Gloucester’s stairway to Heaven

The top of Gloucester cathedral was surprisingly spacious. The roof was padded with steel sheets and surrounded by pointy towers. We could freely walk around, guarded by metal barriers on one side and rocky fences on the other – the centre of the roof was inaccessible. I looked down at the town stretching below. There was no end to it on any side of the square roof.

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The inside of the cathedral was surprisingly spacious and incredibly soft. You can easily get lost in small and narrow spaces behind the main altar. You can rest on a bench in the middle of the building, in the lovely garden, with lavishly green grass and the blue sky above you. Close your eyes when sitting on the bench, and listen to the silence, ruined only by the wind playing with the fountain.

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Some of the corridors will simply take your breath away – the ceilings are like delicate lace, closing above your head, creating magical chambers you might remember from the Harry Potter movies. The walls, richly decorated, stream gently towards the floor; which in comparison with the ceiling seem to be completely out of place. Millions of feet ventured here, leaving visible marks. On a sunny day you will catch beams of sunlight playing lovingly with stained glass, creating melted colours that littered the floor.

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If you look at the walls carefully you will see that every curl and every bend are part of a story.  The creation of a human hand, challenging the rock to surround to its not necessary gentle touch, is written down with care and attention. Standing in the middle of the main aisle and looking at its unexpectedly scanty white ceiling I understood harmony and love the artist had created here.

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The heart of the cathedral is hidden away from the visitors. In order to see and hear it, you must bravely start climbing 269 steps and squeeze through narrow corridors.  “Great Peter” will play for you loudly and clearly, with its medieval metal heart, sitting comfortable in a bell chamber; causing your heart skip a beat and making you jump. The guide, who will take you right into the middle of the cathedral’s guts, will try to prepare you for this spectacle of sounds, but believe me – to no avail. I jumped ridiculously when “Great Peter” let me hear his heart beating.  

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 You will next visit the ringing chamber, which is packed with the names of the previous “bell operators”, neatly inserted into metal plaques hanging on the walls. The spider web descending from the ceiling, is made of red wine coloured ropes , that make your head spin. There is a secret order in which each of them needs to be pulled. The skill of operating the bell was studied carefully and ponderously. The responsibility was too huge, as the whole town was listening to your work.

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The medieval spiral stairs will take you to the top. Be careful with your head as it is so easy to bang it on the solid entrance. There was no restriction with making the cathedral wide and spacious for the public; but every “behind the scene” access is minimalistic and not decorative at all.

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As you glance over the city, stretching widely in front of you, like a shameless lover, not caring what you think about her. Touch cold, swept by the wind and rain, rocky fences. Feel the sun and the wind on your face. Forgot about everything for a second, surrounded by the crystal air and immeasurable space. Then come back navigating spiral stairways to the enormous main aisle to sit in the silence, glancing at the altar, seeking divine experience shared by millions before you.

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Practicalities:

The Cathedral is located in the historic heart of Gloucester, within easy reach of the main railway and bus stations, about 10 or 15 minutes walk. There are signs which will direct you to the cathedral.

Please, visit the cathedral website for the latest news, opening hours and guided tours.  

Gloucester Cathedral

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