Southwell Minster

Southwell Minster

THE process of trying to cram a quart into a pint pot savours of foolishness, and the same may be said about trying to write a history and description of Southwell Minster in the small space which the exigence of this publication permits. Nevertheless, something must be said about this gem of mediaeval art, for its possession is, from many points of view, the greatest asset of the county.

The Norman work of the nave and the transepts is amongst the finest examples of the austere architecture of the reign of Henry I., and it is contemporary with the wreck of the White Ship and the establishment of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. From the outside of the building the grouping of the three Norman towers should be noticed, for the possession of these three ancient towers renders Southwell Minster almost unique.

The early English architecture of the choir, with its marvellous grouping of clerestory and triforium, shows the lighter, happier spirit which was abroad in the thirteenth century, when the teaching of St. Francis of Assisi, that beauty was of God, and that it might, therefore, be enjoyed, had overcome the harshness of the older outlook upon things. This choir was completed about the time of Simon de Montfort and the first English Parliament.

The unique and glorious chapter house dates from about 1300, and its carvings are so wonderful, and copy nature so closely, that they have been described as " stone photography." Most visitors are so absorbed in the beauty of these carvings that they miss one of the greatest beauties of the building. If the visitor will stand inside the chapter house and look out through the well-known door leading to the ambulatory, he will see not only the wonderful carving, but also the clear masterful lines of the construction of this portal.

The screen, with its skeleton vault and its wealth of carving, followed the chapter house in point of time, and is about the finest example of the decorated style of carving in vogue just before the disaster of the Black Death. Artistically speaking, it is a little decadent, for it is a trifle overloaded with ornament, but the times in which it was set up were days of great wealth and prosperity, and perhaps this wealth and prosperity is reflected in the exuberance of the ornamentation of the screen.

There are over two hundred heads carved on the screen, and the fun and humour of some of them show that in the early 14th century England earned her title of "Merry England."

The modern wood-carving in the choir should not be overlooked, for it is as good in its way as is the carving of our forefathers.