Work is underway to conserve the extraordinary 14th century Cloister at Gloucester Cathedral, as outlined in the Cathedral’s 10-year Development Plan. The Cloister is widely regarded as one of the best and earliest examples of fan vaulting in the world, making it of international architectural significance, and to many it’s famous for being ‘Hogwarts’ in three of the Harry Potter movies. However, a 2019 survey confirmed it is at risk and in urgent need of conservation.
Now, with generous support from Julia and Hans Rausing, the Cathedral’s Stonemason Team and other specialists have commenced the trial phase of The Cloister Project. This phase will equip them with the insight and knowledge needed to move forward with the long-term conservation work, which will involve carefully removing Victorian cement used as mortar in repairs between blocks of stone. The cement is currently preventing the ancient stones from ‘breathing’, causing them to blister and decay, so the old cement needs to be replaced with a lime-based mortar.
The Cloister Project, which also includes completion of work to restore the Cathedral’s North Nave, has been made possible thanks to a £550,000 grant donated by Julia and Hans Rausing.
Julia and Hans Rausing commented:
“No one who walks through the Cloister at Gloucester Cathedral can fail to be struck by its overwhelming beauty. The intricate design of the stonemasonry, particularly the fan vaulted ceiling, is remarkable and its visual impact touches the many thousands of visitors to the Cathedral each year. We are delighted to help ensure that this magnificent feat of medieval architecture is preserved so that visitors and worshippers can continue to enjoy it for hundreds of years to come.”
Visitors to the Cathedral will be able to see this conservation work first-hand, learning about the people and the techniques used to protect the heritage buildings that we love. As the project evolves, there will be opportunities for the public to engage with the stonemasons through carving workshops, demonstrations and a range of other activities. The project will also be used to develop the Cathedral’s stonemason training and mentoring programme, with at least 11 new apprentices learning their craft throughout the process. It is a once-in-a-millennia opportunity to work on something so architecturally significant, and it will enable craft skills to pass from one generation to the next.
When it was completed in around 1412, the Cloister formed a central part of daily life for the monks who lived here; it was where they ate, slept, studied and exercised. Today, the Cloister is every bit as central to the 21st century Cathedral. It is a place for prayer and reflection, as well as a space for art exhibitions and community events, an iconic filming location for blockbuster movies and so much more.
Canon Dr Andrew Braddock, Interim Dean of Gloucester, said:
“We are hugely grateful to Julia and Hans Rausing for their incredibly generous support of this project.
The Cloister, with its amazing ‘fan-vaulted’ ceiling, is one of Gloucester Cathedral’s most iconic and beautiful spaces. Sitting at the heart of the Cathedral’s buildings, it is a place of encounter, meeting, reflection and wonder, attracting thousands of visitors every year. This project will ensure the Cloister remains open for everyone and will be at the very heart of the Cathedral’s daily rhythm of life for generations to come.”
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Notes for Editors
About the Cloister of Gloucester Cathedral:
Built in the 14th century, the Cloister is a marvel of medieval design, the earliest example of this style of architecture known as ‘fan vaulting’. The cone-shaped ‘fans’ are hollow and were carved as separate sections, which were then fitted together like pieces of a jigsaw by stonemasons.
The very earliest part of this Cloister is believed to date from the 1350s, and although the detailed stonework appears perfect, up-close, we can see that it is full of experimentation. This suggests that the medieval stonemasons were working out how to build this style of architecture as they went along. It is the first example of its kind.
Building work began just after the Black Death arrived in Europe in 1347. Many of the stonemasons would have fallen victim to the plague, which is in part why the Cloister was not completed until 1412 and another reason why the stonework has so many inconsistencies. However, it is evidence of a society looking to build a greater future to the glory of God in the aftermath of a pandemic.
About the Julia and Hans Rausing Trust:
The Julia and Hans Rausing Trust is an independent grant-making charitable fund supporting organisations and charities within the UK.
The Trust exists to realise the philanthropy of Hans Rausing and Julia Rausing.
Since its formation, it has provided over 1,000 grants totaling more than £330 million. Funding is given to organisations working within three main areas: Health and Wellbeing; Welfare and Education; and Arts and Culture.
By supporting charitable initiatives within these areas, the Trust aims to foster a healthy society that gives care to those in need, provides opportunity for all, and offers inspiring cultural engagement.