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Founding and building the Cathedral

  • The Normans arrive in Norwich

    As you probably know, 1066 was a very important year in English history because William, Duke of Normandy, brought his army across the Channel from Northern France. The Normans defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings and then set about conquering the rest of the country. The Normans came to Norwich in 1067 and began to build Norwich Castle. William and his Norman followers realized that building grand castles and cathedrals would impress on the English living nearby how very powerful their new Norman masters were and discourage rebellion.

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  • Work starts on Norwich Cathedral

    In those days churches as well as castles played an important part in controlling people’s lives. When the Normans arrived in England, they brought with them an energetic churchman called Herbert de Losinga. He was the first Bishop of Norwich and in 1096 he began to build this great Cathedral.

    Norwich Cathedral became the seat of the Bishop for the whole of East Anglia, and was placed in the care of a community of Benedictine monks. For more information about the monks in Norwich see the Benedictine section.

    Did you know? - Cathedrals get their name because they contain the Bishop's chair or throne, and the Latin name for this is cathedra. At Norwich Cathedral, under the current wooden Bishop’s throne, there are the stone remains of the Bishop's throne from an earlier cathedral at North Elmham; these date from the 600s.

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  • Construction of the Cathedral
    Construction of the Cathedral

    Cathedrals were the biggest buildings in medieval England, and were certainly the most impressive. No expense was spared and the best materials were used in their construction. Cathedrals showed the latest styles in architecture, and building one was an enormous enterprise involving many different kinds of workers.

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  • Who built Norwich Cathedral?
    • The MASTER MASON was the most important as he designed the Cathedral and was also responsible for organizing the workers. He was in charge of every stage of the building and could become quite rich.
    • The MASONS were the most important group of builders because they made the squared blocks of stone with which the walls were faced. Most of the stone used to build Norwich Cathedral was shipped in from Caen in Normandy. A special type of mason called the imaginator also carved the decorative statues in the Cathedral.
    • CARPENTERS were needed to put up the wooden scaffolding and to put together the timber for the roof.
    • PLUMBERS were responsible for laying the sheets of lead that usually covered the roof.
    • GLAZIERS made the windows using strips of lead to join together pieces of coloured glass which made up patterns and pictures.
    • PAINTERS would cover the walls with pictures and decorations called murals, once the plaster had dried. They would make their own paint, and sometimes used paper-thin layers of real gold for parts of their murals.
    • Many other craftsmen were also needed to work on the Cathedral such as jewellers, silversmiths, goldsmiths, and enamellers.
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  • How long did it take to build?
    How long did it take to build?

    Building usually only took place between February and November; during the winter, the stone was designed and cut. The normal working day was from sunrise to sunset with breaks for breakfast and dinner. As you can imagine, cathedrals took a long time to build!

    Norwich Cathedral was started in 1096 and wasn't completed until 1145. Because cathedrals were so big and took so long to complete, no one man could mastermind the whole work from start to finish. Therefore, when the master mason changed, it usually meant a change in design.

    Norwich Cathedral was begun at the east end in 1096 on the site of the present St Saviour's Chapel. Norfolk had no suitable building stone apart from flint, and Herbert, being a Norman, was well aware of the excellent quality stone back home in Normandy. Most of the stone used to build Norwich Cathedral therefore comes from Caen in Normandy. It was cut and shaped in France, and then sent by sea to Great Yarmouth. Here it was transferred to barges which sailed up the River Wensum to Norwich. A canal was specially dug from the present Pull's Ferry to Lower Close, to bring the stone as near to the building site as possible (see picture).

    Did you know? - When you visit the Cathedral, you will be able to easily detect the creamy-coloured Caen stone. See if you can also find examples of Barnack stone, which is darker in colour and came from Northamptonshire.

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What's On

October '14

Library Open Afternoon
Broderers' Guild Workshop Tour