While we are traveling England, Scotland and Wales, we will each serve as a tour guide for a site. Before we leave, we must research our assigned historical site and be prepared to serve as an expert guide for our course mates when we visit. I chose to further investigate Chester Cathedral, which is located in Chester, England right along the border to Wales. While researching Chester Cathedral, I found out a lot about its history, architecture and some unique carvings included throughout. I would like to take a little time to inform you, as a reader, about the cathedral.
Chester Cathedral has been a place of worship in Chester for nearly 2,000 years. A prehistoric Druid temple is said to have once existed on the same site, and a Roman temple dedicated to Apollo came soon after. A church was founded on the site in 660. In 875, relics of St. Werburgh were brought to Chester for protection from the Viking attacks. King Alfred’s daughter, Queen Ethelfelda (The Lady of The Mercians) built a church in 907 for the purpose of housing her remains.
In 1092, Hugh Lupus, the Norman Earl of Chester, founded a monastery. The church was built in Romanesque style by incorporating rounded arches. Once enough of the monastery was built to allow for worship, the cloisters began being built. The cloisters, which are domestic buildings, were built until about 1250 when the completion of the Chapter House concluded the construction. At some point during the construction of the cloister, the workers switched over to Gothic style, which was far more popular. By that time the older, Romanesque architecture was considered old fashioned. The new Gothic style included pointed arches with extremely ribbed ceilings, which you will notice in pictures of the existing cathedral. The monks decided their church had to be rebuilt in 1260 because its Roman style was too unfashionable compared to the Gothic style. A lady chapel was also constructed at this time. Remodeling and construction continued throughout the church until about 1520.
The rich and evolving history of the church continued even after the monastery dissolved in 1539. At that point construction ceased and plain, simple ceilings were constructed in order to continue having services. The church was very fortunate following the dissolution because King Henry VIII gave the monastery back to the people to be used as the Cathedral of the Diocese of Chester, which had just been established. This allowed the building to be preserved. In the 1830s, restoration again took place and a major restoration was done from 1868 to 1876. In 1975, an external bell tower was opened and a stone floor was put in the nave in 1997.
Of course, one of the most interesting facets of the Chester Cathedral, is its long history. I find the inclusion and mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture to be particularly interesting. In one picture I stumbled across, two doorways were shown right next to each other, one being the rounded Roman style and the other a pointed Gothic style.
One other extremely interesting aspect of Chester Cathedral are the Quire Misericords. These are small wooden carvings that date back to 1380. Each carving has a specific purpose and they all tell unique stories. These were built into the stalls in the quire were monks spent many hours worshiping and each design is one of a kind. The misericords (meaning ‘pity’) were small ledges underneath the monks’ seat that the monks could lean on during their long services.
I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about Chester Cathedral. I encourage everyone to look up pictures of the Quire Misericords because they are very interesting and tell fascinating stories!