History

The Early Days
Chester Cathedral is a truly remarkable building, with a history spanning almost two thousand years. According to legend, a prehistoric Druid temple existed on this site, which was succeeded by a Roman temple dedicated to Apollo; when Christianity became the state religion of Rome in the fourth century AD, the pagan temple may have become a Christian church.
Certainly a church was founded here in 660, and in 875 the relics of St Werburgh were brought to Chester to protect them from attacks by the Vikings; a church was built by King Alfred’s daughter, Queen Ethelfelda (‘The Lady of The Mercians’) in 907 specifically to house her remains.

The Norman monastery
Then in 1092, the Norman Earl of Chester, Hugh Lupus (‘The Wolf’), the nephew of William the Conqueror himself, decided to found a great monastery in the heart of his administrative capital. He sought the help of Anselm, the Abbot of Bec in Normandy and one of the greatest theologians of his day, and at Hugh’s third invitation, Anselm came to Chester to establish the new foundation.

The building of the monastery began at the east end in 1092, working from east to west; the style of the church was Romanesque, in imitation of the Roman building style, with round headed arches and solid masonry. Once the greater  part of the east end was finished and could be consecrated to allow services to take place, then work began on the cloisters (the domestic buildings) while building continued on the church.

The first part of the cloisters to be built was the south side (the side nearest the church) followed by the west, north and east sides. The last part of the domestic buildings to be constructed was the Chapter House in about 1250 and by that time, the architectural style had changed to the Gothic, with its pointed arches and ribbed ceilings.

However, the church in the Romanesque style then looked very old fashioned and unfashionable and so the monks decided to rebuild their church in the more up to date Gothic style. Rebuilding began in about 1260 at the east end with the construction of the Lady Chapel.

Work continued with the remodelling of the quire in 1290. The Crossing followed in about 1300, followed by the south transept in 1350. The south side of the nave was remodelled in 1360 but the north side of the Nave was not built until 1490 – this 130 year break in building was due to the Black Death when not enough workers were on hand to continue the building.
The west end was constructed about 1515/20 and the work then moved aloft to construct the upper windows and the stone ceilings.

Dissolution and the constitution of the Cathedral

However, the monastery was dissolved in 1539; building ceased at that time and very plain wooden ceilings were erected to allow services to take place inside.
Unusually, however, Henry VIII handed the monastery back as the Cathedral of the newly created Diocese of Chester, so the building was preserved. the last Abbot became the fist Dean of the Cathedral while the seni
or monks became the first Canons.

Restoration
By the nineteenth century, it was clear that the building needed restoration and some work was undertaken in the 1830s. However the major restoration took place 1868- 76 although further work continued into the early twentieth century; the external Bell Tower was opened in 1975, and the stone floor of the nave dates from 1997 while the Song School was completed in 2005.
Thus each part of the building represents the work of different generations combining to make the Cathedral that we see today.

Significant Dates:

Chester founded by the Romans

75 AD

Church founded by King Wulfhere

660

Relics of St Werburgh brought to Chester Cathedral

875

Queen Etelfleda founds a church deciated to St Werburgh

907

Monastery founded

September 1092

Surrendered

Tuesday, 20th January 1540

King Henry VIII sealed with his Privy Seal the writ establishing the Cathedral

Saturday, 26th July, 1541

Some statistics:

Imperial Metric
Total Length: 355 108m
Length of Nave 145 44m
Height of nave 78 24m
Width of nave 75 23m
Across transepts 185 56m
Height of Tower 127 39m
Total floor area 32,220 sq ft 26,939 sq m

Support Us

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There are many ways to support the Cathedral from donations through to buying a gift or simply enjoying a coffee in the Refectory. We welcome your support in whatever form it takes.

Refectory Cafe

 

The Refectory, built in the 13th century, was the dining hall for the 40 monks who belonged to the community at the time. The Refectory is open from 9:30 - 4:30 and a delicious lunch menu, fabulous cakes and free Wi-Fi!

 

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Online Shop

The Shop provides a full range of souvenirs, books, gifts, cards, CDs and jewellery, some unique to Chester Cathedral;  it's even possible to buy postage stamps!

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Donations

Chester Cathedral needs your help! We receive no financial subsidy from government and therefore rely on kind donations and the support of people like you. The Just Giving site is just one way to help.

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