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Individual brilliance and community consensus at Wells and elsewhere


Image: Wiki

One of the great scissor arches at Wells Cathedral. Their brilliant creator, master mason William Joy, is virtually unknown. Seven hundred years later, they still stand, and it's unlikely anything like them could ever be built today,

In the 14th century, the central piers of Wells Cathedral began sinking under the weight of the crossing tower. Around 1338, the happily named Joy created a solution so beautiful, practical, unexpected, and spiritually uplifting that it took our breath away. With dauntless ingenuity he figured out a decision, and built three great scissor arches - inverted owl-eye strainer arches - to brace and stabilize the piers.

Meanwhile, in another part of the cathedral, you enter the tranquility of 'one of the most striking and perfectly formed chapter houses in Europe'.


Image: Virtual Tour

The central column blossoms in the middle like an enormous flower or trumpet of praise. Around the outside walls are stone benches with seats or niches in each bay. These are the stalls of the clergy who form the Chapter or governing body of the Cathedral. While they each have a stall in the quire for the worship of God, they also have a stall here for talking to one another.


Image: Wiki Commons

. . .The inner meaning of this great room is 'consent' or 'consensus'. The tradition of the Chapter in Wells is that something of a common mind must be reached about the matter being discussed. Each member has his contribution to make and debate continues until all are content and a common mind has been reached.

if there is no consensus then no progress can be made on that particular issue. Prolonged lack of consensus might indicate that the wrong issue is being debated rather than that agreement cannot be reached. . .In this way way authority is shared, diffused amongst the whole community.

Deciding things in this way brings difficulties, since it takes time and the members have to listen closely to each other, but it is arguably more Christian and results in solid decisions, common progress and a belonging together which is very strong. -From A step by step guide to Wells Cathedral

Did they listen to Joy's proposal for saving the cathedral in chapter? It seems likely.

Wells is the smallest cathedral city in England. Named after its springs and wells, it was never very big, and remains quite rural, and yet, people created something extraordinary here centuries ago.

You can imagine what we're thinking - perhaps thinking it yourself. If they could do this years ago in a small place, if Britain could pull together to successfully defeat Nazi Germany, if 13 small colonies could create a national constitution imbued with 'the bright inheritance of English freedom', what the heck is our problem today?

Comments (1)

Thanks for putting this up. It made me remember a trip with my parents when I must have been all of 12. The only time I've seen the scissor arches, and I admit that until today I did not know what they are called. But they made a vast impression on a small schoolboy in grey shorts and knee socks. I;ve never seen others: are there any, anywhere?

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