From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Southwell Minster

53° 4' 36" N 0° 57' 14" W

  • History
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Southwell Minster is a minster and cathedral, in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. It is considered an out standing example of Norman and Early English architecture. The distinctive pyramidal spires of lead, known as Rhenish caps or "pepperpot" spires, are the only example of their kind in the UK. They uniquely overlap the footprint of the tower walls. It is the seat of the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham and the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham. A Minster is a grand type of church; the term may be extended to apply to a cathedral, such as York Minster. The word is Old English, mynster or monastery.

The earliest church on the site is believed to have been founded in 627 by Paulinus, the first Archbishop of York, on a visit to the town when he was baptising believers in the River Trent. In 956 King Eadwig gave a gift of land in Southwell to Oskytel, Archbishop of York, on which a Minster church was established. The Norman Domesday Book of 1086 then recorded Southwell manor in great detail, and the Norman reconstruction of Southwell Minster began in 1108, probably as a gradual rebuilding of the Anglo-Saxon church, starting, as was usual at the East end so that the high altar could come into action as soon as possible, with the Saxon building being dismantled as work progressed. The tessellated floor and late 11th century tympanum in the North Transept are the only pieces of the earlier, Saxon building remaining intact. The Minster was built partly as an attached church of the Archbishop of York's Palace which stood next door and is now ruined. It served the Archbishop as a place of worship and was also a collegiate body of theological learning, hence its designation as a minster. The minster still draws its choir from the nearby school with which it is associated. Work on the nave began after 1120 and the building was completed by c1150. The Norman quire was replaced with an Early English building in 1234 because it was too small. The octagonal chapter house, built in 1286 complete with vault in Decorated Gothic style and naturalistic carving of foliage a masterpiece of 13th century stonecarving including several Green Men, completed the cathedral. The elaborately carved "pulpitum" or quire screen was built in 1350.

The fighting during the English Civil War saw the church seriously damaged and the nave is said to have been used as stabling. The adjoining palace was almost completely destroyed by Scottish troops and then the local people, with only the hall of the Archbishop remaining as a ruined shell. The Minster's financial accounts show that extensive repairs were necessary after this period. On 5th November, 1711, during a terrible storm, the south west spire was struck by lightning and the resulting fire spread to the nave, crossing and tower destroying roofs, bells, clock and organ. By 1720 repairs had been completed, giving a now flat panelled ceiling to the nave and transepts.