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The West Front
An Architectural Walk through the Building

Architects – Old and New

THE WEST FRONT
 
This is the image by which the present cathedral is best known and is one of its great glories. The magnificent west façade, built between 1209 and 1250, is 100 feet high and 150 feet wide - exactly twice the width of the Nave which it terminates. There are niches for more than 500 figure sculptures, most of them larger than lifesize. Wells’ west front is unique in retaining almost 300 of its original medieval statues.

During cleaning and conservation in 1974 - 1986 traces were found of the original colour with which the sculptures and their architectural backgrounds were painted. In addition to the contrast between the dark blue-grey lias shafts and the pale stonework, the statues were decorated using rich colours including gold leaf, within the background of their dark red niches.

However it seems that neither the sculptural campaign nor the painting was completed in the 13th century, probably, as was often the case, through lack of money. The south and east sides of the southwest tower never possessed statues, and those in the gable were not carved until the 15th century. The towers to the south and north were added respectively in the late 1300s and early 1400s.

This façade, covered with the images of the saints, the great and the good, must have been intended as the dramatic backdrop for the liturgy of the church, particularly for the great processions of the liturgical year, such as Palm Sunday. It is likely that the hidden singing galleries within the thickness of the west wall were used during these ceremonials.
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