Almost the Richest City: Bristol in the Middle Ages

British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions, Volume 19

ISBN: 978 0 901286 79 6 (PB); 978 0 901286 78 9 (HB)
Available in paperback and hardback
136 pages
Colour plates: 40

Edited by:

Laurence Keen

Almost the richest city of all in the country with a harbour for a thousand ships may well be an exaggerated description of Bristol by the writer Gesta Stephani but it sums up the twelfth-century view of the city as second to London in status with an important international port, producing wealth that directly influenced the art and architecture of the city throughout the Middle Ages.

Bristol, according to Sir Nikolaus Pevsner ‘shortly before 1300…suddenly jumped onto the front rank of English and indeed European architecture’, with the early eastern arm of the abbey church being ‘superior to anything else built in England and indeed Europe at the same time’. The abbey church alone would have been sufficient reason for holding a conference in Bristol, but St Mary Redcliffe and the other parish churches, together with many other aspects of the city’s medieval art and archaeology, provided justification for arranging a conference in the city in July 1996. The articles in this volume were delivered as lectures during that conference. These studies explore the international trade of Bristol and its documentary and archaeological evidence, and offer a radical new interpretation for its early development. Architectural studies provide fresh insight into the links between the Elder Lady Chapel of the abbey and Wells Cathedral, a re-evaluation of the eastern arm of the abbey, setting it into a regional context and revising its international importance and prodigy status, and a new study of St Mary Redcliffe, which assesses the contribution of the Canynges family and clarifies the reconstruction of the church in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Other important articles examine the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ relief, mesericords and the Lady Chapel glass in the cathedral, the monumental effigies of Bristol and the early sixteeth-century paintings in St Mark’s hospital. Of additional interest is the first modern appraisal of the Roman mosaic from Newton St Loe, in the care of the City Museum:fragments of the pavement were especially displayed in the Museum for the conference. The volume provides a much needed assessment of Bristol’s artistic and architectural status and its historical and archaeological importance.