A Standout in England’s Smallest City
The cathedral town of Wells is a medieval gem. It reached its pinnacle of prestige in the late Middle Ages when the magnificent Cathedral Church of St. Andrew was built on the site of an 8th-century Saxon cathedral to reflect the town’s affluence. The town gradually fell into a centuries-long slumber that would preserve its character and heritage for today’s visitors.
Although one of Britain’s smallest cathedrals, St. Andrew dwarfs the perfectly preserved limestone town that spreads out in its shadow (Wells is England’s smallest city: every town with a cathedral is considered a city). Its recently restored west facade is heavily ornamented with six tiers of 365 carved life-sized figures that comprise the most extensive surviving array of medieval sculpture in Britain.
Completed in the early 13th century, they illustrated every imaginable biblical story for the illiterate masses. The facade’s twin towers were not added until the late 14th century, yet look as if they were always meant to be part of the whole. Inside the quintessentially Gothic interior, the ingenious engineering solution of criss-crossed “scissor arches,” added in 1338 to support the central tower, serve their purpose to this day.
England’s oldest clock, the second oldest in the world built in 1392, is found in the north transept, announcing the hour with a fanfare of tilting knights and their armored steeds. Facing the statue-studded west facade is Wells’s most charming hotel, the Swan, a former coaching inn whose interior of baronial log fireplaces, beamed ceilings, and rich wood paneling evokes its 500 years of history.