Archaeological Journal/Volume 5/Notices of Recent Discoveries in Chester Cathedral

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NOTICE OF RECENT DISCOVERIES IN CHESTER CATHEDRAL,

ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE ORIGINAL ARRANGEMENT OF THAT STRUCTURE IN NORMAN AND LATER TIMES.

Excavations which have been made within the last few years in the choir of the cathedral at Chester, in effecting certain alterations in the internal arrangements, have brought to light the foundations of some of the pillars of the Norman church, which are exhibited in the accompanying plan. From this discovery it appears that, according to the custom usually followed during the prevalence of the Norman style, the choir was of much shorter proportions than is common in churches of later date, and that its eastern end was semicircular in plan. The round pillars were 6 ft. 9 in. in diameter, including the moulding of the base, which was a plain torus 3 in. in diameter. The large mass of walling at the junction of the curve with the straight part of the choir, on the north side, was 6 ft. broad, and extended over the whole space between the bases of the pillars of the existing church: a corresponding mass of walling was discovered on the south side of the choir before the other remains were laid open, but, as no precise dimensions of it were taken, it is not marked upon the plan; this last-mentioned piece of walling was found to have been partially disturbed by a grave which is excavated in it, but which has not at this time been opened. The other foundations have been almost entirely destroyed by the workmen.

As the north transept and the north wall and north-western angle of the nave of the present cathedral are of Norman date, this discovery in the choir completes the evidence which was wanting to shew the size and proportions of the entire original building.

In addition to the remains of the Norman church, the accompanying plan also shews the form of the present cathedral as first built. Most abundant evidence of the primary arrangement is visible in the parts of the fabric which have been altered; and the original external cornice of the Lady-chapel, considerably weather worn by its exposure before the aisles were added, still exists between the vaulting and the roof of the aisles; it is enriched with large tooth ornaments. Several changes are to be observed in the work about the east end of the choir, which may be accounted for by supposing that the present church was begun (as the style of the architecture indicates) with the Lady-chapel, and was gradually extended westward in such portions as could be most conveniently raised with least disturbance of the older building: this mode of proceeding was very usual in works of this kind, and it is not difficult to imagine how, in the first instance, a small Norman lady-chapel, and afterwards the main structure of the former church, may successively have created temporary obstructions to the progress of the new work.

Previous to the erection of the aisles to the Lady-chapel, the high altar must have stood in advance (westward) of the archway at the eastern end of the choir, or it would have interfered with the communication between the chapel and the body of the building, and it must have remained in that situation until the aisles were added to the Lady-chapel in continuation of those of the choir. The sedilia and ambries which now occupy the eastern arch on each side of the choir, may be assumed to have been erected at the time the altar was placed in this part of the building; their architectural details shew them to belong to the purest period of the Decorated style: the original archway between the choir and the Lady-chapel may be assigned to the very commencement of the same style.

When the altar was removed to the east end of the choir, the floor of that part of the building was raised so that the bases of the adjoining pillars were buried to a considerable depth; the present floor has been lowered, (as have also the sedilia to a corresponding extent,) but it is still at a higher level than was contemplated at the time the church was built, and hides an important part of the bases. R. C. H.