Southwell Minster 
 
Southwell Minster
By DON WRIGHT
The collegiate grammar school at Southwell Minster is most likely to have been the alma mater of Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry VIII and compiler of The Book of Common Prayer which remains the bedrock of Anglican liturgy.

This suggestion is made by Professor Diarmaid MacCullough of Oxford University in his new biography of Cranmer who was burned at the stake during the purge of Protestants by Henry's daughter "Bloody Mary" The Cranmer group of parishes in the diocese is centred on Whatton with Aslockton where Cranmer was born in 1489.

Now the Minster School is a voluntary aided comprehensive but appropriately the former grammar school (rebuilt in 1821) is being converted into an education and study centre for school college community and individual use. Religious education history art and music are among the subjects that the centre will support.

The minster itself might be used in a mathematics course illustrating concepts of space volumes patterns shapes and symmetry.

Already 5,000 junior school children visit the minster on an annual "Time Travel" pilgrimage a learning experience that brings history to life.

This is a partnership venture involving Nottinghamshire County Council the Southwell diocese and the minster. Southwell is much the smallest cathedral town in England.

As the traveller approaching from Nottingham descends Brackenhurst hill the full length of the great church presiding over its little town presents a surprising and charming panoramic view.

The cathedral is not only unexpected in its setting its lead spires - the "Rhenish caps" - are unique in England. It has the finest Norman west front in the country dating from 1140 although the great west window is recent.

Known as the Angel window it is a contemporary reworking of the medieval traditions of stained and painted glass. The colour and texture of the glass have been chosen to be similar to that used in the mid-15th century when the window was originally inserted.

Conceived by cathedral architect Martin Stancliffe created by Patrick Reyntiens and made by Keith Barley of York it brings a sense of light and joy to the otherwise austere west end of the nave.

The west door is a magnificent piece of 12th century woodwork with iron hinges and ornamental scrollwork.

Southwell's greatest and most glorious surprise is its chapter house. Built at the end of the 13th century it is the only octagonal chapter house in England with a stone vault unsupported by a central pillar.

Great ted with an incredible display of carved foliage - oak and thorn ivy bramble and vine - the famous Leaves of Southwell.

Peter Ball's Christus Rex suspended above the crossing arch is a great figure in wood beaten copper and gold leaf given in 1987.

Another work by Peter Ball Christ the Light of the World was designed in 1990 for the Southwell saints' chapel.

The triptych in the airmen's chapel is a beautiful work of great originality by Hamish Moyle of the Little Gidding Community (1988).

It was inspired by a Dame Edith Sitwell's poem Still falls the rain... In the south transept is a carved panel The Flight into Egypt by Nottinghamshire artist Robert Kiddey (1900-1984) who lectured at Newark college of further education.

The manor of Southwell was a possession of the Archbishops of York and the minster served as a collegiate church until 1884 when it became a cathedral with its own bishop. The Archbishops' Palace was partially destroyed in the Civil War.

The remains include the Great Hall which contains some interesting portraits. There is one of Charles I who spent his last night of freedom in Southwell in May 1646.

Vicars' Court is an open quadrangle of Georgian houses built for the vicars choral. The choral tradition of the minster stretches back 1,000 years.
 
 

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