The wells which can be seen to this day in the Bishop’s Garden are the reason there is a settlement in the area of Wells, Somerset, England. The earliest evidence of worship is a late Roman mausoleum on the site. Over this is a Saxon mortuary chapel dated to about 705 A.D. which lay to the south of the current site. The oldest surviving part of the cathedral is a baptismal font in the south transept and is dated c. 700 A.D. Two centuries later, the Wells Cathedral school was founded.
The present structure was started c. 1175 and was built in the Early English architectural style. The bishop responsible for the building was Jocelyn of Wells, a brother of Bishop Hugh of Lincoln and one of the bishops who witnessed the Magna Carta in 1215. It was largely complete by the time of its consecration in 1239 and was given cathedral status in 1245. About 300 of the original medieval statues remain on the west front. Many of the figures and their niches were originally painted and gilded. The eastern end retains much of its original medieval glass which is highly unusual. Jocelyn also started building the Bishop’s Palace adjacent to the Cathedral.
The beautiful octagonal chapter house was completed in 1306 and served as a meeting house for cathedral affairs. Due to the enhancement of the liturgy with grand processions, the cathedral was deemed too small and extensive enlargement began. The central tower was heightened, the quire was extended and an eight-sided Lady Chapel was added at the east end. Later in the 14th C. the central piers of the crossing were sinking due to damage from an earthquake that occurred in the 13th C. Scissor arches were inserted to stabilize the piers and create a striking image in the interior.
During the Civil War and the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell, the building suffered damage and neglect, falling into disrepair. Renovations were off and on during the Restoration of the monarchy. During the Great Storm of 1703, some of the glass was damaged. In the 19th C. the cathedral was in need of major restoration. Repairs began and have been ongoing ever since. The Cathedral is famous for its library. The core of the collection is theology books but it also has books on the topics of science, medicine, history, exploration and languages.