Lisa Reilly

title.none: Gilchrist, Norwich Cathedral Close (Lisa Reilly)

identifier.other: baj9928.0608.024 06.08.24

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Lisa Reilly, University of Virginia,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Gilchrist, Roberta. Norwich Cathedral Close: The Evolutions of the English Cathedral Landscape. Studies in the History of Medieval Religion. Woddbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 2005. Pp. xi, 294. $60.00 1-84383-173-2. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.08.24

Gilchrist, Roberta. Norwich Cathedral Close: The Evolutions of the English Cathedral Landscape. Studies in the History of Medieval Religion. Woddbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 2005. Pp. xi, 294. $60.00 1-84383-173-2. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Lisa Reilly
University of Virginia

Norwich Cathedral Close: The Evolution of the English Cathedral Landscape by Roberta Gilchrist offers a compelling analysis of English cathedral life from the late eleventh century through c. 1700. In contrast with most monographs, which typically focus on the cathedral church alone, Gilchrist offers "an holistic study of Norwich Cathedral that draws on archaeological, architectural and historical evidence to examine the changing social and economic functions of the cathedral landscape" (1). She rebuts the distinction made by some scholars between architectural history and archaeology, which suggests that archaeologists are concerned with the technical aspects of medieval buildings and architectural historians with "discerning subtleties of meaning" (10). Gilchrist proposes that the current generation of medieval archaeologists is concerned with social use and meaning rather than description and technology. As she describes her own approach, one that considers contextual and anthropological questions to analyze "the experience of medieval and early modern life in Norwich"(11), Gilchrist is clearly setting herself apart from what has been perceived as the traditional archaeological approach to medieval architecture. She draws on an impressive range of scholarship, interweaving the diverse ideas and methods of renowned scholars such as Eric Fernie, Richard Krautheimer, Michael Camille, Mary Carruthers, Francis Yates, Peter Fergusson, Stuart Harrison and Michel Foucault among others, to provide a scintillating overview of the vibrant and dynamic community, both religious and lay, which used Norwich Cathedral Close during the six hundred years covered by her study. Despite the monographic nature of the book's title, Gilchrist in fact integrates substantial information and ideas about other monastic houses and cathedral communities into her discussion of Norwich to provide a sense of the larger context of monastic life.

Frequent references to well known primary texts such as the Rule of St. Benedict underscore Gilchrist's emphasis on Norwich as a functioning vibrant monastic community with a built environment that addresses particular programmatic needs such as the accommodation of novices and pilgrims. Its place within the larger context of monastic medieval culture is also clarified. The dynamic quality of monastic life is highlighted as, for example, in chapter six where the changing nature of the prior's status and duties are made apparent by the development of a separate residence for the prior from the rest of the monks, with close ties to the typology of the secular hall suggesting parallels between the prior and the feudal lord within medieval social hierarchies. Chapter nine, "Reading Sacred and Social Space in the English Cathedral Landscape," uses the writings of thirteenth-century liturgist Gulielmus Durandus to consider the diverse kinds of sacred space found at Norwich and the changing opportunities for interaction between the laity and religious personnel. Elsewhere Gilchrist uses primary sources less well known but equally useful for articulating the diverse functions and communities found within the Close. Chapter nine, for example, also incorporates evidence from the late-thirteenth-century Norwich Customary and visitation records of 1309 as well as a diverse range of secondary sources to provide a fascinating explanation of the particular function and position of Norwich's unusually early cathedral clock as well as its connection to the iconographic program of the Norwich cloister. A study of obediential accounts and leases is used in chapter seven "Charity and Commerce: The Infirmary and the Inner Court" to reveal the emergence of the inner court as a commercial precinct in the late medieval period housing glaziers, saddlers, and embroiderers' shops among others. This rich analysis of architecture, decoration, primary texts and current scholarship is typical of Gilchrist's impressive command of her subject and ability to recreate for the reader the vibrancy of life in Norwich. She describes the close as a place which provided opportunities for connections across the lay and religious communities, the worlds of the living and dead and the present site and the past, offering compelling insights into the role of antiquity and the Anglo-Saxon past in the creation of the close.

Bishop Herbert de Losinga, founder of the medieval cathedral at Norwich, planned the building shortly after a visit to Rome. Gilchrist draws out similarities between Norman Norwich and Old St. Peter's such as the use of spiral columns, comparable dimensions and the use of a sunken cloister comparable to the sunken atrium described by Richard Krautheimer at Old St. Peter's (82). Other aspects of Norwich, such as the decorative treatment of the door leading from the bishop's palace to the north transept, suggest a deliberate attempt by DeLosinga to legitimize his new see through the use of visual connections to the Anglo-Saxon past (144).

Thus Gilchrist provides iconographic, stylistic, archaeological, and textual evidence for her close and subtle reading of the building fabric as well as its surrounding landscape. Any quibbles one might have with her study are slight. It would be helpful, for example, to correlate the numbers of images such as figures 76 and 78 with plate 10, the excellent plan of the close to which she refers frequently. Many of the images, such as figure 39, are poorly reproduced, lacking sharpness and clarity. Some of the book's claims would benefit from more substantial discussion such as the connections between features at Norwich and Charlemagne's palace complex at Aachen.

These issues are minor, however, and do not detract substantially from this outstanding study. Gilchrist's volume is obviously indispensable to the scholar of medieval architecture. Unlike many such studies, however, this well written and fascinating book will be appealing to any reader with an interest in medieval life. It is an ideal introduction for students into the richness and often seemingly contradictory nature of the sacred and secular realms of medieval society. Details about diet, medical practices, shop keeping and liturgy bring the period to life in a way achieved by few such studies. Gilchrist's spatial analysis of Norwich Cathedral Close compellingly highlights the difficulties in distinguishing between the sacred and secular in medieval life. Her analysis of how the building fabric can be read in terms of the degrees of sanctity found within the Close is fascinating as seen for example in her analysis of the rich iconographic program of the cloister and its role as the focus for monastic memory. She also underscores the changing nature of sacred space as the precinct became more accessible to the laity in general and women in particular over time. The dynamic nature of the cathedral landscape is further articulated by her brief but convincing discussion of the changes wrought to sacred spaces within Norwich Close in the post-medieval period. Furthermore, her command of diverse methodologies and forms of evidence makes this volume an ideal introduction for students into the field of medieval architectural history. Gilchrist's book is indeed the holistic study of Norwich her introduction promises--a study which is fascinating in both its details and broader conclusions and one which is eloquently written to draw the reader into the complex and fascinating realm of medieval experience.