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History

The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary at Chester is a living symbol of continuous progress, combined with constancy of purpose. For the worship and service of God have been offered on its site for over one thousand years; yet, over the centuries, no less than three different buildings have sheltered these primary tasks.

The story of Chester Cathedral can be traced back to the time of the Saxon Minster, which in 907 housed the remains of St Werburgh. During the period from 1092 to 1540 the Benedictine Abbey of St Werburgh flourished on the same ground. The story continues with the foundation of a Cathedral for Chester Diocese by Henry VIII in 1541, and on to our own day.   As a result, the present building contains materials belonging to every Christian century since the tenth.

Photograph courtesy of R.W. Billington   http://www.rickys-galleries.co.uk
St Werburgh's tapestry, in the shop.

Today we can celebrate this theme, reflected in the vows taken by the Benedictine Monks themselves, of stability and openness to change.  For Chester Cathedral is a remarkable building, both historically and architecturally. But it is much more than just a repository of the past. It is a living church, encompassing many activities within its active and diverse ministry. The Cathedral joins together in our own generation a community of people, who put prayer at the centre of their lives, and are also ready to share their faith in Christ with others: through daily worship, preaching and education, as well as through caring work in the city and beyond. It also embraces all those, whatever their nationality or beliefs, which value the beauty of Chester Cathedral and wish to share its riches, whether architectural, historical or musical.


History and Architecture

The 3 Churches:
In the tenth century, as a protection from marauding Danes, the remains of St Werburgh were brought from Staffordshire to Chester. St Werburgh was a Mercian princess, who became a nun and subsequently an Abbess. She was noted for her holiness; and during her life, as after her death, miracles of healing were associated with her. So in 907 Werburgh's Shrine at Chester, placed in an existing Saxon Church or Minster, became a place of pilgrimage. The Minster itself was served by canons who acted as parish priests, guarding the relics and conducting worship.

The first church on the site of Chester Cathedral gave way, in the eleventh century, to a second. Hugh, called Lupus ("the Wolf"), the first Norman Earl of Chester, decided to found a monastery in the City: possibly to compensate for his previously extravagant lifestyle! To assist him with this task, he invited his friend Anselm, Abbot of Bec (later Archbishop of Canterbury), to come to Chester from Normandy with some of his monks. In 1092, the Benedictine Abbey of St Werburgh came into being; and a second Norman church surrounded by monastic buildings - cloisters, refectory, kitchens, dormitory, bakery, brew house, infirmary, wine cellar - gradually took shape

The architecture of the north transcept illustrates the cathedral's theme of continuity and changeThe Norman Abbey buildings with their heavy, rugged architecture had not been too long in existence when, about 1250, a third church - basically what we know today as Chester Cathedral - was started. By this time the monks of Chester had been influenced by the lighter, more elegant style of so-called Gothic architecture, with its characteristically pointed arches, which was becoming popular in Europe. So, with great imagination, they built yet again: putting up their medieval church over the Norman, and taking down the earlier construction from inside. Building the new Abbey and church was a slow process, extending over 250 years or so. 

During this period, the community of St Werburgh's Abbey prospered and grew. The monks, who were committed to the vows of stability (staying in one house), obedience (to the Abbot and to each other) and openness to the future, prayed and studied and worked: in the kale-yard, the hospital and the schoolroom. They were also hospitable, entertaining guests from a wide area, including those traveling to and from Ireland, through what was then the port of Chester.

Photograph courtesy of R.W. Billington   http://www.rickys-galleries.co.uk

The third church building had not long been completed when, in 1540, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and St Werburgh's ceased to exist. It was a mark of the King's high opinion of the Abbey that he gave it back. So, in the following year 1541, the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary came into being as the seat of the Bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Chester (formerly part of Lichfield). At that moment Thomas Clark, the last Abbot became the first Dean. This moving fact testifies to the obvious message of Chester Cathedral: continuity and change.

Restoration

In subsequent years, the Cathedral seems to have been neglected; and it was not until the later part of the nineteenth century that a major restoration - masterminded by Sir Gilbert Scott - took place. His additions to the building's exterior continue to be controversial; but there is no doubt that his work on the interior, including the Quire, rescued the Cathedral from virtual disintegration, and so enhanced its appearance that it can be admired and enjoyed today as a place of worship and beauty.

When Frank Bennett was Dean (1920-37), the Cathedral's doors were opened to tourists and pilgrims, and not just to worshippers. Under Dean Addleshaw in 1975 a Bell Tower was introduced to the Cathedral grounds: the first to be built away from a Cathedral since the Renaissance. In more recent years new stained glass, better heating, a new nave floor, and brilliant fabrics and sculptures have been added. The new Song School was completed in 2005, forming a wonderful modern addition to the fabric of this fascinating historic church.

 

Concerts & Events
Organ Recitals
Each Thursday at ...
St Werburgh
...

Chester Cathedral's
Saturday 6 October 2007...
BBC Philharmonic
12 July 2007 at 7.30pm...
John Lill, Piano
5 July 2007 at 7.30pm...
Chester Philharmonic
30 June 2007 at 7.30pm...



27 June 2007

 

Cathedral Graphic