Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wells Cathedral

Secret galleries at the cathedral
16 May 2008
Wells Journal

It's no surprise to hear singing in Wells Cathedral, but what you may not realise is that the building itself used to sing.

In the middle ages, the hundreds of life-sized statues that adorn the Cathedral's west front would appear to be singing, thanks to secret galleries behind the façade that housed the choir.

On Palm Sunday, the choir would take their place in the galleries, and as the procession of clergy approached, the statues of saints would appear to sing a response to the clergy's chants.

The building's secret was revealed in the BBC programme How To Build A Cathedral, which was broadcast on BBC4 as part of the BBC's Medieval Season last month.

"The Cathedral building itself became a stage set for a religious ritual," explained presenter and architectural historian Jon Cannon. "Dressed in their most magnificently embroidered clothes, the clergy formed a great procession. Clouds of incense surrounded them. They were about to take place in a piece of sacred theatre, re-enacting Christ's entry into Jerusalem.

"For a few brief moments, architecture, sculpture and a kind of sacred theatre had fused," he said. "This church in the English West Country had become Jerusalem itself."

Building of St Andrew's Cathedral was originally begun around 1180, but the West façade was not completed until the mid-13th Century. There are niches for 500 statues in the façade, and the Cathedral retains nearly 300 of its original figures.