We were wrong about the age of the Cathedral. It’s much older—begun in the 11th century and completed, like all cathedrals, including the unfinished Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona, over several centuries. It looks to be of enduring strength, like the pyramids. Each sandstone block bears the fine chisel marks of medieval stonecutters, and a look up the side of the massive and precisely mortared tall walls inspires visions of hundred or thousands of humble toilers, cutting stones under the exacting supervision of the masons, fortified by mead or strong ale under flocks of migratory birds in a bluest if skies. An architectural and engineering feat that can’t be surpassed.
The inside of the Cathedral is inspiring of awed silence, like all her companions scattered across Europe. The stones of the ceiling are bright pink. Luridly colored carvings of ancient kings and queens, lying staring at the ceiling on massive blocks, line the central nave. In the basement is a Norman crypt. The Cathedral site has been a holy place since the 7th century. We climbed the narrow circular staircase, past a cozy and rather decadent looking carpeted room, past the bell tower mechanism chamber, past the bell chamber, and up to blue skies shining down on our top of the tower perch, guarded by four ornate stone towers at each corner. Worcester has no tall buildings, and our view was that of the medieval bellringer, stretching to the soft green hills behind trees and hedgerows surrounding the town in all directions. The river Severn winds under many bridges through town and close by the Cathedral. We spy Rob walking along the river far below.
In the floor below the bell chamber a very complex 1870’s chain, pulley, sprocket, and counterweight system controls the ringing of the bells on the quarter hour. A classic of British industrial revolution design, the cluster of counterweights and flywheels go into a cacophonous frenzy as the bells ring, iron block weights rising and falling on greased chains. The massive iron pendulum swings serenely below us.A former bellringer told us that the bells are still rung by hand by a team of ringers on Sundays and holidays. There is a European bells competition among the great Cathedrals, and Worcester is currently ranked fifth. The bells can ring a single peal (a peal is a series of notes that don’t repeat a pattern) of 4050 notes. A bell master calls out sequences to the six bellringers, all of whom have to be trained musicians to play the complex bell pieces. The contemplation of the communal dedication and iron fisted discipline needed to harness humankind into these feats of scale and beauty is rather exhilarating. A grand chess game was the medieval period, with merchants, nobles, royals, clergy, and the builders and financiers all doing battle on the backs of the peasants. Tragedy and sublime beauty of a vanishing kind. Does democracy produce mediocrity, or is that simply modernity run amok?