Ruth and I stayed in Cheltenham in the Cotswolds for 2 nights. Cheltenham was only 13 miles from Gloucester, which has a magnificent cathedral we had never seen. Public transportation would take us there in less than an hour. We went and I’m certainly glad we made the effort. We had already seen York Minster and planned to see Hereford Cathedral because of its Mappa Mundi and chained library. However, after a while all cathedrals seem alike. Gloucester was decidedly different. It turned out to be the most active religious institution of its type we had ever been in, and we were very lucky to go when we did.
There has been a place of worship on the spot now occupied by Gloucester Cathedral for more than 13 centuries because an abbey was founded there in 679. A Norman church stood on this spot in 1100, and its interior has largely remained as it was way back then. It’s still almost completely Norman with massive pillars untouched since their completion. Standing in its Norman nave is like time-traveling back to the Middle Ages. Gloucester’s 14th century roof is said to be the finest in Europe. There are crypt, medieval library, and tower tours. There are concerts and choral programs scheduled regularly. It even has an eating establishment called The Monk’s Kitchen in it.
What sets Gloucester Cathedral apart from say, Canterbury, is its focus on children. Adults flock to it for its Anglo Saxon authenticity, monastic life revelations, pilgrimage history, and royal connections while children benefit from its child-centered approach to everything. “Where learning comes to life,” is an often repeated phrase here and teacher Ruth really responded to this aspect. One field trip teacher commented, “I can’t rate the day more highly. The children loved dressing up and they learned so much”. As I said above, we were very lucky to have made the journey there when we did since the entire cathedral would be closed for the next 3 days to provide seasonal services for 10 schools. Each school was represented by a full-sized plaster or plastic sheep. They were lined up near the entrance, and a child-centered service began while we were still inside. Its goal was to provide support before the children involved started attended high school. This struck us as a great way to keep children involved, and I was not overly surprised to learn that one of this cathedral’s main claims to recent fame is the fact that scenes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were shot here. Gloucester’s royal connections include the fact that King Edward II was buried here in 1327 after being murdered. His son commissioned his official tomb here 3 years later.
Gloucester Cathedral originally took 400 years to build. I would recommend at least one entire day to experience its Norman splendor and varied activities.