The Reverence of Cathedrals

Posted: 31 March 2014

The Octagon, Ely Cathedral, one of the most awesome sights
The Octagon, Ely Cathedral, one of the most awesome sights

“What has proved most unexpected… is that the public has supported cathedrals both as places of a new sort of collective worship and as great art” – Simon Jenkins.

Frustrated with a dip in the quality and consistency of my writing, last year, while staying in the UK, Bradscribe took a soul-searching and belief-building Places To See Before You Die Tour up north to visit a number of cathedrals. It had been a journey envisaged for some time, but it seemed like one of those grand expeditions which would not materialise.

For a long time, cathedrals have held a reserved place in my mind, heart and soul… and in my writing.

Sometimes at the writing desk, when concentration on my fiction drifts, a quick and easy ploy to reinvigorate the word flow involves having one or more of my characters stumble into a cathedral. Nothing like attempting to describe these architectural wonders and how they excite the senses! There is also the possibility of working on a radical new History of Cathedrals…   

Not a religious person by any means, yet this writer has, nevertheless, been drawn to these magnificent buildings. At a time when church attendances are dwindling, and the tenets of religion have seemingly lost their relevance, cathedrals continue to inspire and enthral.

Worcester Cthedral stands majestically beside the river Severn
Worcester Cathedral stands majestically beside the river Severn

“I went and looked at one of these cathedrals one day, and I was blown away by it. It occurred to me… that the story of the building of a cathedral could be a great popular novel” – Ken Follett.

In July last year, carried away on the wings of instinct, Bradscribe ordered a coach ticket to Worcester. For ages, in too many glossy photos, its cathedral had taunted me with its jaw-dropping majesty, standing tall and resplendent next to the river Severn.

At last, this writer found himself on a path that runs alongside that river! Being miles away from home, in a strange town, did not matter. Unbelievably, it was a warm and gorgeous evening. The cathedral did not disappoint; it met every expectation. The conditions were just right; inspiration crept forth. Slipping out the old notebook which has travelled with me from one side of the world to the other, frantic reams of life-affirming and ebullient scribblings were made!

The interior of Lincoln Cathedral
The interior of Lincoln Cathedral

“Lincoln today still has more magnificence than any other English cathedral… It’s towered mass occupies the entire crown of its hill, and soars easily above… the old streets that twist and climb about it” – Batsford & Fry (1934).  

Always thought Lincoln Cathedral too remote to be reached. Indeed, access could only be gained via an indirect coach route, but it is one of the most illustrious buildings in the country, so later that same week, Bradscribe was thrilled to experience it.

Both its impressive west front with its three towers: “exquisite in proportion as in texture,” and the sheer elongated scale of the opulently-decorated nave: “one of spaciousness and restrained dignity” were absolutely awe-inspiring. Hours were gleefully spent ambling through its transepts and aisles, formulating the mental images that will linger with me forever.

The magnificent Ely Cathedral
The magnificent Ely Cathedral

The last leg of my tour took me to the enchanting town of Ely, another of those magical classics of medieval monumental architecture.

Talk about last but not least! This cathedral, one of the most revered in England, proved to be just as amazing as the others mentioned above. In some aspects, Ely Cathedral surpasses them. Certainly, such features as the intricately decorated long ceiling of the nave and the charming 14th century Lady Chapel are particularly notable. Yet it is the Octagon, a mighty complex structural achievement over the crossing (where the north and south transepts join the nave), which stands unreservedly as my favourite feature of Medieval engineering. Can’t remember how long it took, just sitting under it, staring with incredulous wonder. This feature alone was worth the arduous coach and train journeys that week.

Ultimately, the urge to visit these edifices of awesomeness, hitherto only gawped at in guidebooks, was greatly justified. My frustrations had dissipated; my motivation restored. Truly, these stupendous monuments are a testament to the fantastic and opulent heritage which England should strive to preserve.

Long may they continue to offer boundless inspiration to my writing.