Monday, April 11, 2022


The Golden Minster

Dominating a small patch of green space by St Oswald’s Road in Gloucester is a piece of wall with a story going back more than one thousand years.

In around 900, Æthelflæd, daughter of King Alfred the Great, built a large church, known at first as the New Minster, in Gloucester. It became a shrine when Æthelflæd and her brother Edward led a military expedition into Lincolnshire, which was then occupied by the Vikings, and brought back a number of holy relics. Amongst these were the bones of St Oswald, who had been king of Northumbria, a keen supporter of the spread of Christianity in the North of England, and bringer of St Aidan to his kingdom to preach the Christian faith. Oswald’s saintly life – both his encouragement of Christian missionaries like Aidan and his selfless support of the poor – led people to revere him, and after his death miracles were said to take place at his grave. It was said too that miracles occurred at his shrine in the church at Gloucester, to which so much wealth flowed that it become known as the Golden Minster.

After the Norman conquest the minster became an Augustinian priory (one of several priories and friaries in the city) and the building was extended to provide domestic quarters for the monks, to create accommodation for guests, and to upgrade the church. However, in the 16th century the priory was dissolved by Henry VIII and the church was partially demolished. Part of the building survived as a parish church but by 1656 this had been replaced with another building and soon just this wall was left.

The surviving hotchpotch is not much, just part of one wall of the nave, but even this shows several different phases of the building. The semicircular arches are early medieval; the pointed arches represent the later extension of the priory church to the west, and the walls that infill the spaces beneath the arches date from the period after the dissolution when the building was reduced in size for use as a parish church. It’s a rather sad ruin, in a little visited part of the city, probably mostly just glanced at by motorists as they whiz past on a nearby ring road. A reminder of the ways in which this large city changed over the centuries, from a religious centre to an industrial and trading one, of how much has been lost, but of how many traces of the past remain for those with the time and the eyes to see.

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

The earlier parts, with the round arches, are Anglo-Saxon - at least, I am satisfied with that dating. I was ashamed that I had entered Gloucester by train so many times, passing near it, sometimes on my way to look at Anglo-Saxon remains at Deerhurst or elsewhere, and NOT REALLY NOTICED IT. We all too often look, but do not see. We might need a blog to give us the nudge!

As Anglo-Saxon remains, the size of them might impress us: none of the rather mean doorways observed elsewhere - good, wide open arches. Other examples of this usually date from just before the Norman Conquest - such as Worth, Sussex, etc., but this at Gloucester is EARLIER - so an important example of confident building in stone, at a time when building in stone was supposed to be a rarity. So far, I haven't come across any literature to try and explain this. Any suggestions would be welcome.