Reviews and Short Notices
The Medieval Art, Architecture and History of Bristol Cathedral: An Enigma Explored. Edited by Jon Cannon and Beth Williamson . Boydell. 2011. xvii + 350pp. £55.00.
Version of Record online: 20 MAR 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature © 2013 The Historical Association
Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature
Volume 96, Issue 1, pages 46–47, December 2012
How to Cite
Saul, N. (2012), The Medieval Art, Architecture and History of Bristol Cathedral: An Enigma Explored. Edited by Jon Cannon and Beth Williamson . Boydell. 2011. xvii + 350pp. £55.00. Annual Bulletin of Historical Literature, 96: 46–47. doi: 10.1111/1467-8314.12013
- Issue online: 20 MAR 2013
- Version of Record online: 20 MAR 2013
The editors of this volume tell the familiar story of the taxi driver who, when asked to take some visitors to Bristol Cathedral, took them instead to St Mary Redcliffe church. Externally, Bristol Cathedral, low and box-like, is scarcely of a comparable grandeur to its famous neighbour. Yet, as the editors say, the building has some of the most significant, impressive and interesting architecture to be seen anywhere. Its remarkable early fourteenth-century choir affords the only example in England of the hall church format – three aisles of equal height – deployed in a great church. The architecture of the building forms the subject of some of the most impressive contributions to this volume. Christopher Wilson, in a tour de force, argues that the choir should be seen as a creative response to the innovatory buildings erected in the south-east of England by Michael of Canterbury, the leading architect of the day, chief among them St Stephen's chapel, Westminster. While not denying the influence of West Country buildings, in particular Exeter Cathedral, a recently cited source, he nonetheless sees the Bristol Master as alert to the most up-to-date metropolitan designs, to which he may have had access through drawings, and he places the Bristol choir among the most exciting and innovative church buildings of the day. Jon Cannon, in another weighty piece, discusses the Berkeley tomb monuments in their exotic stellate recesses along the aisles and the extensive Berkeley heraldry in the east window, arguing that the new eastern arm was planned with Berkeley commemorative needs in mind. In taking this view, however, he sets himself at odds with Julian Luxford, who, in his own contribution, rejects any suggestion of secular control of the project and asserts the primacy of the canons' patronage. In another outstanding essay Paul Crossley analyses Sir Nikolaus Pevsner's writings on the Bristol choir, showing how deeply its wayward individuality appealed to him and how accurately he captured its architectural significance even if he was in error in supposing that the Bristol design gave birth to the English Perpendicular style. Other essays in the volume consider the remarkable extant Romanesque work in the Bristol chapter house, the nature of the community's religious life in the late middle ages, and the conversion of the Augustinian house into a cathedral at the Reformation. This is a very varied collection, with essays of widely differing length and density. Its main strength is to be found in the close attention it pays to the twin issues of the rich architectural creativity at Bristol in the early fourteenth century and the role of secular patronage in such creativity, themes which have a significance beyond the history of Bristol itself.