The Early Cathedrals of Oswald and Wulstan

  • 16 Feb 2019
  • Historical Studies
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Oswald became Bishop of Worcester in 961, at the time of the Danish raids, and when Christian life as well nigh impossible. He saw the solution in the revival of monastic life, the monasteries being a refuge where men could flee from the lawless and sensual world, and from which a Christian by religious discipline could influence the world around.

The Bishop's seat was in an ancient church dedicated to St. Peter, but in 983 he built a large, handsome basilica in the monastery he founded. St. Peter's church remained until 1033, when it was destroyed and the materials used elsewhere.

The years that followed were often marked with great violence.Worcester was sacked in 1041 after the citizens had seized the Danish King's tax collectors who had taken refuge in the tower of the Cathedral, and put them to death. The King's vengeance fell on the City. The monks fled and took refuge on the island of Bevere. The Cathedral and monastery was set on fire and everything of value looted. Only after the King's men had departed did the monks return to the ruins.

In 1050, Wulstan was elected Prior and in 1062, he became Bishop of Worcester, and began the great task of rebuilding the Cathedral. What remained of Oswald's Church was pulled down, and the splendid crypt, presumably to house the relics of St. Oswald, was built in 1084. Wulstan's Cathedral was larger than Oswald's and built to the Norman style, though it was smaller than the present one, extending from about the Bishop's throne westward. Very little remains today.

The Cathedral was one of many being built after the Norman Conquest, and there must have been some difficulty in obtaining a sufficient supply of good workmen, even allowing for the importation of skilled artisans from the Continent. It took four years to build, being completed in 1088, and we are told that Aot Serle began Gloucester Aey in 1089. The inference is obvious, that the Worcester workmen left for Gloucester. 

In 1175, the Norman tower fell, and at the same time, the two most westerly bays of the nave were built in the transtional Norman style.