Tag Archives: Ottery St Mary

Scanning at Ottery St Mary

For the final day of our visit to Devon we travelled from Exeter to Ottery St Mary Church to scan the vaults there.
Ottery St Mary was built by Bishop Grandisson of Exeter, whose tomb chapel in the West Front of Exeter Cathedral we visited two days earlier. He established Ottery as a college of priests in 1337 and the church is correspondingly impressive, a miniature cathedral on a similar plan to Exeter, with vaults clearly modelled on the high vault of the choir at Wells Cathedral. It is therefore widely assumed that Grandisson worked with the designer responsible for the Exeter West Front, William Joy, and possibly also Thomas of Witney, also employed at Exeter, claims we hope our research may help to substantiate.
Our research will also provide data for investigating the international transmission of design ideas. Ottery’s international significance has already been mentioned in an earlier blog post (link). Like Wells (another building associated with both Witney and Joy), it transforms Gothic architecture in ways picked up by Peter Parler, the designer of Prague Cathedral and other late Gothic architects. Twelfth- and thirteenth-century Gothic churches are generally designed in modular form, as a sequence of identical bays consisting of an arcade arch, with a window above and, in grander churches, a middle story in between. Vaults likewise may be analysed as bays, divided one from the next by a transverse rib and intersected by diagonals which criss-cross  the bay, their junction marked by a boss. The high vault of Wells Cathedral is of international significance as the earliest ‘net’ vault, with diagonal ribs extending across more than one bay. The vault design also includes ‘cusping’, subsidiary mouldings added to the ribs, a design concept originating in window tracery. Ottery follows this model, with the additional development that the diagonals curve in three dimensions rather than two, again like the flowing lines of window tracery. The cusping stands proud of the surface of the vault, adding to the visual conceit that the ribs form a net thrown over the surface of the vault rather than directly relating to its geometry. The church also has vaults with ribs of multiple curvatures, domical vaults and a sixteenth-century fan vault with hanging pendants, making it a very rich resource for our research.
Our trip to Ottery St Mary was funded by the Paul Mellon Centre.

Scanning at Exeter Cathedral

On Wednesday 30th March we travelled to Devon to collect more survey data from two sites; Exeter Cathedral and Ottery St Mary Church. We spent two days at Exeter and will spend a final day at Ottery.

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Surprisingly, we were joined by a team at Exeter Cathedral who were also there to create a model of it. Whereas we were using digital scanning techniques to produce a highly accurate model of the vaults at Exeter, they were using Lego to create a scale model within the cathedral. You can follow their progress here. We were able to scan the uninterrupted length of high vaults along the nave and choir, the central porch of the screen facade, the crossing, the miniature vaults in the pulpitum and those of the sedilia. These miniature vaults are particularly interesting to us, being documented designs by Thomas of Witney, a mason who also worked at Wells Cathedral, a site we’ve already scanned. At both Exeter and Wells, Witney experimented with the use of liernes, additional decorative ribs, of which Exeter’s are some of the earliest surviving examples. With help from the cathedral archaeologist, John Allan, we were able to identify additional sites to survey, such as the site of the former North walk of the cloister, which was situated between the external buttressing to the south of the nave.

The trip to Exeter was funded by the University of Liverpool’s Interdisciplinary Network Fund.

What links Prague and Ottery St Mary in Devon?

 

2016 marks the 700th anniversary of the birth of Charles IV, eldest son and heir of King John of Bohemia, who died at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. Charles succeeded his father as King of Bohemia, was later elected King of the Romans and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1355.

Under John and, especially, Charles, the city of Prague was transformed into a capital worthy of the most powerful ruler in Europe. Architectural additions including a new cathedral within the royal castle, a new university and a bridge across the river Vltava, linking the castle with the old city. Both the symbolism and the structural forms of these buildings have long been of fascination to architectural historians and have most recently been studied by Dr. Jana Gajdošová, currently based in the History of Art Department at the University of Cambridge.

Peter Parler was the architect responsible for the most innovatory aspects of Charles IV’s buildings. Since the mid-20th century, the work associated with William Joy at Wells Cathedral has been identified as one of Peter Parler’s sources. This makes Wells a key site in the development of European Late Gothic. We were therefore very interested in a recent lecture by Dr. Gajdošová to the British Archaeological Association, which (amongst other things) discussed the architectural parallels between the vaulting of the Charles IV Bridge and that at Ottery St Mary Church in Devon, another building linked with Wells Cathedral and William Joy. In particular, she drew attention to the ‘triradials’, ribs which form a ‘Y’ shape and criss-cross the bays, emphasizing the tunnel shape of the vault. The vault in the Old Town Tower of the Charles IV Bridge is the earliest example of these intersecting triradials in Parler’s work, which make it the region’s earliest ‘net vault’, a form which was to dominate Central European Gothic for the next 150 years. Dr. Gajdošová also discussed the distinctively elegant form of the springing of the Prague vault, which was also to prove influential, reoccurring in buildings such as the church of Kutná Hora in Bohemia.

We hope that our research will support future research into such parallels, moving beyond two-dimensional and visual analysis into further investigation of such vaults’ three-dimensional forms.