Chester Cathedral is a Gothic building with wonderfully carved quire stalls. These along with the delightful cobweb picture in the north transept were the highlights for me. The rest of the cathedral lacked pizzazz in comparison, hence the 4* rating.
The C7th Mercian King, Wulfhere, is reputed to have founded a timber church on this site dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, but it was his daughter, Werburgh, who really put Chester on the map. She renounced her royal status to become a nun at Ely Abbey. Many miracles were attributed to her during her lifetime, including restoring back to life a goose that had been stolen and eaten.
She was buried in Staffordshire and her tomb rapidly became a place of pilgrimage. Following the threat of Danish raids in the C9th her relics were brought to Chester as a place of safety and were placed in the Church of St Peter and St Paul. Queen Ethelfleda, the grand daughter of Alfred the Great, founded a monastery in Chester and rededicated the church to St Werburgh. The new monastery continued to enjoy royal patronage and flourished. A splendid shrine was built in her honour.
Chester was the last English city to fall to the Normans in 1069. To bring the area firmly under Norman control, William I appointed his nephew, Hugh d’Avranches, as Earl of Chester. He built Chester Castle and transformed the Saxon Church into a large and well endowed Benedictine Monastery, with a Norman church around the shrine of St Werburgh.
Building began at the east end where the monks held services and gradually extended west. Work began on the domestic buildings including the cloisters. The Chapter House was finished in 1250 in the latest Gothic style with pointed arches and ribbed vaults. In 1270, a Lady Chapel was added beyond the chancel, again in the Gothic style. The monks then gradually began to replace the Norman church with its heavy round columns, round arches and small windows with the more modern Gothic style. The choir was remodelled in 1290 followed by the crossing in 1300. Work on the south transept was completed by 1350 and the south side of the nave by 1360. Work then stopped, probably because of labour shortages from successive waves of the plague. The south west corner was eventually finished in the early C15th in the late Gothic style.
Only the Baptistry in the base of the north west tower, the north transept and part of the cloisters remain of the original Norman church.
Building work was interrupted by the Dissolution of the Monastery in 1639. The two west towers were never completed. St Werburgh’s shrine was destroyed, although the church survived as Henry VIII decided to establish it as the new Cathedral of Chester in 1641, having subdivided the massive diocese of Litchfield. The monastic complex survived and is one of the best preserved in the country.
The church was rapidly patched up with wooden vaults in the nave rather than the planned stone vaults. The south transept was used as a parish church and was separated from the rest of the building by wooden screens. It was not reintegrated into the cathedral until 1880.
The space beneath the south west tower was set up as the Consistory court in 1636. The court dealt with all the legal work of the diocese, including handling wills and probate, issues of matrimony as well as heresy, blasphemy and slander. This is the only surviving court in England. The judge, called the Chancellor, sat at the canopied seat at the head of the table, with a clerk on either side. The other officers of the court sat round the table. The Apparitor was responsible for the smooth running of the court and sat in the high seat in the corner, where he could see everything going on. (When I visited, there was a modern art exhibition in the cathedral featuring the work of celebrated modern sculptors. This explains the baboon sitting in the Chancellors seat and the cat asleep on the table.)
During the Commonwealth, the Puritans smashed all the stained glass and replaced with plain glass. The hands of the Greene monument in the nave were removed because they were joined in prayer, which was regarded as a popish gesture.
There was major restoration work in the C19th when the stained glass was replaced and the mosaics designed by John Clayton, were placed on the north wall. The cloisters were glazed and the outside of the building was refaced. Red Sandstone is soft and does weather badly.
The great west window dates from 1960 as the Victorian stained glass was blown out by a bomb in 1941. The external bell tower dates from 1975 and was the first free standing bell tower to be built for an English Cathedral since the C15th. The bells needed an overhaul and it was discovered that they were placing great stress on the central tower and it was considered to be unsafe to rehang them. The new tower did cause controversy at the times and was nicknamed the ‘Chester rocket’.
The Cathedral is built from the local red sandstone and is a large building. It is almost impossible to photograph all of the outside. It has a rather squat central tower. The rather strange ‘chimney pot’ style turrets at the corners are C19th.
The nave and chancel are tall with large clerestory windows and battlemented roof with tall pinnacles. The south porch was the last part of the cathedral to be built and is Perpendicular.
The cathedral is open daily, although visitors are recommended to ring the cathedral before visiting to check there are no special services or events which may close part of the building. There is no entry charge, although visitors are asked to make a donation. There are free ground floor tours although there is a charge for the tower tours.
There is no parking in the immediate vicinity of the cathedral although there are several public car parks close by. The post code is CH1 2DY.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/west_midlands/cheshire/cathedral/index.html
There is no information about disabled access on the Chester Cathedral website. There is no parking for the cathedral and no drop off point. There is some Blue Badge parking on St Werburgh Street, a short walk from the Cathedral.
There is level access into the cathedral but not through the west door which is used for ceremonial occasions. The rest of the cathedral is accessible, although there is a step down into the vestibule of the Chapter House. There is a disabled toilet through the shop on the way out of the cathedral.