Worcester Cathedral stands above a gentle bend in the River Severn, its square tower rising above a belt of trees. On a calm August day, people walk along the tow path, some ambling, some clearly exercising. A hundred or more white swans paddle up and down this section of the river, some singly, but mostly in large groups, all hoping a passer by will throw food to them. More often than not the screaming gulls beat them to the feast.
It is a very English scene. Tranquil, with a hint of Autumn in the air. The Cathedral too is peaceful, lofty and full of light, its stone easy on the eye, neutral coloured with tinges of green and pinky red. Huge windows are filled with brightly coloured stained glass. Light streams in from the clerestory above the nave arches. The woodworkers’ and carvers’ arts are reflected in the choir and clergy stalls.
The Cathedral was built at intervals between the years 1084 and 1504, its architecture reflecting every style of English architecture developed over those 500 or so years, from Norman to Perpendicular Gothic, with all the features of that steady development. Yes, but who built the cathedral? We know the names of those responsible for each stage of the design, but not the craftsmen. The Cathedral walls are covered in memorials to the ‘good and the great’, but none of them to stonemasons.
The choir assembles in the cloisters beyond the south door and processes up the main aisle to take their places in the ornate choir stalls. The sound of their singing lingers with the echo. The sound of Evensong on the late afternoon air. A sound heard since the Reformation. A sound that is spiritually uplifting and inspiring. A sound that ultimately passes into the ether and is gone.
“The History of Worcester Cathedral is the history of England”, says the Cathedral website. Yes the Cathedral reflects the religious and political history of England. Benedictine monks walked the cloisters until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, King John, of Magna Carta fame, is buried here and the Battle of Worcester brought an end to the Civil War. Yet what of those who built the Cathedral? Were they, like the porcelain artists in the factory round the corner, forbidden to sign their work? Or, hidden high up on a finely cut stone will we find a mason’s initials or low down under a seat, the initials of a master carver?
(The title for this piece is borrowed from Louis Macneice’s poem of that name in which he celebrates the meaning of making.)