2nd May 1538. Riots, Fires and Natural Disasters.

The Normans keen to transfer their rural cathedrals to more secure urban centres, saw the removal from Elmham and then Thetford to the present site in Norwich. One peculiarity was the incorporation in the cathedral of a Benedictine Monastery.(1)

Norwich Cathedral, despite later changes, is one of the most complete Romanesque buildings in Europe, has the second tallest spire after Salisbury, at 315 feet, the largest serving cloisters and 1106 roof bosses.

One can be forgiven seeing magnificent cathedrals, set in tranquil surroundings, to think that little has changed over the centuries, but history shows otherwise.

Much damage was caused by rioting in 1272, not unusual for those times, between town and clergy as each jostled for power.

Then the spire fell in 1362, causing the choir to be rebuilt in the new Perpendicular style. In 1463 the spire was struck by lightning causing so such damage to the nave, as to turn the creamy Caen stone, pink.

Norwich as an example of a monastic cathedral chapter, was always to be at risk from Henry VIII’s Dissolutions. Thus it was Today in 1538 that the Prior, William Castleton, together with 38 monks, assembled in the Chapter House, to hear read and to sign the document handing over the Priory to the King. Thus ended 442 years of Benedictine rule.(2)

View of tower and south transept from the cloisters.

View of tower and south transept from the cloisters.

However the Prior was rewarded for going quietly, by being granted the office of Dean in the recreated foundation as a Cathedral. Along with this came six Prebendaries, five Choral Vicars or Minor Canons.

By the early 17th century the building was partly in ruins and suffered terribly through Puritan damage. Matters went from bad to worse after 1641, when Bishop, John Hall was translated to Norwich.

In December he was charged with High Treason and forced to appear, on a charge of Praemunire, before the Bar of the House of Lords.(3)

He was lodged in the Tower of London, but later released, restored to office and his revenues restored.

Two years later a Puritan mob attacked the ‘malignant set’ at the cathedral and the site was abandoned for two decades.

The attack was described by the Bishop in his ‘Hard Measures’: ‘It is tragical to relate the furious sacrilege… clattering of the glass…beating down of the wall…tearing of monuments…wrestling out of the iron and brass from the windows and the graves.’

Nave Ceiling

Nave ceiling showing fan tracery.

He also recorded, that ordnance was discharged and the cathedral filled with musketeers ‘drinking tobacconning (sic), as freely as it had turned into an ale house.’

Not until the 1660 Restoration of Charles II, was the cathedral restored to its former glory.

In 1999 lightning struck again, but the building was saved by lightning conductor and its 1480 stone spire.

(1a) The cathedral was built c 1096 and completed 1154, originally with a wooden spire.

(1b) A few other present day cathedrals, including Canterbury and Durham, were also monastic institutions.

(1c) In the 10th/11thc cathedral clergy became better organized and divided into monasteries, or  sometimes as colleges of clergy, bound by no vows except their statutes and canons.

(2) All the monastic cathedrals, except Bath and Coventry, were refounded as churches of secular chapters.

(3) Act of Praemunire was concerned with the power of the monarch in religious affairs.

Ref: themiddleages.net/life/cathedrals.

Ref: The History of the City of Norwich Vol 2.

Ref: visitnorwich.co.uk.

Ref: wikipedia.org/norwich_cathedral.Pic. Ref.

Ref: users.trytel.com.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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