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Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral

Wells cathedral & its magnificent west front

To my mind, Wells Cathedral is one of the most beautiful sights in Somerset (and the competition for this accolade is fierce!). Situated just a couple of miles down the road from The Cross, Wells Cathedral is one of the earliest Gothic buildings in Britain.

If you stand on the Cathedral Green and face this incredible building, you will be gazing at carvings on the West Front of the cathedral which date back to the 13th century. The longer you spend looking at this facade, the more you will see. For the West Front of Wells Cathedral contains nearly 300 medieval sculptures in different ‘zones’.

Wells Cathedral West Front

Summer time & the Cathedral Green is brown


Today, these figures still look resplendent, but I wonder how they would have looked centuries ago? An extensive conservation programme was carried out between 1974 and 1986 and during the restoration works traces of paint were discovered. It appears that some of the carved figures may have been adorned with red, white, blue and green paint. There were also signs that some of the heads received a special coating of orange. (Perhaps seniority within the noble ranks helped to determine colourings!). Anyway, back to the present.

Wells Cathedral West Front

The end of Autumn

While no-one alive today can be absolutely certain of the deeper meaning of the carvings on the West Front of Wells Cathedral, there is a consensus as to what many of the main figures represent and how the different areas are divided up.

Wells Cathedral and its magnificent West Front in the snow

Picture by Nick James


At the top of the West Front is a carving of Christ flanked by angels. Move your eyes down from here and you’ll see the Twelve Apostles. Next come the Nine Orders of Angels, followed by the Resurrection Tier. Then, there is an upper and middle tier of life-size figures, the Biblical Quatrefoils and then the Demi-Angels. The lower tier contains other life-size figures. While the high towers on the West Front were added at a later date the figures detailed above would have been carved around 800 years ago. Amazing.

Wells Cathedral and its magnificent West Front

A new edition to the ranks

At the end of August 2021, an Antony Gormley sculpture was installed among the carved figures on the West Front. The sculpture – cast in iron – fills a previously empty space. It’s a new work and there should be plenty of time to view it as the piece will be loaned for around 18 months. Another fantastic reason to visit this impressive cathedral.

Wells Cathedral West Front

A royal seal of approval

If you’re keen on finding out more about Wells Cathedral their volunteer staff are incredibly helpful. You could also take a guided walk (Siobhan of Wells Walking Tours is a font of information) or pick up a copy of Wells Cathedral West Front by Jerry Sampson. In this book, HRH the Prince Of Wales writes the foreword. In it, he describes Wells Cathedral as follows,

“Wells is one of the greatest collections of medieval sculpture in the world…” I couldn’t have put it better myself!

In 2022 Which? readers named Wells Best Small UK City for a short break’. I’m sure that Wells Cathedral and its magnificent West Front made a lasting impression.

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