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
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in