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Visiting Norwich, Norfolk, England and its fine, Medieval Cathedral: with one of the tallest spires in the country

Updated on July 13, 2012
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Tower & spire of Norwich Cathedral
Tower & spire of Norwich Cathedral | Source
Interior of Norwich Cathedral
Interior of Norwich Cathedral | Source
Map location of Norwich, Norfolk
Map location of Norwich, Norfolk | Source

Magnificent, but also with sobering aspects to its history

This fine, English Cathedral has a spire which, at 96 metres, after that of Salisbury Cathedral, is the highest in the country. Its full name is the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

It was completed in 1145, except for the spire, which dates from 1480. It is thus a magnificent example of a Medieval cathedral which has been extremely well preserved over many centuries.

The Cathedral was founded in 1096 by Bishop Herbert de Losinga (died 1119), formerly the Bishop of Thetford, who had previously moved to Norwich (1). Bishop de Losinga, who was born in Normandy and whose life was thus very much informed by the Norman Conquest, also founded Norwich School in 1096 (which still exists, indeed, thrives). Two previous churches stood on the site of the Cathedral, which also incorporated an existing Benedictine foundation.

In Norman style, the Cathedral was executed in flint and mortar, with facing in limestone from Caen, Normandy. The Erpingham (2) and Ethelbert Gates are fine, Medieval entrances to the Cathedral precincts.

The large Cloisters contain interesting masontry details. In the interior of the Cathedral, the long, pillared nave has especially impressive stonework.

One can only wonder at the expense of such a building. It is sobering to reflect that the Cathedral was completed at around the time when a successor to de Losinga as Bishop was encouraging the cult of the boy 'martyr' William of Norwich (1132-1144), whose death was blamed — historically discredited — on local Jews. It is suspected that the subsequent cult of William — remaining at the level of 'pious belief' and never sanctioned by Rome — was a less than hidden exercise in fund-raising.

The Cathedral Close is also very much worth a leisurely stroll. In addition to quaint, cottage-style residences, a number of valuable, old buildings house businesses in what must be among Norwich's most prestigious addresses. Scenes from the Cathedral Close regularly feature in pictorial calendars, particularly those photographed during the spring blossom season. The Close would thus be reckoned to be among the most beautiful and tranquil parts of Norwich.

The grave of Nurse Edith Cavell (1865-1915), in the Cathedral grounds, is an often visited site. This simple monument commemorates a person long thought — and accurately so — to have been a humanitarian worker executed by German occupying forces in Brussels, Belgium; more recently, various scholars have convincingly written of her as a spy for the British Secret Intelligence Service.


(1) Bishop Losinga had also been head, serving as Abbot, of Ramsey Abbey, in Cambridgeshire. The designation 'Bishop of Norwich' emerged as permanent for Bishop de Losinga in about 1103, having been previously used intermittently.

(2) The Erpingham Gate is named for Sir Thomas Erpingham (c.1355-1428) who fought at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, served some of the English kings as a knight and supported John Wycliffe in his English Bible project, as well as being a benefactor of Norwich Cathedral.

Also worth seeing

In Norwich itself, the castle, the City Hall and the Guildhall attract many visitors, as does picturesque Elm Hill. Pull's Ferry, at the end of the Cathedral Close and beside the Wensum River, was a Medieval hub of river traffic.

Great Yarmouth (distance: 33 kilometres) has a parish church, St. Nicholas's, with dimensions approaching those of a cathedral. Anna Sewell's House, birthplace of the author of Black Beauty, is situated at Church Plain nearby.


How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Norwich is served by rail from London Liverpool Street Station. Norwich is 233 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 6 years ago

      Beth Pipe: The Ship of the Fens, as Ely Cathedral is known, is very impressive also, but Norwich Cathedral is most definitely worth a visit. To paraphrase George Orwell, all Medieval Cathedrals were equal, but some were more equal than others... . Thank-you for your comment.

    • Beth Pipe profile image

      Beth Pipe 6 years ago from Cumbria, UK

      Spent a lot of time last year visiting various cathederals. Made it to Ely but not to Norwich, and now I'm upset about that! Great hub!