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The Story of the English Cathedrals

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This chapter, the second of our series on the cathedrals of England, treats in detail of their historical associations, the architectural aspect being the subject of a subsequent chapter by F. J. Maclean. The Welsh and Scottish cathedrals are dealt with separately

A cathedral is a church where the bishop of a diocese has his throne. There is therefore nothing necessarily permanent in any church's claim to be a cathedral. Westminster Abbey was once for a short time a cathedral. The church usually selected was in the place in which the bishop considered that his influence would be most usefully exerted. In unsettled times, however, the bishop's throne was frequently moved from one locality to another as circumstances determined, or as the whim of the bishop dictated.

The Northumbrian bishopric, which was originally seated at Lindisfarne, was in 883, in consequence of a threatened invasion of the Danes, removed to Chester-le-Street, and in 995 transferred to Durham. The Devon and Cornwall bishopric was in 1050 removed to Exeter on account of the greater security which a walled city afforded. In 1075 the bishop of Lichfield removed his throne to Chester, and his successor took it to Coventry. In 1074 the see of Dorchester (Oxfordshire) was changed to that of Lincoln. The metropolitan cathedrals of Canterbury and York have always remained at those cities, but in the reign of Offa Lichfield also for a while became an archbishopric.

Instances have occurred where the bishop's throne in a city has been removed to a different church. The early cathedral of Chester was St. John's church. Oxford's first cathedral was Osney abbey, whilst at Salisbury the cathedral itself was transferred to a new site. Occasionally a place which had once been a cathedral city, though it had lost its cathedral rank, continued to share in the title of the see. From 1224 the bishops of Bath have borne the title of Bishops of Bath and Wells. The bishops of Lichfield were frequently known as bishops of Lichfield, Chester and Coventry. Glastonbury for a short time participated in the episcopal honours of Bath. From 1836 till 1897 the see of Bristol was united to that of Gloucester, and in recent times Ipswich has been associated with St. Edmundsbury, though it has never had a cathedral. Southwell, on the contrary, though it never attained to episcopal dignity, long provided a sort of second cathedral for the archbishops of York; whilst the diocese of Sodor and Man does not possess a cathedral at all, though it once possessed one at Peel.

The churches which have retained their cathedral rank from the Middle Ages are those of Canterbury, York, Carlisle, Chichester, Durham, Ely, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield, Lincoln, London, Norwich, Rochester, Salisbury, Wells, Winchester and Worcester. Bristol, Chester, Gloucester, Oxford and Peterborough were made bishoprics at the Reformation. In modern times dioceses have been further subdivided and sees have been attached to Birmingham, Blackburn, Bradford, Chelmsford, Coventry, Derby, Guildford, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Portsmouth, Ripon, St. Albans, St. Edmundsbury, Sheffield, Southwark, Southwell, Truro and Wakefield.

In pre-Reformation times the cathedrals of York, Chichester, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield, Lincoln, London, Salisbury and Wells were administered by secular chapters. Those of Canterbury, Carlisle, Durham, Ely, Norwich, Rochester, Winchester and Worcester were monastic churches. The sees created at the Reformation also took the churches of dissolved monasteries for their cathedrals.

Of the modern cathedrals St. Albans alone is of monastic foundation, though that of St. Edmundsbury was associated with a dismantled monastery. The cathedrals of Manchester, Ripon, Southwell and Southwark were once collegiate churches. All the other recently created sees, with the exception of Liverpool and Truro, have had to be content with parish churches for their cathedrals. Liverpool and Truro have built for themselves new cathedrals, though Truro cathedral embodies in its fabric part of a parochial church.

Many of our Norman cathedrals in part remain. Among medieval cathedrals which still retain a substantial remnant of their original Norman fabrics are Chichester, Durham, Ely, Hereford, Norwich and Rochester. The story of the founding of these cathedrals is of great interest and historical importance.

As regards Chichester, the Selsey bishopric was brought to Chichester in 1082 and the cathedral was begun in 1091 by Bishop Ralph de Luffa (1091-1123), but was rebuilt, after a disastrous fire in 1186, by Bishop Seffrid II (1120-1204), who also added the retro-choir. In the thirteenth century the lady chapel was remodelled and extended. In 1861 the building was damaged by the fall of the spire.

The cathedral of Durham, hundreds of miles north, has an even more romantic origin. After a long migration the remains of St. Cuthbert were brought by the Lindisfarne monks to Durham in 995, and in 998 Bishop Ealdune built over them "no small church of stone." This edifice was destroyed in a popular rising in the time of Bishop Walcher (1071-80). The present cathedral was begun as a Benedictine minster in 1093 by Bishop Carelef (1081-96) and practically completed by Bishop Flambard (1099-1128). In 1650 a number of Scotch prisoners who were confined in the cathedral destroyed some of the ancient woodwork, but the cathedral was refurnished by Bishop Cosin (1660-72). A combined monastery and nunnery was founded at Ely by Etheldreda, exqueen of Northumbria, who died as its abbess in 679. In 870 the establishment was broken up by the Danes, but it was reconstructed by King Edgar. In 1083 Abbot Simeon commenced the present minster, and in 1109 Ely was made a bishopric. In the first decade of the twelfth century the choir was completed by Abbot Richard, but in 1235 it was further extended by Bishop Northwold. In 1322 the choir was partially wrecked by the collapse of the central tower. During the episcopate of Bishop Hotham (1319-37) Alan of Walsingham repaired the damage, constructed the central octagon and erected the lady chapel.

Archbishop Theodore made Hereford a bishopric in 697, and its first stone church was built in 825 by Milfrid, king of Mercia, to enclose the shrine of King Ethelbert, who had been murdered by Offa in 792. The present cathedra] \vas begun in 1072 by Bishop Robert de Lozinga and was finished by Bishop Bethune (1131-48). In the first half of the thirteenth century the lady chapel was built and the north transept reconstructed. Bishop Herbert de Lozinga brought his throne from Thetford to Norwich in 1094, and two years later began building the present cathedral as the minster of a Benedictine priory. The fabric was completed by his successor, Eborade (1121-49). In 1272 the cathedral was pillaged by a mob, and in 1361 it was damaged by the fall of the spire, but repaired by Bishop Percy (1352-69). In 1463 and 1509 it was badly injured by fire.

Gloucester is another famous cathedral of the west of England, and really dates from 681, when a monastery was founded at Gloucester by Osric. This was replaced for a while by a college of secular canons, but finally reorganized as a house of Benedictines. In 1100 Abbot Serlo built a new minster for the monks. In the fourteenth century its choir was transformed into its present shape, and in the next century the lady chapel was added. In 1543 Gloucester was made a bishopric and its minster taken as the cathedral.

The first important religious institution at Oxford was the convent of S. Frideswide, founded in the eighth century. In 1002 its church was destroyed in the massacre of the Danes on S. Brice's day. It was rebuilt by Ethrelred, and at the Norman Conquest became the minster of a Benedictine priory. Prior Robert de Cricklade (1141-80) built for the monks a new church. In the next century a lady chapel was added. Cardinal Wolsey vaulted the choir, but in 1524 he dissolved the monastery and removed the greater part of the nave to build his new college of Christ Church. In 1541 the city was made a bishopric, and the bishop's throne placed in Osney Abbey, but in 1546 it was removed to Christ Church. Two kings were concerned in the early beginnings of Peterborough and St. Albans cathedrals respectively. Peada, king of Mercia, founded a monastery at Peterborough in 659. It was destroyed by the Danes in 870, but was subsequently rebuilt by Bishop Aethelwold of Winchester. In 1071 it was again pillaged by the Danes, and was finally destroyed by a fire in the reign of Henry I.

In 1117 Abbot John de Sais began a new minster, which was completed before the close of the century. At the end of the next century the West Front was erected, and in the last half of the fourteenth century the retro-choir was constructed. In the eighth century Offa, king of Mercia, founded a monastery on the supposed site of the tomb of S. Alban, who had been martyred by the Romans in 303. At the Norman Conquest the abbey was rebuilt by Abbot Paul de Caen (1077-93). His work was in part reconstructed by Abbots William de Trumpington (1214-35) and John de Hertford (1235-60). In the time of Abbot Hugh de Eversden (1308-26) a lady chapel was added and the nave had to be largely rebuilt owing to the collapse of some of the masonry. The abbey was the premier monastery in England because of Pope Adrian IV (1154-9), who had once vainly tried to become one of its monks.

At Canterbury, Exeter, Winchester and Worcester the original Norman fabrics have been almost entirely transformed. Augustine arrived at Canterbury on his mission for Pope Gregory in 597, and on the conversion of King Ethelbert obtained the site of a ruined British church on which to establish a monastery and build a basilica. This church was rebuilt by Archbishop Odo (942-959), but it was destroyed by fire in 1067. Lancfranc, the first Norman archbishop (1070-39), reconstructed it in Norman fashion, and his cathedral was remodelled and extended under Archbishop Anselm (1093-1109) by Priors Ernulf and Conrad. In 1174 "Conrad's glorious choir" perished in a conflagration. Upon its ruins the present choir was erected by William of Sens and William the Englishman. The reconstruction of the nave was undertaken by Prior Chillenden (1379-1411), and at the end of the fifteenth century the central tower was raised to its present height. In the reign of Elizabeth the crypt was given as a place of worship to the Flemish weavers who had settled in the city.

Turning next to south-west England, we note that a cathedral was commenced at Exeter by Bishop Warelwast in mo, probably on the site of the Saxon monastery where Bishop Leofric placed his throne when he removed it from Crediton in 1050. It was finished by Bishop Marshall (1194-1205). In 1258 Bishop Bronescombe began transforming this edifice; his work was continued by Bishop Quivil (1280-91), and was finally completed when Bishop Brantyngham added the west front to Bishop Grandisson's nave (1327-69).

The bishopric of Winchester was created in 662 and rose to importance with the growth of the West Saxon power. A monastic church founded by Kynegils served as its cathedral. This was rebuilt by Bishop Swithun in 837 and again by Bishop Ethelwold in 980. After the Norman Conquest Bishop Walkelin (1079-98) built a new cathedral, which was enlarged by Bishop Lucy (1189-1204). Its nave was subsequently remodelled by Bishop William of Wykeham (1367-1404) and Cardinal Beaufort (1404-1407) on lines begun by Bishop Edingdon in 1345.

Worcester was made a bishopric almost at the same time as Winchester, and a college of secular canons was established in the city. Bishop Oswald (961-92) transformed the college into a Benedictine monastery and built a new cathedral, which was destroyed by the Danes. Bishop Wulfstan (1062-95) began the present cathedral, which was dedicated in 1218. In 1224 the reconstruction of the choir and the erection of a Lady chapel were commenced, and in the first half of the fourteenth century the nave, as we now know it, was rebuilt.

Two interesting but less famous cathedrals, both in the north-west of England, may be briefly noted. In 1101 a priory of Augustinian canons was established at Carlisle, the prior of which in 1133 became the first bishop. In the thirteenth century the choir was remodelled, but the work was destroyed by a fire in 1292. In 1353 the choir was again rebuilt and still remains. The Norman nave survived till 1645, when the greater part of it was destroyed by the famous Scottish soldier General Leslie. Chester was not made a permanent bishopric till 1541, though from 1075 till 1087 it had been a cathedral city. At the Reformation the abbey church of S. Werburgh was taken as the cathedral. The abbey had been originally founded as a college of secular canons by Ethelfleda, but was transformed in 1093 into a house of Benedictines by Earl Hugh. Some portions of it still remain.

One of the earliest Gothic cathedrals in England is that of Wells. A church for secular canons was founded at Wells by King Ine in the eighth century and in 909 it became a cathedral. The first Norman bishop, John of Tours, removed his throne to Bath. In 1192 Bishop Savaric attached Glastonbury to the see of Bath, but in 1224 the episcopal throne was restored to Wells and the diocese has since been termed Bath and Weils. The present fabric was begun by Bishop Reginald (1174-91) and the west front was added by Bishop Jocelin (1220-39). The Lady chapel was built and the choir remodelled in the fourteenth century.

Of our thirteenth century cathedrals the most conspicuous examples are Lichfield, Lincoln and Salisbury. Bristol, Ripon and Southwark cathedrals, which were not cathedrals in medieval times, are also mainly thirteenth century buildings.

To take Lichfield first, it may be noted that S. Chad, the fifth bishop of the first Mercian see, fixed his seat at Lichfield in 670. In the reign of Offa, in the eighth century, Lichfield for a while became an archbishopric. At the Norman Conquest, however, the throne was removed to Chester, but was restored to Lichfield at the end of the eleventh century. In the thirteenth century a cathedral, built possibly by Bishop Roger de Clinton, was replaced by the present fabric, which was not completed till well on in the next century. During the Civil War the central spire was destroyed, but it was replaced by Bishop Hacket (1661-71) at the Restoration.

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