Thursday, 15 October 2015

Ex Cathedra Words

Which doesn’t really mean outside the cathedral,  it means from the chair, and refers to statements made by the Pope with the authority of his position. But today it means outside the Cathedral.

salisbury John_Constable_

cathedral 2Half a century ago, my mother had a tea tray printed with John Constable’s picture of the Cathedral – it was fantastic to finally go and see it for myself in reality. The architecture is stunning. The stained glass shone like rubies and sapphires.


We entered the building just before 2pm – at which time a member of the clergy entered the pulpit and asked us all to be silent for a brief prayer. Bob and I sat and bowed our heads, and we were led in a very thoughtful prayer of praise and intercession, then we joined in the Lord’s Prayer.

P1020366It was a beautiful moment of peace and reflection. We went to thank the Rev afterwards and had a pleasant chat with him. He pointed out the lady with the cross on a long pole, checking the  moisture levels. She’s the one in the blue sash by the hole in the floor.

The foundations are quite shallow – “if her dipstick comes out dry, then run like crazy before the edifice collapses” the Rev told us!


The altarpiece in the Chapel of St Lawrence was beautifully embroidered. The flames and the grid-iron represent the manner of his martyrdom. There is a sign beside it inviting prayer ‘for all who suffer’. Amnesty International had a number of helpful info- panels.


On the other side opposite that chapel was a lovely display of autumnal coloured lanterns. The Cathedral has a good blend of ancient architecture and more modern artworks. It seemed surprisingly full of visitors, for a Tuesday afternoon in October!

The guides were all very knowledgeable, especially when I got excited to find a statue to “Elias of Dereham”. He is carrying a set of architect’s compasses. [Bob is carrying a carpenter’s square, purchased on the market earlier] “Is this the Dereham in Norfolk?” I asked. I was told it was he was, apparently, ‘the most honest man in England’ in the time of King John, great friend and Steward to Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury. Furthermore, he was a skilled negotiator and was at the very centre of the discussions between the king and the barons. Once Magna Carta was agreed and sealed he was entrusted with delivering ten of the thirteen copies made, one of which was given to the original cathedral at Old Sarum. Elias later became a canon of Old Sarum before masterminding the building of the present Salisbury Cathedral.


I wondered why I had never heard of this guy.Nobody had mentioned him at school when we did the ‘famous people from Dereham’ stuff. We walked round to the chapter house to look at the Magna Carta exhibition. Salisbury houses one of the few copies of this great document [kept in a shadowed tented area to protect it from the light – no photos allowed!] On the outside is a large copy of the text in modern English. Clause One is still law, and still important


P1020378Here’s King John and the barons [put your seal just here your Majesty]

And here too, I found an information panel about this mysterious Elias of Dereham. I needed to know more – so I asked the Guide standing by the MC Tent.


And finally I understood why I had never heard of him. MY Dereham is properly called East Dereham and has a population of over 19,000. Elias came from West Dereham – a village 25 miles to the West with a population of less than 500 souls. So now we know!

We walked back down the cloisters, and I put my head in the stocks!



We stared in wonderment at the memorial to Jane Louise Chapeau – eldest daughter of William Posthumous Chapeau. Fancy having a dad called Willy Dead Hat!


P1020380The cloisters were beautiful [and would have been peaceful, had it not been for crowds of noisy foreign students hooting and yelling] This is a memorial to the Diocesan Training College. We left and walked back past Mompesson House.

Look up there! said a guy with a camera. We stared at the spire- and realised there was a guy on a harness doing maintenance.


You can just about make out the climber, and his mate at the top. The tallest spire in England, it is 400 feet from the ground, and 2nd highest in Europe [Strasbourg’s spire is only slightly taller]. Not the sort of job I would like to do.

I came away from Salisbury Cathedral feeling glad I had visited. I saw much beauty and craftsmanship – both ancient and modern. I had been reminded of precious freedoms fought and won in the past, of people who had sacrificed much in the service of God - and through the spoken prayers and the information panels, I had been reminded of those who still suffer.

There are some things we too easily take for granted.


  1. I love Salisbury Cathedral and am alswya reminded too that Mr M and I got engaged whilst walking round the cathedral as I was living in Salisbury at the time! We used to have a copy of that first Constable painting on our wall as a reminder.

  2. Salisbury Cathedral is one of our most loved places to visit. The history is fascinating, especially the building of it.
    An evening service that we went to years ago still sits in my memory.

  3. We had the same experience at Norwich Cathedral, children shouting, laughing and running round. For me it spoil tour visit.

  4. I love Salisbury Cathedral too! You must visit it during Advent, the Nativity figures are life size!! Also pop into Reeves, the Bakers for a coffee and Jap Fancie!!!

    1. We did look in Reeves window, at the delightful bakes on offer- next time, I shall follow your recommendation and actually go inside ! thankyou for that

  5. I've never been to Salisbury but you've inspired me to go! We've just moved back from Scotland to near EAST Dereham. Must admit ... I didn't know there was a West Dereham, let alone this wonderful Elias who hales from there! xCathy

    1. EAST Dereham is by far the better of the two. Glad to know you are back in Norfolk again x

  6. I adore Cloisters- such a beautiful part of a cathedral!
    Interesting about Elias- pity he was from the lesser-known Dereham!x

  7. Thank you for sharing all the history associated with the cathedral.


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