As Bath is getting just too urban, we took a lovely bus ride today to visit Wells, considered the smallest city in England. Why don’t they simply call it a town, you ask? Ah, well, to be a city you need a cathedral. And to have a cathedral, you must have a bishop. Wells has an extraordinary cathedral, and has had bishops since the first century. So, a city it is.
Wells has been an ecclesiastical city of importance since at least the early 8th century. Parts of the cathedral date back to the tenth century, and it is known for its vaulted ceilings, Lady Chapel and windows, and the scissor arches which support the central tower. The west front is said to be the finest collection of statuary in Europe, with almost 300 of its original medieval statues remaining. The Chapter House, at the top of a flight of stone stairs, leading out from the north transept is an octagonal building with a fan-vaulted ceiling, where the business of running the cathedral is still conducted by the members of the Chapter, the cathedral’s ruling body. The cathedral clock is famous for its 24-hour astronomical dial and set of jousting knights that perform every quarter hour. One of my favorite parts was the Cope Chest, which has held vestments since 1120, and is considered to be the oldest piece of furniture in England. Amazing.
We were there to meet some dear friends, and together we toured the remarkable Bishop’s Palace, conveniently located next door.
The Bishop’s Palace has been the home of the bishops of the Diocese of Bath and Wells for 800 years. The hall and chapel date from the 14th century. There are 14 acres of gardens including the springs (wells!) from which the city takes its name. We tourists can see the Bishop’s private chapel, some birds of prey pruning themselves, the ruined great hall and the gatehouse with portcullis and drawbridge beside which mute swans ring a bell for food. Oh yes they do.
This small city is full of charm, and we had a lovely day to explore it. Another wonder of England!