Sunday, 15 April 2012

the oldest spoonbill in Somerset in the north aisle of the nave, in Wells Cathedral. Here it is, grabbing a frog. Since the last time I saw it, in 1991, spoonbills have returned to the Somerset Levels. Hopefully I'll get to see them myself soon, though actively seeking out birds goes against the spirit of accidental birdwatching.

There's quite a bit of wildlife in the Cathedral. Here are some hares, on the tomb of Bishop John Harewell- in those days, they couldn't see a pun without making a carving out of it.

Here is a fox making off with the goose, to the dismay of the farmer.

Bishops tend to have little doggies attending their effigies, as opposed to the more puissant beasts on the tombs of knights. This pertickler bishop has a cat; no ordinary tabby, though; it looked more like a lioness, or a panther.

We conjectured that the bishop in question had been translated to the See from a more far-flung parish in Africa, and had brought his beloved pet north with him to Wells, where she would gaze down from the walls of the Bishop's Palace to the fish in the moat and dream of the Zambezi, or prowl the cloisters to the terror of the choristers...

In the north porch is the story of the martyrdom of St Edmund; here he is being shot full of arrows by the beastly Vikings, who then chopped off his head and threw it into the woods

...where it was guarded by a virtuous wolf, until rescuers came along, when the head called out to them, and the wolf obligingly surrendered the head, which, reunited with the remainder of the body, miraculously stuck itself back on in time for the ascent to Heaven.


  1. hmm - thought I'd posted earlier. oh well, here it is again, more or less:

    You do realize that I have to go to Wells and see these for myself now, don't you?!

  2. Once again I had to search for the meaning on one of your words (puissant). It would be nice to think I am learning something new, but as very little seems to stick recently I am afraid it is likely to be all in vain.

    It is interesting to see this place through another's eyes;having visited myself. I love that farmer seeing his goose being stolen. I see it as a bit of fun but it makes me wonder who decided on the allegory for the carvings and if we see them in the mindset for which they are intended.

  3. Oh, what a wonderful place! Have never been and now it's gone down on my list of must-see-one-day. The spoonbill is beautiful, though the hares are - of course - my favourite.

  4. I used to have this place on a wish list because just about my all time favourite photograph is a sea of steps by Frederic Evans, then I read that he traveled with a blacksmith who could remove any bits stuck to the building which offended him... English cathedrals always seem to have loads of junk and old military flags draped about, prefer wrench which only tend to stick in ugly sound systems ignoring the wonderful old acoustics!

    Love the pictures of the carvings, perhaps concentrating on the details is best...

  5. I love these pictures. I wonder if the workmen just did what they fancied when they had an. odd space that wasn't needed for a Saint or something important

  6. It was a good way of getting local history recorded (and telling stories). So valuable to us now

  7. Me too, Delia; coming home and reading up on what I've seen, throws up more interesting things that need exploring further. Like the Bishop Kidder monument, which I believe Deborah is writing something about even now...

    Yes, hard to know about the mindset of the cathedral's creators, Bella; but reading literature of the time or earlier, I was struck by how very recognisable were the people writing or described. I don't think people have changed very much, especially the rude mechanicals!

    The hares are beautifully smooth, Gretel; though the whole monument is more thoroughly graffitied than any other in the building. Funny; the bish seems to have attracted everyone with a penknife and an idle moment!

    The steps up to the chapterhouse are very striking, Caroline; but I was concentrating on the little things, as you suggested. Next time, if I can stump up the six pounds something to go into the bishop's palace, I hope to get a picture of the sign under a cedar, next to one of the eponymous wells; the sign says "the view from here is the most-photographed in England". I sat under the tree with Richard, sheltering from the rain, some time ago; whenever someone came along, they would pause, read the sign, and then take out their camera and obediently snap the view....

    I get the feeling that the workmen were allowed quite a bit of licence, Anji, especially if they were particularly proficient. Hence sheela na gigs, and so much other rather dodgy statuary that snuck its way into so many churches!

    I particularly like the spoonbill because of that suggestion of a more watery past, Gwynneth, before the Levels were tamed (as far as they have been, anyway). I didn't think, the first time I saw it, that the birds would return so soon...