, a group of scholars; two with books, two fighting: the master taking cakes from a basket.


A man and a woman, in civil costume; the lady with a rosary, the man with a long girdle.


A crowned head.


Two male figures, preparing to wrestle.

[image ALT: An engraving of a wooden misericord (the under side of the seat of a church stall), showing two men wrestling. It is in the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]
No. 16


A large human head, supported by foliage.

Corporation-pew, south of choir.


A schoolmaster scourging a child: his scholars about him.


A fox running away with a goose, pursued by a woman with a distaff; meanwhile, a pig feeds from a pot, and other pots and pans are thrown about in the melée.

[image ALT: An engraving of a wooden misericord (the under side of the seat of a church stall), showing a woman with a distaff chasing a pig that has a goose in his mouth. It is in the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]
No. 30

North side of choir, beginning west.


A knight in armour.


A huntsman, with stag and dogs.


A knight and lady. The arms on either side are Wingfield (right) and Boville (left). Sir Thomas Wingfield married the heiress of Boville in the latter part of the reign of Edward III.


A man in armour, sitting on a lion, and tearing open its jaws.


A man riding on a boar.


A large owl, with small bird about it.


A man drinking, upset by a boar.

Corporation-pew, north of choir.


A man riding on a stag.

[image ALT: An engraving of a wooden misericord (the under side of the seat of a church stall), showing a richly dressed man riding on a stag. It is in the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]
No. 23


A castle.


A monkey driving another in a wheelbarrow.

IX. The central tower, the first story of which is early Norman, and probably part of Bishop Herbert's work, is open to the roof, as a lantern. The upper stories are also Norman, but of later date. The tower is raised on four very lofty circular arches, having semi-attached shafts in front, and in the rebates. Above, on all four sides, are three arcades, all circular-headed, the upper and lower pierced with passages leading to the roof. The lower arcade is of six arches on each side. That in the centre is narrower than either of the others, and merely relieves the  p121 wall, "except in the extremity of each face, where it is pierced by a large circular aperture, which however does not go quite through the wall." The upper arcade of three arches is the loftiest, and is pierced for windows. Two large shafts support each a group of smaller ones, from which the arch springs within which the window is set, all the shafts being "admirably proportioned to the great height at which they are placed." The windows are filled with stained glass, which produces a singularly good effect. Above this arcade the lantern is closed by a flat wooden ceiling of the worst possible design, which it is hoped may be speedily removed.

The transepts (§ XII) which open south and north from the tower, were formerly separated from the choir, but have been thrown into it during the recent alterations, so as to admit of their use during divine service.

[image ALT: An engraving of part of the interior of a Norman-style cathedral. It is a view of the choir of the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]

X. The portion of the choir [Plate IV] which extends eastward of the tower has been greatly altered, although the original Norman ground-plan remains unchanged. The roof and clerestory had probably been injured in 1463, when the spire was struck by lightning. About ten years afterwards the present lofty clerestory and stone vault were erected by Bishop Goldwell (1472‑1499).

Early in the following century the arches on either side, as far as the apse, were changed from Norman to Perpendicular.

The original arrangement of the choir seems to have differed in no respect from that of the nave. The  p122 Norman arches of the triforium, which are without the zigzag ornament of those in the nave, remain untouched; but the shafts running up in front of the piers have been cut away, except at the junction of the choir with the apse, where the shafts themselves have been Perpendicularized, but their Norman capitals retained.

Bishop Goldwell's clerestory is very light and graceful. Groups of slender shafts, rising in a line with the triforium arches, form an arcade in front of the lofty windows [Plate V], and assist in carrying the lierne roof, which is, however, not so rich as that of Bishops Lehart or Nix. "The bosses, which are so elaborate and varied there, are here very poor, the bishop's rebus forming the subject of the majority of them." — (Harrod.) "In the centre of the roof . . . is a small round hole, from which, I believe, hung the light of the Sacrament, the usual place of which was before the altar, and not above it. From hence, at Easter, might the light have been let down to fire the great sepulchre light. The hole is not a forced one; it was made when the roof was built." — (Id.)

[image ALT: An engraving of two Gothic windows with stone tracery. They belong to the presbytery of Norwich cathedral (Norfolk, England).]

The apse, which, like the eastern part of the choir, was originally early Norman, and the work of Bishop Herbert, is semicircular as far as the top of the triforium. The clerestory, added by Bishop Goldwell, is pentagonal; and the manner in which the change is effected deserves notice. The lower story of the apse consists of five arches, now entirely closed at the back. They have the zigzag ornament, and the shafts of their  p123 piers are much enriched. They were originally open half-way up, and contained stone benches for the clergy. The bishop's throne stood beneath the central arch: (see the original arrangement in the aisle without, § XVI.) This was the most ancient position for the episcopal chair — at the back of the high altar; a position which it still occupies in many continental churches, as it formerly did at Canterbury. The triforium arches of the apse are slightly below the level of those in the choir. They are five in number; and their groups of shafts, with the space seen at the back of the arches, lighted by windows filled with stained glass, produce a very fine effect. The capitals here are slightly more enriched than in the choir. Two grotesque heads serve as brackets on either side of the first pier. The clerestory of the apse has no arcade, or wall-passage. The glass with which its windows are filled, as well as that in the triforium windows below, is entirely modern, by Warrington, and tolerably good.

The view looking westward from the apse should be noticed. The unusual height of the choir (83 feet) as contrasted with that of the nave (69 feet), and open arcades of the central tower, are the features which most attract attention.

XI. The four lower arches on either side of the choir, between the apse and the central tower, have been closed from behind, and converted into recesses covered with florid tracery on the vaulting and back. The fronts of the piers between the arches are also covered with tracery and tabernacle-work. Above  p124 the arches are square panels with shields of arms, in all of which the bull's head of Boleyn is conspicuous; and the whole is crowned by a pierced parapet which rises above the base of the triforium. The small turrets in the tabernacle-work perhaps refer to the castle, which forms the arms of Norwich. The shields, which are those of Boleyn and quarterings, constitute a "memorial of Sir William Boleyn of Blickling, who died 1505, and whose monument was in the first arch on the south side; and we may therefore conclude that his screen-work was erected by the Boleyn family after his death."5

"The Norman workmen had built this end of the choir slightly out of the straight line, so that a line drawn through the centre of the nave would strike the east end of the presbytery some inches south of the actual central point of it. The Perpendicular walls have been built so as in some measure to correct this deviation; and the consequence has been, that the central shaft of the two eastern arches on the south side, would, if it had been left in its place, have overhung the parapet; but it has been completely removed, and the wall made flat up to the spring of the arches. All the shafts in the same position on the north side are pared down in a similar way."6

In the recesses on the north side of the altar, are —

1. (beginning from the west) mural tablets for  p125 Bishop Horne (died 1792) and Dean Lloyd (died 1790).

2. The monument of Dr. Moore (died 1779); whose periwigged head is in grotesque juxtaposition with a cherub making a very ugly face, and drying his eyes with what seems to be his shirt. On a panel in front of the pier is a tablet for the youngest son of Bishop Hall, who died in 1642.

4. The fourth recess on this side is known as "Queen Elizabeth's seat," because it was prepared for that Queen's occupation on her visit to Norwich in 1578. In it now appears Chantrey's very fine sitting figure of Bishop Bathurst (died 1837), much out of place, but well deserving of attention. It was the latest work of the sculptor. The quatrefoil opening at the back of this recess was perhaps in connection with the Easter sepulchre, which seems to have been placed here (see § XIV). It will be seen that the Perpendicular bases terminate above this opening — proving that some erection was in the way which prevented them from being carried to the ground.

On the south side, beginning from the east, the tomb in the (1) first recess is that of Sir William Boleyn (died 1505), father of Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, and consequently great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth. Blickling, about thirteen miles from Norwich, was the property of the Boleyns before its purchase by the Hobarts; and is generally thought to have been the birth-place of Anne Boleyn, who is known to have spent her early years there. Sir William Boleyn's  p126 tomb is plain; but the alteration of the lower arches of the choir, as has already been pointed out, was evidently intended to be his memorial.

2. In the second recess is the monument of Bishop Overall (1618, 1619), with a quaint coloured bust looking out from a niche above. The monument was placed here by his friend and secretary, John Cosin, after his own elevation to the see of Durham.

3. The third recess contains the tomb of Bishop Goldwell (1472‑1479), the builder of the present clerestory and roof of the choir. The recess was not closed by a wall, like the others, and is now glazed at the back. The canopy of the tomb, covered with Perpendicular tracery, divides the arch. The trellis-work tracery of the vaulting should be remarked. The altar-tomb, of which the sides are enriched with ornamented panels, is at the south-west corner of the recess; and in the space, east, an altar was placed by Bishop Goldwell during his lifetime, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, SS. James the Greater and the Less. The effigy, which has been painted and gilt, is interesting in spite of much injury, and is remarkable as being "the only instance of the monumental effigy of a bishop, prior to the Reformation, in which the cappa pluvialis, or processional cope, is represented as the outward vestment instead of the casula, or chesible." — (M. H. Bloxam.) The ornaments of the cope and maniple are graceful, and deserve notice.

[image ALT: An engraving of a pelican-shaped lectern in the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]

In front of the high altar was the monument of Bishop Herbert, founder of the cathedral. It was  p127 much injured at the Rebellion; and of a new one, which was erected in 1682, the slab alone now remains fixed in the pavement. In front of the apse stands a very beautiful brass lectern [Plate VI], of late Decorated character, and deserving careful attention. A pelican "in her piety," with its claws resting on a globe, forms the support. Round the base are three small and excellent figures: a bishop with a crozier, giving his benediction; a priest with chalice; and a second priest (or deacon?), once perhaps carrying the paten.

XII. The transepts, like the choir and the lower part of the central tower, are no doubt the work of Bishop Herbert. The general arrangement in both is the same as that of the nave and choir; they vary, however, in details. The north and south ends of both consist of three stories, in the lower of which are two windows with a blind arcade between, and in both the upper stories three Norman windows filled with Perpendicular tracery. Between the windows rise vaulting-shafts, the upper part of which is cut off by Bishop Nix's roof. The north and south ends of both transepts are divided from the rest of the church by panelled screens.

In the south transept, the lower part of the walls are lined by a Norman arcade; the arches of which, on the east side, are intersecting; and behind them a staircase ascends to the upper stories of the tower. A bad stained window, the subject of which is the Ascension, has been judiciously removed from the choir, and has found a place here. The monument of Bishop Scambler  p128 (1585‑1595) is in this transept; as well as a memorial for those of the 9th (East Norfolk) Regiment of Foot who fell in the Afghan campaign of 1842. A clock, with figures of James I's time, which struck the quarters with their axes, formerly stood here; and was probably the successor of a very curious one erected between 1322 and 1325, with elaborate machinery, resembling that of the clocks at Wells and Exeter.7

The very rich roof of the transept was the work of Bishop Nix (1501‑1536). "Its bosses illustrate the early history of Christ, the Presentation, the Baptism, the Disputation in the Temple, and some of the early miracles."

The south transept, like the north, had an apsidal chapel projecting from it easterly; which has long disappeared. At the south-east angle is the vestry, a long vaulted room of the Decorated period, with a chamber above it. It has been suggested that the vestry was originally the sacristy; and that the upper room was a chapel of St. Edmund.8

In the vestry is preserved the painted reredos or altar-piece of the Jesus Chapel (§ XV); a picture, according to Dr. Waagen, "of great significance in the history of English painting." "It contains, in five compartments, the Scourging, the Bearing the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension; and judging from the forms of art, may have been executed between 1380  p129 and 1400. Here that idealistic tendency so often mentioned is still throughout adhered to; the well-arranged drapery is of great softness; the colouring powerful, and in many of the heads of great warmth; finally, the treatment in size-colours broad, and in full body. Both the figures and the raised elegant patterns of the gold ground entirely resemble the indubitable English miniatures of the same period; so that there is no question in my mind as to the English origin of this picture. Excepting the Bearing of the Cross, of which much has fallen off, the preservation may be called good, and a glass over it prevents any further mischief."​9 An engraving from this altar-piece will be found in the Norwich volume of the Archaeological Institute, together with a paper on the subject by Mr. Albert Way, who (as does Mr. Digby Wyatt) considers it a work of the Siennese school (circa 1370). The heads, he observes, especially that of St. John, "recal strikingly the works of Simone Memmi. That artist, however, died as early as 1345."

The Norman arch opening from this transept into the south choir-aisle, was filled with a screen-work of rich late Perpendicular tracery by Robert Castleton, Prior of Norwich from 1499 to 1529. A doorway opens below the screen-work. The design is graceful and singular; and in every way superior to that of the screens (of somewhat later date) with which Wolsey filled the Norman arches at Oxford. The iron-work  p130 of the lock should be remarked, with the Prior's initials, R. C., P.N. (Prior Norwicensis).

XIII. In the north transept, over a door at the north end, now closed, is a circular wall-arcade, curiously ornamented above with a billet-moulding disposed in triangular arches, with a rudely carved animal's head projecting between them. A circular arcade against the east wall of the transept marks the position of a staircase leading to the tower. The bosses of Bishop Nix's roof relate to the Nativity, and to the events immediately succeeding. The eastern apsidal chapel (possibly St. Osyth's) remains, but must be entered from without; the communication having been closed between it and the transept; (see § XIX). The screen between this transept and the north choir-aisle is modern, and its carvings deserve attention. To make room for it, however, according to Mr. Harrod, a fine Early English doorway was destroyed.

XIV. The aisles, which extend quite round the choir, and from which three apsidal chapels projected at the east end, were Bishop Herbert's work. The details closely resemble those of the nave-aisles.

On the floor of the north choir-aisle, which we now enter, is a "remarkable Purbeck coped coffin-lid, . . . presenting the very unusual addition of a bevelled edge, in which an inscribed brass was inserted entirely round it." — (Harrod.) The brass itself has disappeared, although the nails remain. It is possibly the monument of Prior Nicholas de Brampton, died 1268; "but if so, it must be a very early example of the brass fillet."  p131 A long raised seat along the wall above this coffin-lid marks the site of the monument of Sir Thomas Erpingham, the "good Sir Thomas" of Agincourt; (see § XXI). It has long since been destroyed. A chapel, probably St. Stephen's, was entered through the arch which remains in the opposite wall, and corresponded with the Beauchamp chapel in the south choir-aisle. No trace of this Chapel now remains. On the wall adjoining is the Elizabethan monument of Dame Elizabeth Calthropp, died 1582.

vault of early Decorated character crosses the north choir-aisle, and supports a gallery. The vault is of two bays; and in the eastern bay, at the head of the arch, is the quatrefoil opening into the choir which has been already noticed; (§ XI). The vault has long had the name of the "Confessionary," and Blomfield (History of Norfolk) suggests that the priest, in the choir, heard confessions through the foiled opening, whilst the people remained in the aisle. The vault could not possibly, however, have served for this purpose, since the opening on the choir side is only a few inches above the pavement, and the priest must have laid himself on the ground in order to hear the confession through it. Professor Willis suggested that it was made as a hagioscope, to afford a view of the high altar from the aisle. Mr. Harrod, with more probability, considers that the Easter sepulchre stood within the choir at this place, and that the opening "permitted the important duty of watching the sepulchre light during the ceremonies of Easter, without entering the choir." The gallery over  p132 the vaulting in the aisle, he adds, "might contain a pair of organs for assisting the service here and in Jesus Chapel adjoining." . . . "The old singing-school was in the north aisle, east of the gallery, and in front of the entrance to Jesus Chapel; a position having no possible recommendation, unless it were that the organs were placed above."10

XV. Immediately beyond this vault, is Jesus Chapel; one of the three apsidal chapels which terminated the Norman cathedral toward the east. It is formed by intersecting circles, like the corresponding chapel in the south aisle; the apse or eastern end being a smaller semicircle. Jesus Chapel was entirely altered during the Perpendicular period, when its present windows were inserted. The manner in which the original Norman arcade has been converted into a piscina and sedilia, deserves notice. An altar-piece formerly in this chapel is now preserved in the vestry; (§ XII). In front of the altar is a tomb said to have been brought here after the destruction of the Lady-chapel. It is probably that of Sir Thomas Windham and his two wives; but the brasses have been removed.

XVI. The original arrangement of the apse is here seen at its back. The arches were filled with a stone screen, terminating about half way up, and forming, on the inner side, a series of benches or sedilia for the  p133 clergy. The central arch had a stone chair or throne for the bishop, raised on steps at the back of the altar. (Portions of this throne still remain, walled up on the western side of the arch.) The side screens are ornamented at the back with an arcade of intersecting arches. At the back of the bishop's throne is a circular-headed recess, which was once possibly the opening to a vault below the apse. It has been suggested that the tomb of Bishop Herbert, the founder, may have been entered from here; or that the vault may have contained the bones of Roger Bigod, Constable of Norwich Castle, whom Bishop Herbert seems to have regarded as co-founder with himself, and who was certainly buried in the cathedral.

The Early English doorway, now blocked up, at the east end of the aisle, gave admission to the Lady-chapel, built by Bishop Walter de Suffield (1245‑1257), and destroyed by Dean Gardiner in the reign of Elizabeth. Its foundations, proving it to have been of considerable size, have been traced; as well as those of the apsidal Norman chapel, destroyed by Bishop Walter, which corresponded with those still remaining north-east and south-east.

XVII. St. Luke's Chapel, in the south choir-aisle, resembles the Jesus Chapel opposite. It serves as the parish church of St. Mary-in‑the‑Marsh; and has been benched and "restored." In the aisle opposite is a font of Perpendicular date, much enriched with sculptures of the seven sacraments. These have been completely mutilated, and the numerous small figures are headless.

 p134  A chapel, called the Beauchamp Chapel, but probably founded temp. Edward II by William Bauchun, opens south, below St. Luke's. The south window of this chapel, the canopied niche at the east end, which perhaps contained a statue of the Virgin, to whom the chapel was dedicated, and the bosses of the groined roof, which illustrate her life, death, and assumption, — should all be noticed. The Beauchamp Chapel now serves as the Consistory Court.

At the back of the choir, opposite this chapel, is a long stone seat, with panelled front, and small figures. It formed part of the monument of Bishop Wakering (1416‑1426), which was shattered during the rebellion.

XVIII. Crossing the south transept, which has been already described, we pass into the cloisters through a door at their north-east angle. They are among the most beautiful in England; and the roof especially, the bosses of which are covered with elaborate carvings, deserves the most careful examination.

The Norman cloister was destroyed in the fire of 1272; and the present structure was commenced by Bishop Ralph Walpole in 1297. It was continued, according to William of Worcester, by Bishop Salmon and others, between the years 1299 and 1325; and completed, by different benefactors, between the years 1403 and 1425. Mr. Harrod, however, seems to be perfectly justified in asserting that the cloisters were begun and completed during the Decorated period, and that the portions said by Worcester to have been built between  p135 1403 and 1425 were in reality only repaired and altered at that period.

[image ALT: An engraving of a rather ugly Gothic door. It is a door between the cloister and the nave of Norwich cathedral (Norfolk, England).]

The eastern and southern walks are those assigned by William of Worcester to Bishops Walpole and Salmon, and said to have been built between 1297 and 1325. The Prior's door, through which we pass into the cloister, is of this date, and of very unusual character [Plate VII]. Under canopies which cross the mouldings of the arch, are sculptured — at the top of the arch the Saviour in majesty, with an angel in the niche immediately below on either side; in the two lower niches on the west side, St. John the Baptist and Aaron (?) (this figure may perhaps represent an Archbishop with the pall and a high mitre; smaller figures are placed under the feet of each); in those on the east side Moses and David. The Law and the Gospel, or the priesthood and the "regale," seem to be thus typified.

The large and beautiful windows of the east walk are all early Decorated, and, like the others in the cloister, were originally glazed in their upper portions. Three niches or sedilia, with canopies resting on four heads, of a peasant, a bishop, a king, and a priest, are now built up in the east wall, close without the prior's door. Their original use is unknown.​11 The door in the sixth  p136 bay led into the "slype," or passage between the transept and chapter-house. The open arches beyond led into the chapter-house itself, which has long been destroyed. [The entrance, and portions of the wall-arcade, formerly within the chapter-house, remain on the exterior of the cloisters.] The door beyond, again, was probably that leading to the staircase of the dormitory. The so‑called "dark entry," a vault at the south end of this walk, formed an approach to the Infirmary, which extended east of the cloister. The bosses of the roof in the east walk contain subjects from the four Gospels, together with some very beautiful knots of foliage.

The south walk, built by Bishop Salmon (1299‑1325), has a slight difference in the tracery of its windows, which are of more advanced Decorated character. The greater part of the bosses of the roof illustrate the Revelation of St. John. Other subjects are added, from sacred and legendary history. That engraved below evidently represents the dedication of a church. At the angle of the south and west walks a very fine view of the cathedral and its spire is obtained. Here also the original disposition of the triforium may be seen. The roof sloped from close under the clerestory to the worn Norman arcade in the exterior wall. All above this arcade is Perpendicular work.

[image ALT: An engraving of a carved Gothic ceiling boss depicting a procession nearing a church. It is in the cloister of Norwich cathedral (Norfolk, England).]

The west walk is said by William of Worcester to  p137 have been built early in the fifteenth century;​12 but a careful examination of the windows will shew that they belong to the Decorated period, as do the piers and arches; although the whole walk is of later character  p138 than those east and south. Some alterations were, however, made here at the time mentioned by Worcester. The refectory door, which opens at the south end of the walk, is of this period; and the ancient lavatories [Plate IX], in the first two bays, have arches and niches at the back of them, which are also Perpendicular. In the next bay but one is a door which led into the Guests' hall; of which an Early English doorway, and a fragment of an Early English window, remain in the adjoining garden. Considerable portions of the locutory and principal entrance of the priory remain in the Canon's house opening at the north-west end of the walk, and are of transitional and Early English character.

[image ALT: An engraving of an arched recess, about 3 meters high, carved in the Gothic style. It is a partial view of the lavabo in the cloister of Norwich cathedral (Norfolk, England).]

The subjects from the Revelation are continued in the roof-bosses of this walk.

The north walk of the cloister contains eight Perpendicular windows, set in Decorated frames; one early Decorated at the east end, and two late Decorated at the west. The bosses represent the legends of different saints, together with a few subjects from the New Testament.

The east, south, and west walks have an upper story, lighted by small windows looking into the quadrangle. The north walk is without this addition.

XIX. The exterior of the central tower and spire may be well seen either from the south walk of the cloisters, or from the lower close. The tower was entirely refaced in 1856; but its Norman arcades and ornamentation have been carefully preserved. The flanking turrets, with their reed-like shafts, are Norman  p139 as high as the foot of the spires which crown them. These spires are Perpendicular; as is the parapet of the tower itself. The arcades and circular openings of the tower may be compared with those of the Norman transeptal towers at Exeter, — which are, however, of somewhat later date. The spire, which rises gracefully between the pinnacles of the turrets, was added by Bp. Percy (1356‑1369). It was, however, much injured by lightning and 1463, and was then repaired by Bp. Lehart. Its height, from the battlements of the tower, is 169 feet. The entire height from the ground is 287 feet, — exceeding that of the (late) spire of Chichester (271 feet), and of Lichfield (258 feet), but falling much short of Salisbury (404 feet).

The face of the south transept has been re-cased, — a process which, however necessary, has deprived it of much of its antique character. The conical spires which terminate the square Norman flanking turrets are modern.

The exterior of the choir is well seen from the lower close. Flying buttresses carried from the wall of the triforium connect it with Bishop Goldwell's noble clerestory above (see § X). Seated figures of the apostles form the pinnacles of the buttresses; and the clerestory itself, which is flat roofed, is surrounded by battlemented parapet. At the south-east and north-east angles of the choir project the Norman apsidal chapels — intersecting segments of circles, with circular stair turrets at the point of intersection. A blind arcade passes round below the upper story, which has a second arcade  p140 of large and separated arches. Each chapel has three windows below; one at the east end, and two in the nave.

The general view of the cathedral from the south-east [see Frontispiece] comprehends all these details. That from the north-east should be looked out for toward sunset, when a very fine effect is occasionally produced. The visitor should pass beyond the lower close, to the portion of the Precincts known as "Life's Green," and place himself as near as possible to the north wall of it. The various lines of the choir and transept, with trees clustering between them, and the tower and spire rising in the background, form a composition of unusual grace and beauty.

From the east end of the north transept projects a chapel in a ruinous condition, probably that of St. Osyth. It has long been used as a storehouse. It apparently resembled in every respect the eastern chapels of the choir. The vaulting, filled in with flints, and carried on even with the large Norman arch formerly opening from the transept, should be noticed. The east window was altered in the late Decorated period.

The north transept retains its ancient font. In a niche over the door is a statue said to represent the founder, Bishop Herbert.

XX. The Bishop's palace, which was formerly connected with the north transept by a vaulted passage, was founded by Bishop Herbert, but almost entirely rebuilt by Bishop Salmon (1299‑1325). It has been much altered and added to at different times; but still  p141 contains some portions which may have belonged to Bishop Herbert's work. Bishop Salmon's great hall was destroyed after the Rebellion; at which time it was used by the Puritans as a "preaching house." A ruin in the garden is said to be the remains of the grand entrance. The Bishop's chapel, at the east end of the palace, was restored by Bishop Reynolds in 1662. It contains the monuments of Bishop Reynolds himself (1661‑1676), and of his successor, Bishop Sparrow (1676‑1685), both of whom are buried in it.

XXI. The principal entrance to the palace is through a fine Perpendicular gateway, built by Bishop Alnwick about 1430. Far more interesting, however, are the two gateways leading into the Precincts; both of which deserve especial notice. The earliest is St. Ethelbert's Gate [Title-page], at the south end of the close; built by the citizens of Norwich after the disturbances of 1272, to replace the great gates which were then destroyed by them. The lower part is accordingly good early Decorated. The upper portion, of intermixed flint and stone, is modern, and was added early in the present century. The chamber above the archway served as a chapel, dedicated to St. Ethelbert. The spandrels on either side of the principal arch are filled with foliage, from which project figures of a man with a sword and round shield, and of a dragon which he is attacking. On the side toward the Close is a Decorated window, and some ancient flint panelling. The entire gateway is a good example of the period.

[image ALT: An engraving of a gate in the Gothic style. It is a view of Erpingham Gate, in the enclosure of the cathedral of Norwich (Norfolk, England).]

The second, or Erpingham Gate [Plate X], stands  p142 opposite the west front of the cathedral, and is said by Blomefield to have been built by Sir Thomas Erpingham (Shakespeare's "white-headed" knight, who fought at Agincourt), as a penance imposed on him by Bishop Spencer, on account of his former patronage of Wickliffe and the Lollards. The truth of this story, however, has been entirely disproved by Mr. Harrod. It seems to have arisen from a misreading of the word "yenk," think — answering to the "have mynde" or prayer for remembrance which appears on many brasses,​13 which is placed on labels in front of the gate. This word was read by Blomefield as "pena," and on this slender foundation, together with the fact that Sir Thomas's statue above is "on his knees, as if begging pardon for his offence," the story of the penance was constructed. The arms of Sir Thomas and of his two wives appear on the gate; which could not therefore have been erected until after his second marriage, which took place about 1411 Bishop Spencer, who is said to have imposed the penance, had died in 1406.

The gatehouse itself "consists of a noble, well-proportioned arch, supported on each side by a semi-hexagonal buttress; arch, spandrels, and buttresses being covered with sculpture. The arch-mouldings are divided into two parts; the outer one containing a series of fourteen female saints, the inner one twelve male saints, admirably executed, with a light and elegant  p143 canopy over each. Four labels with the word 'yenk' are placed between the bases of the shafts of the main archway, across clusters of oak-leaves and acorns, from which the pedestals of the lower figures emerge. The canopies are masses of luxuriant foliage, designed with the most exquisite skill. The spandrels contain the device of the Trinity on the left, the arms of Erpingham on the right. The buttresses are covered with shields and devices of the families of Erpingham, Clopton, and Walton (those of Sir Thomas Erpingham's wives), and bear on the top two figures of ecclesiastics . . . . . . The upper part of the gate is much plainer than the rest, and is of flint with stone dressings. In the centre, under a canopy of the same period as the other sculptured decorations, is a kneeling figure of Sir Thomas Erpingham."14

XXII. The open space west and north of the cathedral served as a general cemetery; and in it, on the left hand, between the Erpingham gate and the west door of the church, Bishop Salmon, about 1316, built a charnel-house, with a chapel of St. John the Evangelist above it. The chapel now serves as the Grammar-school; and the crypt, in which all bones fit for removal were "to be reserved till the day of resurrection," is now divided into cellars, let as storehouses. In this crypt were two altars, of which traces remain. At one of them a mass was daily said for the souls of the founder and his family, for all bishops of the see, and for the souls of all those whose bones were carried thither.  p144 The porch by which the grammar-school is entered was added by Bishop Lehart (1446‑1472), and deserves notice for its unusual character. Remark also the foiled openings (see woodcut) giving light to the crypt.

[image ALT: An engraving of an elegant carved Gothic quatrefoil window, in Norwich cathedral (Norfolk, England).]

On the lawn opposite the school is a statue of Lord Nelson, who for a short time was a pupil here.

XXIII. The scanty remains of the monastic buildings which adjoin the cloisters have already been noticed; (§ XVIII). The present Deanery, a little east of the south-east angle of the cloister, contains some Early English portions, which may have belonged either to the priors' apartments, or to the Infirmary. Three late Norman pillars which remain in front of a house in the lower close are however considered by Professor Willis to mark the site of the latter building.

The Chapter Library, which comprises a good collection of books (although without any that call for especial notice), is preserved in one of the houses in the Precincts.

XXIV. The best distant views of the cathedral — which however are none of them very satisfactory — are  p145 to be gained from the castle hill, from the new church at Thorpe, and from Mousehold-heath. Mousehold forms the high ground south of the city, and was the spot on which Kett, the "tanner of Wymondham," fixed his camp during the rising of the Norfolk peasantry in the reign of Edward VI.

The Author's Notes:

1 "Quo die ecclesiam Norwicensem, nunquam antea dedicatam, dedicavit . . . . Ep. Will. de Middleton." — Cotton, ap. Angl. Sacr. i. p411.

2 Fergusson's Handbook of Arch., p857. The cathedral, however, never had two western towers; the existing flanks of the west front are mere turrets and pinnacles. See the next section.

3 Harrod, Castles and Convents of Norfolk, p270. Mr. Harrod quotes the following passage from Lambarde's Topographical Dictionary:— "I myself, being a child, once was in Paule's Church at London, at a feast of Whitsontide, wheare the comyng down of the Holy Ghost was set forth by a white pigeon that was let to fly out of a hole that is yet to be seen in the mydst of the roof of the great ile; and by a long censer which, descending out of the same place almost to the very ground, was swinged up and down at such a length that it reached at one swepe almost to the west gate of the church, and with the other to the queer stairs of the same, breathing out over the whole church and companie a most pleasant perfume of such swete things as burned therein." A curious account of similar ceremonies in the great church at Dunkirk early in the last century will be found in the fourth volume of Ellis's Letters Illustrative of English History, Fourth Series.

4 Castles and Convents of Norfolk. The descriptions which follow are Mr. Harrod's.

5 Harrod, Castles and Convents of Norfolk,º p289.

6 Id., pp285, 286.

7 This clock has been described (from the Norwich Sacrist Rolls) by Mr. Way in the Archaeological Journal, vol. XII.

8 Harrod, p301.

9 Art Treasures in Great Britain, vol. III. p437.

10 Castles and Convents of Norfolk,º p293. The Easter sepulchre at Northwold, in the county of Norfolk, "has an arched aperture in a similar position to this quatrefoil, communicating with the sacristy adjoining."

11 "A recess in the same position at Wenlock, having three lofty arches toward the cloister, was pointed out, at the visit paid to that priory by the Institute in 1854, as a specimen of the Trisantiae of Ducange. 'All who remain for Complines, supper being finished, going forth from the chapter-house to the left hand of the entrance, ought to remain in the Trisantiae until all the convent are gone forth.' — (Bernard, Cluniac Customs, ch. lxxvii.) (p136)Whether these were sedilia appropriated to a similar purpose or not, I am unable to say." — Harrod, Castles and Convents of Norfolk,º p308.

12 A curious error in the transcripts of William of Worcester led to much antiquarian discussion until it was recently cleared up by Mr. Harrod. Worcester was made to say that the walk from the Infirmary door to the arches "where the marriages hung" (in quibus maritagia dependent) was Bishop Salmon's work; the rest, "from the marriages," (a maritagiis), the work of other benefactors. Accordingly a boss representing Adam and Eve on either side of the tree, was long absurdly called the "Espousals," and thought to be Worcester's maritagia. Mr. Harrod, however, on examining the MS. found manutergia to be the true word. Worcester referred therefore to the arches above the lavatories in quibus manutergia dependent, "in which the towels hang."

13 The same motto, "yenk," "is placed several times in brass labels on a stone commemorating a Curzoun in Bylaugh Church." — Harrod.

14 Harrod, p264.

Thayer's Note:

a pelican lectern: For a nice large detail of this same engraving, as well as an interesting excursus on the images of pelicans (in Christian churches and otherwise) by a parishioner of Norwich Cathedral, see this page and its notes.

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