Wells

SONY DSCWells cathedral (map) became our first major case study, where we scanned the entire east end of the interior, with particular attention to the choir aisles. The significance of architecture in south-west England for the development of late Gothic, first identified in the 1950s, has been confirmed by recent scholarship (Pevsner, 1953; Bock, 1961 and 1962; Wilson, 1990; Crossley, 2003; Wilson, 2011). In both 3D form and rib configurations, the Wells vaults anticipate the ‘net vaults’ designed by Peter Parler at Prague Cathedral, thus establishing the principles of their design and construction provides vital data for investigating international influence and the possible transfer of technical ideas (Talaverano et al, 2012; López-Mozo et al, 2015).

In addition, the data produced by this project has both complicated existing interpretations of the construction at Wells (Colchester and Harvey 1974; Draper 1981; Ayers 2004) and offered the potential for solutions. The present research focuses on the eastern arm, which began to be extended and remodelled sometime after 1300, whilst retaining some elements of the existing choir, including the two westernmost arcade piers on each side and the western aisle walls, which were remodelled, with the insertion of new windows. These existing bays provided the width and length for the new choir aisle bays and heights for the new piers which corresponded to those of the older work. There have been suggestions that the remodelling of the south aisle wall pre-dated work further east, i.e. probably dating from before 1320 (Draper, 1981, pp.22-3) but there is no necessity for the western bays of either aisle to have been vaulted at this time. The Lady Chapel was described as ‘newly built’ in 1326 and the two projecting chapels just to the east of the aisle bays under discussion are documented in relation to chantries (foundations for commemorating the dead) in 1328 (Ayers, 2004, vol 1, p.139). Demolition of the wall behind the former high altar had taken place before 1333 and the glazing of the great east window has royal heraldry without fleurs-de-lys, suggesting a date prior to 1339 when this element was added by Edward III (Colchester and Harvey, 1974, p.208). Assuming the usual pattern of east-west construction and with a need for both choir aisles to have been vaulted before the erection of the upper vaults, itself probably predating glazing of the east window, the eastern bays of the aisles must have been built and the vaults added in around 1330.

Although there is a ‘window’ of less than a decade for the construction of the vaults under discussion, questions remain about their sequence of construction and the identity of their designer. It is generally assumed that the handover between the two named masons associated with Wells, Thomas of Witney and William Joy, occurred between the retrochoir and the choir, with Witney responsible for the former and Joy responsible for the latter (Harvey, 1984; Morris, 1991; Wilson, 1991). The nature of their responsibility and the extent of their involvement is, however, undocumented and the nature of the differences between the designs which we hope to identify in our research raises new questions about the relationship between design and construction, and about construction processes and site management.

Bock, H., 1962. Der Decorated Stil. Carl Winter, Universitatsverlag, Heidelberg.

Bork, R., McGehee, A., 2011. Introduction, in: Bork, R., et al. (Eds.), New Approaches to Medieval Architecture. Ashgate Publishing Limited, Surrey, pp. 1-7.

Colchester, L. S., Harvey, J. H., 1974. Wells Cathedral. Unwin Hyman, London.

Crossley, P., 2003. Peter Parler and England: A Problem Revisited. Wallraf-Richartz Jahrbuch volume 64, pp. 53-82.

Draper, 1981. The Sequence and Dating of the Decorated Work at Wells, in Medieval Art and Architecture at Wells and Glastonbury. The British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 4 for the year 1978. Maney, Leeds, pp. 18-29.

Harvey, J. H., 1984. English Medieval Architects. A Biographical Dictionary down to 1550. 2nd edn. Alan Sutton, Gloucester.

López-Mozo, A., Senent-Domínguez, R., Alonso-Rodríguez, M. Á., Calvo-López, J., and Natividad-Vivó, P., 2015 Asymmetrical Vaults in Late European Gothic: Basel and Bebenhausen as case studies, in Proceedings of the Fifth International Congress of Construction History, volume 2, pp. 497-504.

Morris, R. K., 1991. Thomas of Witney at Exeter, Winchester and Wells, in Kelly, F. (Ed.), Medieval Art and Architecture at Exeter Cathedral. British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 9 for the year 1985. Maney, Leeds, pp. 57-84.

Talaverano, R. M., Pérez de los Ríos, C. and Domínguez, R.S., 2012. Late German Gothic Methods of Vault Design and Their Relationships with Spanish Ribbed Vaults. Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress on Construction History. Available at http://oa.upm.es/15746/1/MartinTALAVERANO_2012_Comunicacion_Late_German_Gothic_Methods_4ICCH.pdf

Wilson, C. (1990). The Gothic Cathedral. Thames and Hudson, London.

Wilson, C. (2011). Why did Peter Parler come to England?, in Opacic, Z. and Timmerman, A. (Eds), Architecture, Liturgy and Identity. Liber Amicorum Paul Crossley, Brepols Studies in Medieval Art. Brepols, Turnhout: Brepols, pp. 89-109.

A collaborative research project using digital techniques to investigate medieval vault design in the British Isles.