Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral

Infobox UK cathedral
building_name =Bristol Cathedral
infobox_width =

image_size =
caption =
map_type =Bristol
map_size =200
map_caption =position within Bristol
location =
full_name =Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity
geo =
latitude =51.452150
longitude =-2.601875
county =Bristol
country =England
ecclesiastical =yes
denomination =Church of England
province =Canterbury
diocese =Bristol
bishop =
dean =
organist =
website = []
building =yes
architect =
architecture_style =Gothic
became_cathedral =1543
number_of_cathedrals =
year_built =1220-1877
year_consecrated =
specifications =yes
capacity =
length =91.4m
length_nave =38m
length_choir =
width_transepts =35m
width_nave =21m
height_max =
height_nave =16m
height_choir =15m
tower_quantity =3
tower_height =
spire_quantity =
spire_height =
dome_quantity =
dome_height_ex =
dome_height_in =
dome_dia_ex =
dome_dia_in =

The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity is the Anglican cathedral in the city of Bristol, England, and is commonly known as Bristol Cathedral. Founded in 1140, it became the seat of the bishop and cathedral of the new Diocese of Bristol in 1542.

Located on College Green, across which its architecture can be seen to advantage, the cathedral presents a harmonious view of tall Gothic windows and pinnacled skyline that belies the fact that it was constructed over a period of more than 700 years.

The cathedral has much of interest including unique architectural features, unusual memorials and a large historic organ.

History of the building

Bristol Cathedral was founded as St Augustine's Abbey in 1140 by Robert Fitzharding, a wealthy local landowner and royal official. As the name suggests, the monastic precinct housed Augustinian canons. The original abbey church, of which only fragments remain, was constructed between 1140 and 1148 in the Romanesque style, known in England as Norman. Further stone buildings were erected on the site between 1148 and 1164. Three fine examples of this phase survive, the chapterhouse and the abbey gatehouse, now the diocesan office, together with a second Romanesque gateway, which originally led into the abbot's quarters. [Joseph Bettey, "St Augustine's Abbey, Bristol" (Bristol Branch of the Historical Association 1996), pp.1, 5, 7.] T.H.B. Burrough describes the former as "the finest Norman chapter house still standing today". [cite book |last=Burrough |first=THB |authorlink= |coauthors= |title=Bristol |year=1970 |publisher=Studio Vista |location=London |isbn=0289798043 ]

Under Abbot David (1216-1234) there was a new phase of building, notably the construction in around 1220 of a Chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, abutting the northern side of the choir. This building, which still stands, was to become know as the "Elder Lady Chapel". The architect, referred to in a letter as 'L', is thought to have been Adam Lock, master mason of Wells Cathedral. The stonework of the eastern window of this chapel is by William the Geometer, of about 1280.

Under Abbot Edward Knowle, a major rebuilding of the Abbey church began. Between 1298 and 1332 the eastern part of the abbey church was rebuilt in the English Decorated Gothic style.

Rebuilding appears to have ceased for about a hundred years. Then in the mid 1400s, the transept and central tower were constructed.

Abbot John Newland, (1481-1515), began the rebuilding of the nave, but it was still incomplete at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. The partly-built nave was demolished, and the remaining, eastern part of the church closed until it reopened as a cathedral under the secular clergy. In 1542, Henry VIII raised the building to rank of cathedral of a new Diocese of Bristol. It was dedicated to the Holy and Undivided Trinity, [Joseph Bettey, "St Augustine's Abbey, Bristol" (Bristol Branch of the Historical Association 1996), pp.7, 11-15, 21, 24-5.] cite web | title=Cathedral Church of St Augustine, including Chapter House and cloisters | work=Images of England | url= | accessdate=2007-03-16]

With the 19th century's Gothic Revival signalling renewed interest in Britain ancient architectural heritage, a new nave, harmonious in style with the eastern end, was added between 1868 and 1877 by George Edmund Street. The opening ceremony was on 23 October 1877. However the west front with its twin towers, designed by John Loughborough Pearson, was only completed in 1888. [Joseph Bettey, "Bristol Cathedral: The rebuilding of the nave" (Bristol Branch of the Historical Association 1993).]

The Bells have a variety of dates and include two from 1726, one from 1740 and two from 1789 all made by the Bilbie family. [cite book |last=Moore |first=James |authorlink= |coauthors=Roy Rice & Ernest Hucker |title=Bilbie and the Chew Valley clock makers |year=1995 |publisher=The authors |location= |isbn=0952670208 ]

Architectural features

A hall-church

Bristol Cathedral is a grade I listed building. Tim Tatton-Brown writes of the 14th century eastern arm as "one of the most interesting and splendid structures in this country." Tim Tatton-Brown and John Crook, "The English Cathedral", (2002) New Holland, ISBN 1 84330 120 2]

The eastern end of Bristol Cathedral is highly unusual for a number of reasons. Firstly, 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. In the 19th century, Street designed the nave along the same lines.

The effect of this elevation means that there are no clerestory windows to light the central space, as is usual in English Medieval churches. All the internal light must come from the aisle windows which are accordingly very large.Alec Clifton-Taylor, "The Cathedrals of England", Thames and Hudson (1967)] In the Choir, the very large window of the "Lady Chapel" is made to fill the entire upper part of the wall, so that it bathes the vault in daylight, particularly in the morning.

Because of the lack of a clerestory, the vault is comparatively low, being only about half the height of that at Westminster Abbey. The interior of the cathedral appears wide and spacious.


The second remarkable feature of Bristol Cathedral is the vaulting of its various medieval spaces. The work that was carried out under Abbot Knowle is unique in this regard. What is more, there is not one, but three unique vaults.

In vaulting a roof space using stone ribs and panels of infill, the bearing ribs all spring from columns along the walls. There is commonly a rib called the ridge rib which runs along the apex of the vault. There may be intermediate or "tierceron" ribs, which have their origin at the columns. In Decorated Gothic there are occasionally to be found short "lierne" ribs connecting the bearing and tierceron ribs at angles, forming stellar patterns. This is the feature that appears at Bristol, at a very early date, and quite unlike the way that "lierne" ribs are used elsewhere. In this case, there is no ridge rib, and the lierne ribs are arranged to enclose a series of panels that extend the whole way along the centre of the choir roof, interacting with the large east window by reflecting the light from the smoothly-arching surfaces. From the nave can be seen the intricate tracery of the east window echoed in the rich lierne pattern of the tower vault, which is scarcely higher than the choir, and therefore clearly visible. The two aisles of the choir both also have vaults of unique character.

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. [Nikolaus Pevsner, "The buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol", (1958) Penguin.]

treet's nave

Street's design followed the form of the Gothic choir. On a plan or elevation it is not apparent that the work is of a different era. But Street, wisely, left the glory of Bristol's medieval work unrivalled. He designed an interior that respected the delicate proportions of the ribs and mouldings of the earlier work, but did not imiitate their patterns. Street's nave is vaulted with a conservative vault with tierceron ribs, rising at the same pitch as the choir, and visually leading the eye to it in a way that is very satisfactory.

Pearson's fittings

During the 16th century, the space for cathedral services must have been very cramped. This necessitated a radical rearrangement of the cathedral's furnishings. Once the nave was completed, the arrangement of the choir could also be returned to something like its Pre-Reformation form. Pearson was responsible for this rearrangement, and the designing of new fittings, including the chancel screen.

The cathedral has two unusual and often-reproduced monuments, the Berkley memorials. These are set into niches in the wall, and each is surrounded by a canopy of inverted cusped arches. Pearson's screen, completed in 1905, echoes these memorials in its three wide arches with flamboyant cusps.

treet and Pearson's west front

This facade is probably more Spanish than English in its overall composition, being somewhat like that of Burgos Cathedral, but without its spires. It is rather wide for its height, and has only one, very large, richly decorated portal. Unlike English Gothic cathedrals, Bristol has a rose window above the central doorway, in the French or Spanish Style. The details, however, are clearly English, owing much to the Early English Gothic at Wells Cathedral and the Decorated Gothic at York Minster.

Architectural specifications

Most of the medieval stonework, particularly the Elder Lady Chapel, is made from limestone taken from quarries around Dundry and Felton with Bath stone being used in other areas. The two-bay Elder Lady Chapel, which includes some Purbeck marble, lies to the north of the five-bay aisled chancel and presbytery. The Eastern Lady Chapel has 2 bays, the sacristy one-bay and the Berkeley Chapel two bays. The exterior has deep buttresses with finials to weathered tops and crenellated parapets with crocketed pinnacles.

The west front has 2 large flanking 3-stage towers. On the rear outer corners of the towers are octagonal stair turrets with panels on the belfry stage. Between the towers is a deep entrance arch of 6 orders with Purbeck marble colonnettes and enriched mouldings to the arch. The tympanum of the arch is an empty niche.

Decoration and monuments

The south transept includes an important late Saxon stone panel of the Harrowing of Hell.

The high altar stone reredos are by John Loughborough Pearson of 1899. The three rows of choir stalls, are mostly from the late C19th century with flamboyant traceried ends, and miserichords dating from around 1520. In the Berkeley chapel is a very rare candelabrum of 1450 from the Temple church. The monuments within the cathedral include recumbent figures of:
* Abbot Walter Newbery (d.1473)
* Abbot William Hunt (d.1481)
* Abbot John Newland (d.1515)
* Lord Berkeley (d.1326)
* Thomas Berkeley (d.1243)The chest tomb to Bishop Bush (d.1558) includes six fluted Ionic columns with an entablature canopy.Further early monuments include:
* a perpendicular reredos to Robert Codrinton (d.1618)
* a marble wall tablet to Phillip Freke (d.1729)
* the chest tomb of Maurice Berkeley (d.1368)
* an oval slate wall tablet to Ronsland Searchfield (d.1622)
* the dresser tomb of Henry Newton (d.1599)
* the coffin lid of Abbot David (d.1234)
* a dresser tomb of Dame Joan and Sir John Young (d.1606) by Samuel Baldwin
* a dresser tomb to Sir Charles Vaughan
* memorial tablet to Richard Hakluyt (d. 1616)

More recent monuments from the early 18th century to 20th century include:

* Mrs Morgan (d.1767) by John Bacon to the design of James Stuart
* a bust by Bailey to Robert Southey (d.1843)
* an obelisk by J Paine to William Powell (d.1769)
* a monument by Bailey to William Brane Elwyn (d.1841)
* Elizabeth Charlotte Stanhope (d.1816) by Richard Westmacott
* Emma Crawfuird (d.1823) by Francis Legatt Chantrey
* an effigy to Dean Francis Pigou (d.1916) by NA Trent


The organ was originally built in 1685 by Renatus Harris at a cost of £500. [cite journal |last=Crotchet |first= Dotted |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1907 |month=Nov |title=Bristol Cathedral |journal=Musical Times |volume=48 |issue=777 |pages=705–715 |id= |url= |accessdate= 2007-06-28 |quote= |doi=10.2307/904456 ] This has been removed and repaired many times however some of the original work, including the case and pipes, is incorporated into the present instrument, which was built by J. W. Walkers and sons in 1907, to be found above the Stalls on the North side of the Choir. It was further restored in restored 1989. [cite web |url= |title=Organ |accessdate=2007-06-28 |format= |work=Bristol Cathedral ] [cite web |url= |title=Bristol Cathedral |accessdate=2007-06-28 |format= |work=Bristol Link ]

Prior to the building of the main organ the cathedral had a Chair Organ was built by Robert Taunton in 1662. [cite web |url= |title=Letters to the editor - July 1981 |accessdate=2007-06-28 |format= |work=British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS) ]


*1542 Thomas Denny
*1588 Elway Bevan
*1599 Edward Gibbons
*1638 Arthur Phillips
*1639 Thomas Deane
*1680 Paul Heath
*1724 Nathaniel Priest
*1734 James Morley
*1756 George Coombes
*1759 Edward Higgins
*1765 George Coombes
*1769 Edward Rooke
*1773 Samuel Mineard
*1778 Richard Langdon
*1781 Rice Wasbrough
*1825 John Davies Corfe
*1876 George Riseley
*1899 Percy Carter Buck
*1901 Hubert Hunt
*1946 Alwyn Surplice
*1949 Clifford Harker
*1983 Malcolm Archer
*1990 Christopher Brayne
*1998 Mark Lee


Bristol Cathedral was used as a location in the 1978 film "The Medusa Touch" under the guise of a fictional London place of worship called Minster Cathedral. []

Other cathedrals in Bristol

Bristol is also home to a Roman Catholic cathedral, Clifton Cathedral. The Anglican parish church of St. Mary Redcliffe is so grand as to be occasionally mistaken for a cathedral by visitors.


See also

* List of cathedrals in the United Kingdom
* Architecture of the medieval cathedrals of England
* English Gothic architecture
* Church of England
* Grade I listed buildings in Bristol
* Churches in Bristol

External links

* [ Bristol Cathedral Website]
* [ Panoramic pictures of the cathedral] Look around Bristol Cathedral
* [ Diocese of Bristol]
* [ Bristol Past: The Abbey Gatehouse]
* [ A history of Bristol Cathedral choir school and choristers]
* [ Panoramic tour of the cathedral]
* [ Bristol Cathedral] - article and pictures of the Cathedral in Bristol
* [ Flickr images tagged Bristol Cathedral]

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