Chester Cathedral

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Date of travel

July, 2017

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Chester Cathedral is unusual as the transepts are asymmetrical. The north transept retains its original Norman form as the adjacent cloisters meant it could not be extended. Like the Baptistry at the back of the nave, it is one of the few parts of the Norman church to survive with its round topped arch and arcade made from recycled Roman columns.

In a small niche between the two arches on the east wall is the delightful cobweb picture. The painting of the Virgin and Child was painted on the net of a caterpillar. It is C19th and was characteristic of work produced in the Tyrol. Only 64 examples are known to survive.

The south transept is much larger, having been extended many times to accommodate chantry chapels along the walls. After the Dissolution of the Benedictine Monastery, the south transept became the parish church of St Oswald and was separated from the rest of the cathedral by wooden screen. It was only reintegrated into the cathedral in the late C19th. An arcade of Gothic pillars and pointed arches form arcades on either side of the transept. Above the arches is a band of carving, with large clerestory windows above. The massive south window represents the ‘Triumph of Faith’

On the west side is the splendid tomb of Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, First Duke of Westminster who was MP for Chester and a great benefactor of the cathedral. He also funded the restoration of St John the Baptist Church.

On the east wall are four small chapels, each with a splendid reredos and stained glass window.

The quire aisles along the outer side of the choir have a small chapel at the end. That in the south quire aisle is dedicated to St Erasmus, the patron saint of sailors. Below the window is a mosaic to the memory of Thomas Brassey an important C19th industrialist and his wife.

The Chapel of St Werburgh is at the end of the north quire aisle, with its NAtivity window.

Behind the Chancel is the Lady Chapel which was the first part of the Gothic Cathedral to be built. The colour scheme of the ribs of the vaulted ceiling and round the sedilia were part of the C19th restoration. St Werburgh’s Shrine is directly behind the high altar. This dates from around 1340 and is one of the few shrines to have survived the Reformation. Originally it would have been topped by pinnacles giving the appearance of a small chapel inside a larger church. It would have been painted and covered with jewels. The upper part of the shrine, where a modern statue now stands, would have contained a reliquary containing relics of St Werburgh. Pilgrims would kneel in the niches round the base.

The shrine was dismantled after the Dissolution of the monasteries and parts of the stonework were used in the throne for the newly created Bishop of Chester. The shrine was reconstructed from parts found during the C19th restorations.

The cloisters are reached from the north transept. The outer walls are part of the Norman church and have round topped arcading. The walls around the cloister garden are later Gothic. The glazing with stained glass images of saints was added in the early C20th.

The scriptorium where the monks sat and copied manuscripts ran along the west wall. There is now a display of old tombstones and stone bosses here.

The garden in the centre of the cloisters was used for growing herbs for medicinal and culinary purposes. The pond in the centre was originally the fish pond, fed by water pied in from the Abbot’s Well, two miles outside the city. It now has a modern sculpture of Jesus offering water to the woman of Samaria, from St John’s Gospel.

The Chapter House is on the north side. and is a good example of Gothic architecture with a stone vaulted ceiling. The stained glass window is C19th and shows the history of the building from and Anglo-Saxon church to Benedictine Monastery and finally Henry VIII establishing the See of Chester.

The Refectory is off the north wall of the cloister and is now the cafe. The abbot sat on a raised dais at the far end of the room with important guests on either side of him. No conversation was allowed and a monk read passages from the Bible or Lives of the Saints from the wall pulpit.

The east window is perpendicular and has images of the Saxon monarchs and saints with St Werburgh at the centre. Over the servery is an early C17th Mortlake tapestry which had hung above the High Altar until the C19th restorations.

There are more pictures “here.”:


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