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Norwich Cathedral Cloisters 10


Spires & Servants

In Norwich, every building tells a story. From futuristic glass structures echoing ancient Mesopotamia to Tudor houses revealing the secret lives of merchants, stories are written into the very fabric of this city, and uncovering them brings the bricks and mortar to life. To start, we’re going to tell you a story about one of Norwich’s most famous landmarks, the Cathedral.

The story of how Norwich Cathedral came to be begins in 1094, when a Norman man named Herbert de Losinga committed a sin. He paid the king of England, King William Rufus or ‘William the Red,’ to make him Bishop of East Anglia. News of this sin quickly spread across Europe, ultimately reaching the Vatican, and the ears of Pope Urban II. ‘Simony’– that was its name, and it had a price. Bishop Herbert was told that the only way to atone for his sin was to build a new cathedral.

Plans for Norwich Cathedral began immediately. At that time Norwich’s Norman Castle was the most imposing building in the city, a great wooden fortress that was about to be fortified with stone, but Norwich Cathedral was to dwarf even that. It was to be enormous: a tenth of the size of the city (which was already the second largest city in England), and built entirely from Norman stone brought from across the channel. More than ever, the people of Norwich would feel the absolute power of Norman rule. In 1096, the first stone was laid. It would be another forty-nine years until the last was in place.

Once finished, Norwich Cathedral housed a monastery of Benedictine monks who would spend their life there in religious devotion. The monastery would remain for the next 450 years, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.

Central to the monks’ lives at the Cathedral was the Cloister, the largest of its kind in England. Through the Cloister’s hallowed walkways the monks would travel to go about their daily routine: to the Cathedral eight times a day for worship, to the Refectory to eat, to the Hostry and Locutory to welcome guests, to the Chapter House for meetings, and finally to the Dormitory to rest. And soaring above them at all times the proud Cathedral spire, proclaiming not only the monks’ desire to reach upwards to God, but impressing upon the people of Norwich the supremacy of the Catholic Church.


Relations between the monastery and the people of Norwich were hostile. In 1272, following several disputes over land, taxes and tenures, a riot broke out between the servants of the monastery and some citizens of Norwich. Violence came from both sides, and eventually a mob set fire to the gates of the monastery. They burnt down many of the monastic buildings and badly damaged the Cathedral. Most of the monks fled, but others were killed, along with several citizens. So violent were the riots that the Pope decided to excommunicate the entire city, and although this decision was later undone, Norwich remains the only city in England to ever have been cast out of the Catholic Church.


Please note some of these events may have already taken place; we've left them on here so you can read about all the lovely things going on in Norwich. Avoid missing any exciting future events or useful information by signing up to our newsletter (via the signup box on the homepage). Why not take a look at current events taking place on our website.

Norfolk & Norwich Festival 16: Mahler - Symphony of a Thousand
21 May, Royal Norfolk Showground, tickets £28, £24, £18, £12
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Norfolk & Norwich Festival 16: Norwich Cathedral Choir
28 May, tickets: £18, £16, £14, £10
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Shakespeare Festival: Much Ado About Nothing
15 & 16 July, Norwich Cathedral Cloisters
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