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Art and architecture

Norwich Cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings in the country. This page will give you a glimpse of its many wonderful artistic and architectural treasures.

But of course all this is much more impressive if you can see it at first hand for yourself, so come and visit Norwich Cathedral soon!


It is important to understand that those who paid the skilled craftsmen to built this Cathedral and create these treasures did so because they wanted to employ these skills to reflect the love of God and glorify him.

To find out more about the art and architecture of the Cathedral look at our pages on Art and collections and New works of art and architecture.

Have a look at our Gallery page for more pictures of the Cathedral generally.


  • The Roof Bosses of Norwich Cathedral
    The Roof Bosses of Norwich Cathedral

    The Cathedral is unique in its collection of over 1000 roof bosses beautifully carved into the stone vaulting on the ceiling. A roof boss is a carved picture in stone which tells a story. For example, those in the Nave tell the story of the Bible from God's creation of the world to the crucifixion of Jesus and the judgement of people entering heaven.

    Did you know?
    The roof bosses have a practical as well as a decorative function. A stone roof boss is a keystone which actually holds all the stone ribs of the ceiling in place. You will see this clearly when you visit the Cathedral.

    The Nave roof bosses are beautifully painted and show Bible stories which might be familiar to you.

    Here is a selection for you to look at:

    This magnificent bird is one of the first creatures that God has created. The blue around the phoenix is meant to represent the sky. Can you remember on which day God created animals?

    You will probably recognise Noah's Ark. Noah and his family and the creatures are all looking out on the flood. Can you identify all the different animals on board?

    This roof boss shows the Nativity. Mary and Joseph are sitting with the baby Jesus who is lying in a manger. The traditional ox and ass in the stable are above the baby.

    About 400 of the Cathedral's roof bosses are situated in the Cloister. These were carved during the rebuilding of the Cloister which took place from 1297 until 1450 after the damage caused in the riot of 1272. Like in the Nave, the bosses here often tell stories - there are over 100 bosses carved on the theme of the Apocalypse (the end of the world). In the Cloister, just as in contemporary illuminated manuscripts, we find Christian images next to grotesque and fantastic depictions of beasts and monsters. It certainly is a fascinating mix and it is well worth hunting around the Cloister for these bosses when you visit the Cathedral. Here is a fine example:

    This beautiful image is of a subject often found in medieval churches and cathedrals and called the ‘Green Man’. These mysterious figures, with faces made from or surrounded by leaves, are connected with folk customs that came before Christianity.

    Green Men are usually associated with regeneration and new life and are taken to represent the cycle of growth which starts every springtime. When you visit the Cloister, hunt around very carefully, because there are at least seven other Green Men hiding away! They are all just as fascinating and they are all quite different in their appearance. You can find out more about the Green Man in our Green Man section, and we sell Green Man books, replicas and gift items in our shop in the Nave.

  • Carvings in Wood and Stone
    Carvings in Wood and Stone

    Norwich Cathedral contains many beautiful carvings and sculptures in wood and stone. These depict a variety of subjects including:

    • those connected with Christianity,
    • people who paid for work to be done in the Cathedral,
    • the seven deadly sins, and
    • pictures of a whole range of different animals.

    We have a Childrens' Trail called Noah is in Norwich Today which will help you find lots of those animals.

    Most of these carvings date from the Middle Ages, but we continue to commission new works of art.  As an example, we have many medieval misericords but to celebrate the millennium we added a new one depicting Norwich City Football Club!

  • Stained Glass
    Stained Glass

    Norwich Cathedral has some beautiful 19th and 20th century stained glass, much of which has an interesting history behind it.

    The window in the Bauchon Chapel for example, was commissioned by the friends of Norwich Cathedral to reflect the Benedictine tradition of the monks who founded this Cathedral.

    If you look carefully you can see a panel depicting Herbert de Losinga, who founded the Cathedral in 1096, standing in front of his new Cathedral.

  • Statues

    The Dean and Chapter commissioned two new statues for the west front of the Cathedral to commemorate the new millennium. Local sculptor David Holgate created powerful images of St Benedict and Mother Julian of Norwich, a medieval mystic who was the first woman ever to write a book in English.

    Holgate spent a long time looking for people whose features would be just right to use as models. Eventually he found the perfect St Benedict, playing jazz guitar in a restaurant on St. Benedict's Street, Norwich. He picked Robbie Broomhead because of his ‘wonderful Romanesque face and Roman nose’. The guitarist even shaved his head for him!

    For Mother Julian, he chose a Spanish woman living locally, Adela Gil de Sagredo. 'The people of the 14th century would have been quite small and slight, and she had the right sort of face to give this sense of spiritual calm’, David explained.

    The life size sculptures are made from Ancaster stone, from Lincolnshire. The statues occupy niches either side of the West Porch of the Cathedral, which had stood empty for over 500 years. Now St Benedict and Mother Julian look out over the Close, welcoming visitors to Norwich Cathedral.

  • Paintings

    Norwich Cathedral has some remarkable paintings, which are all on display in the side chapels. When they were first painted they were intended to lift the spirit and move those looking at them to acts of devotion. These paintings can still have that effect today.

    One of the most important works is the Despenser Retable. This painting dates back to the late 14th century and is a rare survival from that period. It was discovered in 1847 when someone looked under a table to see that the underside of the table was a painted panel. When the table was reversed the altarpiece came to light. Sadly, there was some damage to the top section but some of this has been delicately restored and the Retable is now to be seen behind the altar in St Luke’s Chapel.

    The Despenser Retable gets its name from a warlike bishop of Norwich, Henry Despenser (1369-1406). He led the fight against the rebels in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. The altarpiece was probably commissioned in thanksgiving that the revolt had been contained and a number of shields survive on the painting, which are associated with those who led the attack on the rebels. The five panels are to do with the death and resurrection of Christ. They depict Jesus being flogged, carrying his cross, the crucifixion itself and the subsequent resurrection and ascension. There is an obvious interest in the soldiery as one might expect form donors involved in serious military conflict.

What's On

October '15

A look at literary form in the Bible: products of their age
Transforming time: eschatology and the New Testament
Veganism: practice, ethics and challenges
An Evening Tour of the Cathedral
Christian perspectives on War
A very English reformation?

November '15

Mission in the 19th and 21st centuries
Transforming time: eschatology and the New Testament
Mission in the 19th and 21st centuries
Transforming time: eschatology and the New Testament