Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Carlisle Cathedral and the Fratery, Carlisle

Carlisle Cathedral and the Fratery

Carlisle Cathedral was built on the site of an earlier church, with records telling us of a disastrous fire in around 876, when the town of Carlisle was sacked by the Danes\Vikings. The church remained in ruin for over 200 years, until William II, Rufus, William the Conqueror’s successor, took the city of Carlisle from the Scots, and financed the reconstruction of the building in 1092. Under the new Norman rulers, the city flourished, with its new castle at the North end of the city, and much emphasis on trade and religious learning.

The building of the church (it wasn’t a cathedral yet!) coincided with the Norman advance into the farther reaches of the North of England, and there are many motte and bailey castles appearing in Cumbria, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Northumberland at this time.

When Henry I succeeded his brother in 1100, rebuilding of the collegiate church was well under way, with a group of secular canons responsible for the running of the church and its lands in Carlisle. These canons, who had been the landlords since 1092, were eventually superceded by the Augustinian canons in 1123. It was during this period, that a new nave and south transept were added to the existing buildings.

In 1133, Henry I created the Diocese of Carlisle, and the church became a cathedral, still very much a work in progress at this time. The cathedral’s first Bishop was Athelwold. The creation of the Diocese of Carlisle was a tactical move on Henry’s part. The North of England, Cumberland and Northumberland were, up until the Norman invasion, an unruly border region, with the Bishop of Glasgow regularly attempting to bring Cumberland under his spiritual influence. Now that Henry had the Diocese of Carlisle in place, there was good reason to garrison the city, provide protection to the people of the region and garner support against the restless Scots.

However, it wasn’t long before the Scots flexed their military muscle, and moving south, took the city of Carlisle back under their control in 1135. It remained part of Scotland until it was taken back again in 1157 by Henry II. By this time, the cathedral had undergone more building and extension, and was a typically cruciform type ecclesiastical building.

It is via a mixture of natural disaster, civil war and rebuilding that the building we see today has come about. In 1292, the newly built choir was destroyed by fire, not being rebuilt until 1315. In 1380, the massive tower collapsed during a ‘great storm’ not only destroying itself, but also demolishing the north transept. It was rebuilt between 1400 and 1420, with more extensive building work being undertaken between 1465 and 1499. In around 1500, the Prior’s tower was built, providing fortified accommodation for the Prior Gondibour. In 1528, Prior Slee’s gatehouse was built, adding more security for the cathedral precincts along with the wall encircling the grounds.

With various armies occupying the city between 1645 and 1746, buildings were robbed of stone, demolished, used as prisons and even used to store armaments and weaponry. The Fratery, the building across the yard from the cathedral was used to store a large number of military items, including salletts, horse harnesses, breast plates, chain mail, halberds and various other implements. The windows were shuttered, and entry barred by use of draw bars secured from within.

The tower is even thought to have played a small part in the fortification of the city, with the stair tower that can be seen jutting from the very top of the tower, most likely being used as a look out with the possibility that there was also a beacon lit on the roof to warn of the advance of the Scots.

In the 1644-1646 civil war, the western portion of the nave was destroyed to make way for barracks by General Leslie. He also ordered his men to remove stone from the buildings here in order that the castle walls be repaired for the Parliamentary forces then garrisoning the city.

The cathedral was used to imprison Jacobite prisoners when the city was retaken from Bonnie Prince Charlie’s men in 1746, with dozens of his men kept secure in the nave.

The cathedral underwent major restoration between 1853 and 1856, under the watchful eye of Dean Tait, with much of the cathedral being rebuilt and modernised. Such was the extent of this rebuilding, that much of the early Norman and medieval structure has been hidden within new walls, or removed altogether.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sweetheart Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway

Sweetheart Abbey\New Abbey
New Abbey
Dumfries and Galloway

The beautiful red stone remains of Sweetheart Abbey lay in the village of New Abbey, about six miles South of Dumfries. The abbey was first established by Lady Devorgilla, wife of John de Balliol, on the 10th of April, 1273. It was her wish to have this Cistercian abbey dedicated as a memorial to her husband, who died in October of 1268. Lady Devorgilla had her husband's heart removed, embalmed and encased in a silver and ivory box. Upon her orders, it was then buried with her beneath the high altar of the abbey in 1290. In her honour, the abbey was re-named as Sweethheart abbey, a name that it has retained to this day. Sweetheart was a daughter abbey to nearby Dundrennan abbey.

The remains of the abbey are many and varied, offering a good few hours of investigation. The abbey covers a huge area, consisting of 30 acres of walled precinct, surrounded by a high wall built of granite blocks that would originally have been around 4 metres high. The blocks were removed from the site when the monks were clearing the way for the building to begin. The wall was only built on three sides of the precinct with a water filled ditch being created on the fourth. The wall still survives to its full height in most places. There are what appear to be small openings in the wall where it survives to full height. These openings, only large enough to put a hand through, could well have been some form of defence...gun loops for example. They are definitely deliberate holes, as they have small lintels over their tops.

Elsewhere, the wall is missing its top foot or two, and as there is a distinct lack of any rubble at these parts of the wall, one can only assume that these missing stones have been incorporated into local buildings.

It is thought that the tower at Sweetheart was possibly built with defence in mind. The top of the tower still retains its crenellations, and it would have been secured with heavy doors, narrow corridors and draw bars.

The upper portions of the tower were only accessible via narrow mural passageways built within the substantial walls (as shown below) and these passageways in turn, were only accessible via a spiral staircase built into the north west side of the main abbey building.

The main entrances into the church were all endowed with draw-bar slots, indicating that it was possible to secure the abbey and prevent entry. Whilst not exactly a fortress, the abbey was certainly capable of being locked down tight enough to prevent un-authorised entry. The west gate to the abbey would have had a huge wooden door, secured also, with draw-bars.

This entry-way would most likely have been the main way in and out of the abbey, and as such was well protected against minor attacks.

Likewise, the gateway to the Cloisters would also have had a wooden door secured with draw-bars. Sweetheart was the last monastery of any significant size to be established in Scotland, and was severely damaged in the war with England in the later stages of the 13th century. Indeed, documentation tells us that nearly £5000 of damaged was done by the English army and its Welsh mercenaries when they were sent North by Edward I to strip King John of his throne.

The abbey was rebuilt by Douglas, Lord of Galloway (the Grim Douglas) when the abbey came under his patronage in the 14th century. It was probably about this time that the abbey began to flourish, earning most of its fortune from sheep farming (much like Shap abbey south of the border in Cumbria) In the 16th century, Sweetheart gained another rich patron, Lord Maxwell. Following the Reformation of 1560, Maxwell was ordered to destroy the buildings at Sweetheart, but he refused to do so. The last abbot, Gilbert Broun continued to resist the destruction of the abbey, but was eventually forced into exile around 1587. He attempted to continue the long tradition of the abbey by returning twice, but each time was arrested, spending time imprisoned at Blackness castle and eventually exiled to France where he died in 1612, a broken man.

The abbey fell into disrepair, with the local population regarding the fallen masonry as an easy source of building materials. As long ago as 1779, some locals decided that enough materials had been removed from the now ruined abbey, and set up a group to help protect what was left. In 1928, the ruins were passed into the care of the government, securing its long term survival.

About half a mile to the East of the abbey, the remains of a fortified tower can be found, Abbot's Tower, a fortified residence, possibly once belonging to Gilbert Broun.