The interior layout of the cathedral

Quire and presbytery: the liturgical heart of the cathedral

The cathedral clergy responsible for the conduct of the daily liturgy spent most of their time in the quire and presbytery of the cathedral. It was here that the principal Mass of the day was celebrated, and the eight Office services were recited.

For all that the first and second cathedrals were so different in size, disposition and style, their quire and presbytery had much in common. Of the quire and presbytery of the first cathedral little remains but traces at ground level; and the quire and presbytery of the second cathedral has been significantly altered with the removal of the pulpitum, and changes in the floor levels and layout of the presbytery.

Each contained four important elements: at the east end the high altar, raised up by at least three steps above the presbytery floor; then, between the presbytery step and the quire step, the quire crossing with north and south doors into the quire aisles; west of the quire step were the stalls and benches for the cathedral clergy (from junior boys to senior canons and dignitaries) – three rows on each side; and at the western end, the stone pulpitum from whose gallery solo chants could be sung, and the Gospel proclaimed on Sundays and feast days.

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Aisles, ambulatory, nave and cloisters: processions

Quire and presbytery were enclosed on all four sides, with doors on the north, south and west. These led out into the quire aisles on either side, and to the nave at the west. At the eastern end, the quire aisles led to the ambulatory which crossed from one side of the cathedral to the other, and gave access to the three eastern chapels. To the west of the pulpitum was the greater expanse of the nave, also flanked by north and south aisles. Then, accessed from the north transept of the first cathedral, and from the great south transept of the second cathedral, was the cloister.

While nave, aisles and ambulatory allowed for access to the laity, and the cloister at the first cathedral led to other buildings (including the bishop’s house from the time of Bishop Jocelin), their principal liturgical use by the cathedral clergy was for processions. Processions to the great cross on the rood beam at the eastern end of the nave; processions around the aisles, ambulatory and nave each Sunday before Mass as part of the ceremony of purification of the altars and the people with holy water; and extending to the cloisters on greater festivals.

Certain processions went round the outside of the cathedral (e.g. Palm Sunday), the cathedral precinct (e.g. Ascension Day), or out of the precinct to another church (e.g. St Mark’s Day and the three Rogation Days).

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Other altars

As well as the high altar in the presbytery, there were other altars in other parts of the cathedral where canons, vicars or chaplains said Mass. The location and number of altars at the first cathedral are hard to specify, though by 1214 there were more than eight outside the presbytery. In the second cathedral, they are symmetrically arranged in the chapels at the eastern end (3), the lesser transepts (4), and the greater transepts (6). In both cathedrals there was a parish altar (probably in one of the nave aisles), as well as altars on the western side of the pulpitum. Additional altars accrued in the second cathedral in chantry chapels and other spaces.

These altars are not generally mentioned in the Customary, except as the location to which the procession at Vespers went on the feast day of the saint to whom the altar was dedicated.

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