The cathedral at Worcester is the fifth oldest in the country, established as a priory around 680, and functioning as a Benedictine monastery for most of its early life, until disbanded by Henry VIII in 1540, after which it was rededicated as an Anglican cathedral, without any damage to the church or its associated buildings, unlike many other abbeys which became ruined. The oldest part of the current structure is late 11th century, and since then the place has been significantly modified on four occasions, with differing styles of architecture; transitional Norman, early English, decorated Gothic and finally perpendicular Gothic, this during the late 14th century. Besides the variety of fine architecture, of which the most impressive is perhaps the perpendicular, the cathedral is also notable for the well preserved Norman chapter house, the imposing central tower, the double transepts (most cathedrals have only a single pair), and two royal tombs including that of King John, one of the very few monarchs not interred in London or the southeast.
Other surviving monastic buildings include the refectory (now used by King's School, and not open to the public), and the cloisters, while the remains of two more can be viewed; the monk's dormitory and the Guesten hall, this latter where the monks would house and entertain visitors. These fragmentary ruins provide added interest to the otherwise complete though recently restored exterior - most of the visible masonry is Victorian - which dominates the city centre and is picturesquely situated on the banks of the River Severn, mostly ringed by trees and adjoining a quiet area to the south, College Green, lined by various other historic buildings.
Worcester Cathedral is located just south of the city centre, bordered to the north and south by other old buildings, and close to the River Severn to the west, where it is separated by a walkway, lawn and the remains of the monk's dormitory, an area fully not open to public. On the north side is a small graveyard and the elegant, 14th century north porch, featuring fine carving, but the usual entrance is from the south, through the cloisters, accessed from College Green. The approach to this peaceful square is through the arched gateway of the Edgar Tower. This was built in the 14th century by the church, at the entrance to the outer bailey of Worcester Castle, now occupied by the green. The main section of the castle was to the south though all traces disappeared many centuries ago. Only the northeast side of the cathedral is less picturesque, as the main southerly approach to the city, the A44, runs close by, 80 feet distant. The largely Victorian exterior can be viewed by a quarter mile circuit, incorporating the graveyard, the river bank, College Green and the photogenic remains of the Gesten house - a wall segment containing four window frames, one featuring restored tracery, while there is enough to see in the interior to occupy at least an hour. The nearest parking area is just a couple minutes walk away at King Street, on the southeast side of the cathedral.
The south entrance to the cathedral is through the cloisters, approaching via a passageway to the southeast corner. Most of the outer cloister of walls are early Norman, from the start of the 12th century, while the inner walls are late 14th century. The four cloister corridors enclose a square courtyard garden, a typical feature of mediaeval monasteries, accessed via a door on the west side. The east range contains the door to the chapter house, perfectly circular inside and decagonal outside, illuminated by eight high, four-light windows, the other two faces bordering higher walls and so windowless. The circular interior was constructed in 1120. The building is supported by a slender central column, linking with radiating vaulting. A narrow room at the northwest corner of the cloisters houses a gift shop and information centre. There is no fee to enter the cathedral though permits are required for taking photographs; £3, or £5 if using tripods.
The cloisters entry is to the south aisle of the nave, site of a tall, very ornate font from the Jacobean area, and a statue of Henry Philpot, Bishop of Worcester, below a window of stained glass which, like nearly all of the glass is relatively recent, installed in Victorian times. The west end of the nave is Norman, but most of the interior, including the majority of the supporting columns, are a mix of the decorated and perpendicular Gothic. Two notable objects in the nave, both along the north aisle, are the tomb of John Beauchamp (died 1388) and wife Joan, and a fine carved wood screen, in the Jesus chapel. The east end of the nave links to the north and south transepts, which include doors to spiral staircases that give access to the central tower. Tower tours, via the northern staircase, are available at weekends and school holidays, and involve a climb of 235 steps.
Choir and Chapels
The remaining half of the cathedral is mostly in the early English style, built in the 13th century - a particularly beautiful choir area at the centre, separated by decorative, carved screens from the adjacent aisles, and leading to the lady chapel at the far end, bordered by a smaller set of transepts. Just below the high altar, at the end of the choir, is the tomb of King John, who was buried here at his request, in 1216. The altar adjoins the chantry chapel of Albert, Prince of Wales (died 1502), eldest son of Henry VII, and this was the last significant structural addition prior to the 1540 Dissolution. The north transept of the choir contains St Georges Chapel, and a memorial to priest Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, while the south transept is occupied by the Dean's chapel. Stairs from here lead down to the crypt, a low-ceilinged enclosure supported by closely-spaced columns and semi-circular arches - the oldest part of the whole building, unchanged from its construction in the late 11th century. Exit is via another staircase, rising to a door in the main south transept, site of an old organ.
No trace remains from the original Worcester Priory buildings, erected in the late seventh century. The priory was associated with the Benedictine order from the end of the tenth century, and was rebuilt by the Normans, initially under the guidance of St Wulfstan of Worcester; elements from this period include the crypt, chapter house and nave transepts. Other sections were added and modified using different styles and building materials over the next 250 years, culminating in the central tower, completed in 1374. The next century saw fewer alterations, the main additions being to the cloisters, and the only change in the 1500s was installation of the Prince Albert chantry chapel. The presence of Arthur's tomb was the reason that the monastery was not abandoned following the Dissolution of the Monasteries instigated by his brother Henry VIII, and the subsequent history of the church is relatively uneventful. Major restoration was carried out in the 1860s and 1870s, by architects Perkins and Scott, accounting for majority of the stained glass in the windows, and of the interior decor.