Gloucester GL1 2LR
This beautiful and historic Cathedral is one of the highlights of a visit to Gloucester. Like the city is serves, it is compact and full of fabulous architecture, ancient tombs, moving war memorials and even film locations.
The Cathedral stands in the delightful College Green. The major access to the Green is through College Street leading off Westgate Street. However, there are several other small entrances into the Green; one is the Pilgrim’s or St Michael’s Gate beside The Tailor of Gloucester Museum & Shop and the other is St Mary’s Gate leading from St Mary’s Square (site of Bishop Hooper's Memorial)
History & Architecture
God has been worshipped on this site since AD 678-9. A religious community was founded here in Anglo-Saxon times by Prince Osric. The community became a Benedictine monastery in AD1000.
The first royal patron was King William I (William the Conqueror) who appointed a French monk from Mont St Michael by the name of Serlo, as the first Norman Abbot in 1072. The new Abbey church of St Peter was started in 1089 and the eastern end consecrated in 1100. The magnificent round, Norman piers in the nave, with their zigzagged arches date from this time.
- Norman Nave & Doomsday Book
The sheer size and simplicity of the Norman nave is breathtaking. A very great deal of this Norman church survives including the entire crypt, much of the east end above it, and most of the north aisle. The Norman chapter house leading off from the Cloisters also mostly survives.
They say that it was in this room in 1085 that King William decided he needed an inventory of the land he had conquered since 1066. The survey would allow him to levy taxes and it is known today as the Doomsday Book. How did it get this name? It is said that it was easier to escape God’s Final Judgment (‘Doomsday’) than the Norman tax inspectors!
- Robert Duke of Normandy Memorial
The earliest memorial is a wooden, painted, effigy of Robert, sometime Duke of Normandy. He was William the Conqueror’s eldest son and thought he should inherit England on his father’s death. William knew his eldest son rather well and entrusted England to his younger son, William Rufus. Robert ended up imprisoned in Cardiff Castle where he died in 1134 aged in his early eighties.
The wooden effigy is carved in Irish bog oak and is very rare. He is wearing full armour and a tunic, and lies on a mortuary chest. This wonderful memorial can be found in the south ambulatory near the High Altar.
- Prestige, Wealth & Importance
The city grew in prestige, wealth and importance, and St Peter’s Abbey grew with it. Gloucester was second only in importance to London and a favourite place for royalty to visit. In 1216 Henry III was crowned in the Abbey and the courtiers surrounding the young king brought wealth to the Abbey. The Abbey built The New Inn in Northgate Street to cope with the visitor influx.
Building work carried out in 1242 is in the Early English style and can be seen in the nave vault and the screen at the north end of the north transept. The window tracery in the south aisle and the thousands of ball-flower carvings are typical of the Decorated style.
- King Edward II's Tomb
The Abbey’s greatest period of wealth and building occurred in the 14th century when King Edward II was cruelly murdered at Berkeley Castle in 1327. His body was brought for burial at St Peter’s Abbey. His tomb was credited with miraculous healing powers and pilgrims flocked to the city and Abbey. Visitors will find the Decorated style tomb with its fine alabaster effigy of Edward and shrine-like canopy in the north ambulatory near the High Altar.
The funds provided by the pilgrims paid for extensive remodelling of the east end between 1331 and 1355. New French stoneworking techniques crept into England and culminated in the new style of Perpendicular which made its first full blown appearance at Gloucester. This style of architecture lasted in England for the next 200 years.
What is really fascinating about the Cathedral is that the Perpendicular remodelling was carried out within the Norman walls, using them for support. If the visitor looks carefully they can see where this happened.
The south window in the south transept is the oldest surviving Perpendicular window anywhere. The first four-centred arch (which later became popular as the “Tudor Arch”) is found here.
The magnificent Quire and Presbytery were then remodelled in the Perpendicular style. While in the Quire don’t forget to look up to the ceiling where beautifully carved and painted musician angels fly across the fan vaulting.
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Medieval Canopies & Misericords
At the other extreme, look over at the back choir stalls with their medieval canopies and 46 finely carved misericords c.1350 (little ledges where the monks could rest their bottoms during long services). The carvings are not always religious as might be expected - quite often they are humorous and illustrate ordinary medieval life. Look for the ‘dragon battle’, ‘the man and a donkey’ and the ‘dice game’.
The Gloucester stonemasons also produced fan vaulting in 1350. Many chapels and cathedrals in England owe their magnificence to this Gloucester invention and it is seen nowhere better than in the Cloisters of the Cathedral.
The Cloisters were where the monks lived and studied. The East Walk has the earliest fan vaulting dating from 1351-1377. The other walks were vaulted between 1381 and 1412 and are virtually identical.
The North Walk contains The Lavatorium (bathroom) at its West end. A stone trough originally carried water for the monks to wash.
The Cloisters are built around a peaceful garden which is open to the public. It is a very special place to visit – beautiful, calm and peaceful. Even when scenes for the Harry Potter films were being shot, the tranquility of the Cloisters was hardly affected.
The Cathedral is famous for its stained glass, both ancient and modern. The Great East Window fills the entire wall behind the High Altar. It was installed when the Quire was being remodelled in the early 1350s.
The huge window depicts Man’s hoped for progression from earth to heaven. At the bottom are the shields of the nobility, then tiers of bishops, abbots and saints, the apostles and angels, culminating in Christ and the Coronation of the Virgin Mary.
Although it is obviously a religious tribute, those mischievous medieval craftsmen couldn’t resist a joke. If the visitor looks very carefully at the bottom of the window they will see a roundel depicting a 14th century golfer! The yellow golf club looks more like a hockey stick to our scribe.
- Crécy Window
The window is sometimes called the Crécy Window as it was thought that it was paid for by two nobles who had fought in the Battle of Crécy in 1346. Whatever the reason for its creation, the window is one of the great examples of English medieval glass painting. It can be seen close up on the Whispering Gallery tour.
In the 15th century the present south porch, tower and Lady Chapel were built and the west end was remodelled.
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County War Memorial Chapel (Gloucestershire Regiments Chapel)
In the north ambulatory, opposite Edward II tomb, is the beautiful little St Edmund the Martyr’s Chapel. Hanging from the ceiling of the chapel are the battle colours of the Gloucestershire Regiment and the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars. They were obviously carried into battle because they are worn and torn and the one from the Battle of Waterloo is almost threadbare.
- Memorial Books
Against the walls of the chapel are four glass topped desks containing four illuminated memorial books. They contain the names of every Gloucestershire Regiments serviceman who died during the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War. Underneath the desks are bound photocopies of each book so that relatives can search for a family name.
These amazing memorial books were done by this writer’s father, Mr Hugh Moss, A.R.C.A, F.R.S.A. Mr Moss was Principal of the then Gloucester College of Art (1945-67) and was a qualified calligrapher and illuminator. It took him 5 years, by the light of an oil lamp, to complete the books. He worked on vellum and cut his own goose quill pens. The then College of Art in Brunswick Street is now the Gloucester City Museum & Art Gallery.
On the wall across the passage from the Memorial Chapel is a case containing the stone Celtic cross carved by Colonel J P Carne, VC, DSO whilst a prisoner-of-war in North Korea. Colonel Carne led the Glorious Glosters during the Korean War. For more information go to The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum article in this website.
Becoming a Cathedral
Under the instructions of King Henry VIII the great Benedictine monastery was dissolved in January 1540.
The abbey buildings became Gloucester Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Gloucester. Many of the monastic buildings have been incorporated into the Kings School and not generally accessible to the public. However, to the north east of the Cathedral can be seen the arched remains of the monks Infirmary.
King Henry VIIl’s Tudor dynasty heralded turbulent times for the Church. In the 16th century Gloucester’s Bishop John Hooper had the dubious honour of being the first Protestant martyr. The site of his martyrdom is just outside the Cathedral Close in St Mary’s Square and marked by the 'Bishop Hooper's Memorial'.
A tragedy almost occurred in the 17th century when Oliver Cromwell tried to have the cathedral demolished. Thank goodness the mayor and burgesses of the City of Gloucester put a stop to this idea courtesy of the Royal Charter granted them by King Richard II in 1483.
To check the availability and admission costs for the following Special Attractions please go to the Visitors Information page on the Cathedral website or ask at the Admissions Desk in the Cathedral.
- Guided Tours
Volunteer guides are available to make your visit as interesting and enjoyable as possible. They will take you down into the Crypt, tell you about the architecture and ancient effigies, or show you where the Harry Potter scenes were filmed. All you have to do is ask.
- Tower Tours & Great Peter
You must have a head for heights, be fit, over 6 years old and able to climb 269 steps up and 269 steps down. On a clear day during summer the visitor can see over 40 miles of countryside and look down into the ancient streets of Gloucester. You also get to pass through the ringing and bell chambers and see the 12 great bells of the Cathedral. The largest bell, Great Peter, is England's only remaining medieval great bell. It is 174 cm across and weighs 59 cwt 3qr 14lb.
- Whispering Gallery & Exhibition
The amazing acoustics of the Cathedral allow a whispered message on one side of the gallery to be heard on the other side of the apse. As well you get a close up view of the magnificent stained glass East Window from the tribune gallery. Find out why and how this 650 year old window was made.
An exhibition of Church Plate used in the Cathedral and other Gloucestershire churches since the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.
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Music - American National Anthem
The Cathedral has a rich musical heritage stretching back many centuries. John Stafford Smith (1750-1836) was a choirboy while his father was cathedral organist. John went on to become a famous composer and organist and in 1790 composed “Anacreon” which became popular in America.
Anacreon is extremely well known now as the American National Anthem. As a tribute to the composer, the Rotary Club of New York has given an American flag which now hangs above the memorial to John Stafford Smith on the north wall of the Nave.
Many instrumental and choral concerts are held in the cathedral. There is nothing more beautiful than listening to the cathedral choir singing in its home location.
A monastic herb garden has been created on the north side of the Cathedral beside the Infirmary Arches. The enclosed garden in front of Little Cloister House has four themed beds: Culinary, Medicinal, Dying & Fumigating, Strewing & Cosmetic. Simple display boards inform visitors about the placement and functions of the herbs.
Check with the Cathedral staff re access as the Garden has lately been inaccessible to visitors due to 'structural reasons'.
Normal opening times are:
Daily 07:30 – 18:00 hours.
During term time the cathedral may be closed between 08:45 and 09:15 for school assembly.
Occasionally there are limited closures for special services and events. To avoid disappointment, check the Cathedral website Web: Gloucester Cathedral/ Diary
Admission Cost & Photography
The external fabric of the building is of local limestone which is very soft and requires a lot of maintenance. There is no formal admission charge, however a reasonable donation per adult visitor would be appreciated. There is a set donation requested for a photography permit. For details of visitor and photography donations, please go to the Cathedral website for details Web: Admission & Photography
Accessible. There is a disabled toilet available - Please ask for the key and instructions at the Cathedral Shop. There are wheelchair lifts located in the North Transept and South Ambulatory.
The Cathedral Coffee Shop is just off the west walk of the Cloisters. Open every day - Web: Coffee Shop Hours.
Serves delicious beverages, hot soup and sandwiches - a quiet space to relax after a tour of the Cathedral.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1452 528 095
- From within Gloucester: From the intersection of Westgate & Eastgate Streets and Northgate & Southgate streets (The Cross) walk down Westgate street to the Cathedral entrance.
Google Maps - Gloucester Cathedral