Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucestershire


Cloister garth
St Andrew's Chapel
West window

Imposing, city centre cathedral, originally an abbey, with some Norman components but mostly built in the 13th and 14th centuries. Famous for its high tower, medieval stained glass and exquisitely vaulted cloisters
Free, though donations recommended
On the northwest side of Gloucester, near the River Severn; GL1 2LX
Photo Tour (49 images)
Gloucester Cathedral is one of the great medieval religious buildings of England, noted for its grand Gothic architecture, the 225 foot high central tower that is visible all across the city centre, the particularly elaborate fan vaulting of the cloisters (the first use of this architectural style in the country) and for being the resting place of Edward II, who died in nearby Berkeley Castle - one of the few monarchs not interred in London or the southeast. The full name is the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, and while the earliest part of the present building dates from the late 11th century, a church has existed on this site since around 679. The cathedral building in its present form has remained largely unchanged since the mid 14th century.

Entry to the cathedral is free, and while visitors are requested to donate, there is less pressure to do so than at some similar places. The main, ground floor level is always open though access to some sections are restricted during services, while guided tours are available to three other areas - the vaulted, apsidal crypt, which is one of only four cathedral crypts with this design, the tower, a visit that involves a climb of 269 steps, and the library, which has a valuable collection of manuscripts dating back to the 11th century. Tower tours are only available between April and October. Free guided tours are also available through the general areas.

Access and Layout

A small amount of parking is available on site, to pass holders only; the best place for regular visitors is a short distance south, off Longsmith Street. The cathedral is aligned approximately west to east, with the cloisters on the north side, a relatively uncommon position since they were usually placed to the south, to receive more sunlight. The buildings are mostly surrounded by lawns and trees, with a more formal space to the west (College Green), lined by various old houses. Entry to the cathedral is through the south porch, at the southwest corner of the building, opening to the nave. The cloisters are entered through doors on the opposite side of the nave and extend all around the perimeter of the square central garden, or garth. The nave links with the choir and the north and south transept, which in turn connect to the presbytery, enclosed by a semi circular aisle, the ambulatory, which also leads to the lady chapel at the far east end. Four smaller chapels (St Paul's, St Andrew's, St Philip's and Abbot Boteler's) adjoin the two transepts and the two corners of the ambulatory, while two small, unobtrusive doors access stairways that descend to the crypt. Other sections include the Norman-era chapter house, and the abbots cloister or slype, both leading off the main cloister.

The presbytery


The first Christian institution in Gloucester, a monastery, was established in 679 by an Anglo-Saxon nobleman named Osric, though few details are known about its buildings or practices. Nearly 400 years later, shortly after the Norman conquest, King William I installed a French monk, Serlo, as abbot, and it was he who a few years later started construction of the abbey church, from which period some elements remain including the crypt and the huge round pillars supporting the roof of the nave. Most of the fundamental parts of the structure are from the 13th century, while much of the decorations and ornate embellishments were added in the 14th century following an increase in the abbey funds due to contributions from the numerous pilgrims who came to view the newly-installed monument to the popular king Edward II. Amongst the latest additions were the main tower, the south porch and the lady chapel, this at the end of the 15th century. Partly because one of his ancestors was buried here, Henry VIII did not order the abandonment of the abbey as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but instead, in 1540, the place became a cathedral, and its fabric is little changed since, apart from periodic restorations.

Tomb of Edward II
Tomb of Edward II


Like all cathedrals, Gloucester contains many memorials to noblemen, clergy and other notable people - there are over one hundred of them, including headstones set on the floor, plaques on the walls, and for the most famous, elaborate tombs along the aisles. The most well-known is of course for Edward II, who was (probably) murdered in Berkeley Castle in 1327. His twin coffins, lead inside wood, are enclosed within an elaborate monument featuring a marble-clad limestone framework around an effigy made of alabaster, one of the earliest uses of this material, and is located along the north wall of the presbytery, between the tombs of Abbot William Parker (died 1539), and Osric, the founder of the original monastery. Another royal monument is to Robert (Curthose), Duke of Normandy, the eldest son of William the Conqueror. Although Robert is buried beneath the cathedral, the exact place is unknown; the monument consists of a mortuary chest topped by a brightly-coloured oak effigy, both added some time after the death. The effigy is the oldest, dating from around 1240. Other ancient monuments include those of Abbot Sebroke (died 1457) and John Wakeman (died 1549), the first Bishop of Gloucester.


The cloisters are accessed from either end of the north aisle of the nave, entered via a pair of double precession doors. Besides the amazing vaulted ceilings, constructed in the late 14th century to replace a less-decorative Norman design, the corridors are also notable for the fine stained-glass windows opening to the garden, imposing colourful shadows on the masonry when illuminated by the sun. The cloisters have become more well known in recent years following several appearances in the Harry Potter films. The north cloister adjoins the lavatorium, a small recess used for bathing, fed by water from a stream. The square garden at the centre of the cloisters includes a fountain, a well and floral beds, and has benches from which to admire the view of the turreted tower rising high above. Most of the glass in the cloister windows is modern, but some Tudor panels do survive, along the south corridor. Likewise, windows in the main church are from a range of periods though medieval glass remains in some places, most spectacularly in the great east window, just above the altar; at the time of its installation (the 1350s) this was the largest in the world. Other glass from this period is found in some of the windows of the lady chapel, though the actual arrangement was put in place only in 1801, using salvaged fragments. Amongst the many scenes in the great east window is the earliest known depiction of the game of golf.


The earliest architectural style, as used by the Normans, is known as the Romanesque, one characteristic being rounded arches, and this is evident in the crypt and part of the north aisle of the nave. The majority though is Gothic, with such elements as pointed arches, decorative spires and elaborate vaulting; in particular, the cathedral represents one of the earliest examples of perpendicular Gothic, in which particular emphasis is placed on vertical lines of symmetry, unlike the elaborate curves that were found in the preceding, decorative Gothic style. This is most spectacularly demonstrated in the walls and windows around the choir and presbytery.