Andrew Joynes on William Golding, The Spire, SF 71

Jocelin’s Folly

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Across the east end of the nave of Canterbury Cathedral, where I was a volunteer guide for over a decade, there is a stone strainer arch erected by Prior Thomas Goldstone 500 years ago. It is a kind of tiebar, one of six which bind together the columns that support Bell Harry Tower, the cathedral’s dominant feature. The arch is essential to the integrity of the building’s central structure and is decorated with flowered designs and an inscription. On either side of the Prior’s initials and his rebus – three golden pebbles, a visual pun on his surname – there is the first verse of the psalm that begins Non nobis Domine (‘Not unto us, O Lord, but unto thy name give glory . . .’).

In this way Prior Goldstone acquired a double helping of renown. He has been advertised down the centuries – on a kind of prominent stone billboard – both as the patron of a striking architectural achievement and as the humble instrument of God’s intentions for His great church. During the so-called Age of Faith before the Reformation, pious self-deprecation could also mean tacit self-congratulation.

When I took groups of visitors round the cathedral, I would often refer to the motivation of the great ecclesiastical patrons like Thomas Goldstone. And I would sometimes suggest that those interested should get hold of a copy of William Golding’s novel The Spire (1964) whose protagonist Dean Jocelin embarks, like Prior Goldstone, on a quest for personal renown through divine favour by obsessively driving forward an architectural project. Jocelin’s intention is to have a great spire built above his cathedral. In the end the endeavour will destroy him.

Although Golding does not identify the cathedral about which he is writing, it is generally thought to be Salisbury, where he taught at a grammar school in the cathedral close for a decade and a half from the late 1940s (his observation of the boys’ playground behaviour is said to have insp

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About the contributor

Andrew Joynes estimates that during his time as a guide he conducted some 6,000 visitors round Canterbury Cathedral. He suggests that studying the Middle Ages is like reversing a telescope: the entire scene appears in miniature; the figures are sharply delineated; and their relationship to each other can be precisely and easily traced.

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