Bristol Cathedral


Oooh!  An old church!  A really old church!   I know, I know … sometimes one cathedral looks just like another. If you’ve been on the “cathedrals and palaces” tour of Europe, feel free to skip this post. But I happen to like really old churches (even if I don’t particularly like religion), so here are a few pictures of the morning we spent prowling around Bristol Cathedral.

The construction of the cathedral took more than 700 years.

The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity (that’s it’s full name) borders College Green near downtown Bristol. Parts of the building date from 1140, but the bishopric wasn’t established until 1542. Originally an Augustinian Abbey, the construction was in the Romanesque style (with rounded archways). The chapterhouse ceiling is an excellent example of these older parts of the church.

The Chapterhouse is where the monks gathered for meetings or to attend to business. It is still used for this purpose today.

The Elder Lady Chapel, which can be found along the north edge of the building, was constructed in around 1220. Using the Gothic style of arches common at the time, you can see the peaked windows in some of the other pictures. Apparently the stone mason was highly interested in monkeys, because a number of them can be found peeking out amidst the carvings!


The Bristol Cathedral is unique in Britain because “it was conceived as a “hall church”, meaning that the aisles are the same height as the choir. While a feature of German Gothic architecture, this is rare in Britain, and Bristol cathedral is the most significant example.”  (Wikipedia) You can see this when you look at the church … the whole space feels lighter and airier than other cathedrals.

Because of the height of the aisles, there are no clerestory windows, so all the light has to come from the aisle windows. These are particularly large, and not being darkened by too much stained glass, let in a great deal of light.

Look at those barrel vaults!

The barrel vaults at Bristol are unique, because there are extra ribs at the top of the arches, making a pattern that I think looks like a star. “The famous architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner wrote of Bristol that ‘from the point of view of spatial imagination’ it is not only superior to anything else in England or Europe but ‘proves incontrovertibly that English design surpasses that of all other countries’ at that date.” (Wikipedia)

Flying buttresses!

Most of the Cathedral was built using limestone, but some of the facing stones are Bath stone or marble.  It’s got a nice clean look to the exterior, even though the proportions of the Cathedral seem a bit off. When seen from a distance, the building appears to be a little bit squat, like it’s too short and too fat. I wonder if the addition of spires would have made the exterior soar to the heights suggested by the interior.

The gardens at the Cathedral are lovely, even if it is full of graves! Nothing too old or scary of course, but the grounds do not seem to be well-tended. Most of the graves were overrun by plants and flowers. Still, it’s a pleasant enough place for a stroll and a think.

The original organ (pieces of which are incorporated into the current instrument) was built it 1685.

I’ll close this rather long post with a quick note about how much I enjoyed Bristol’s Cathedral. While there might have been a bit of grumbling at how many pictures I took (sorry Alex!), I tried to capture the grand scale of the place, which is hard to do with a teeny tiny camera.

The Cathedral is home to many graves and memorials (including Roger Mortimer, a character in my favorite book by Sharon Kay Penman!), but it’s not nearly a crowded or creepy as Westminster. I would highly recommend it both as an architectural and historical interest.

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Posted on 01/06/2010, in Exploring the UK and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Well, you certainly make me want to go back to England, Astrid. I didn’t get to Bristol in 2007. That is a very impressive structure and, yes, different. I saw a lot of cathedrals and churchs in 2007, but not this one. I’d also like to see Exeter.
    Suzanne

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