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Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield , Staffordshire

Location Guide

Picture By Roger Robinson 

Lichfield Cathedral was never a monastery as most, but was established as a cathedral and has continued with minimal interruption. It was not greatly affected by the dissolution of the monasteries in the period of Henry VIII, and its only severe problem was in the time of the civil war, when it was badly damaged, and one of its three spires was felled. It is England's only medieval Cathedral with three spires, Truro Cathedral, and the Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh have three spires but both were built in the 19th century.

The present building was started in 1195, and completed by the building of the Lady Chapel in the 1330s. It replaced a Norman building begun in 1085 which had replaced one, or possibly two, Saxon buildings from the seventh century. The Bishop's Palace built in 1687 and a theological college built in 1837, are next to the cathedral.

One of the smallest cathedrals it measures 113m (370ft) in length from inside the West Door to the extreme end of the Lady Chapel. It is only 21m (68ft) wide.  It is one of only twelve surviving medieval chapter houses. The central spire is 77m (252ft) high and the western spires about 58m (190ft) high. There are 113 statues on the West Front, but only four are medieval. The rest were carved towards the end of the 19th century, as the original statues had become very worn and most were removed in the 18th century. 


This site now occupied by the cathedral was already a holy site, as the scene of martyrdoms during the Roman period. These would have been Celtic Christians well ahead of the first Catholics arriving in Britain. It is therefore likely that the site was occupied by several earlier Celtic Christian churches ahead of being 'pack and wrapped' into the Catholic faith. We know little about this, other than it being the reason for the cathedral being on the site now. When Chad was made Bishop of Mercia in 669 he moved his See from Repton to Lichfield, because it was a holy site, due to the martyrdom that had occurred.

The first Cathedral to be built on the present site was in 700AD when Bishop Hedda built a new church to house the bones of St Chad, which had become a sacred shrine to many pilgrims when he died in 672. Offa, King of Mercia seemed to resent his own bishops paying allegiance to the Archbishop of Canterbury in Kent who, whilst under Offa's control, was not of his own kingdom of Mercia. Offa therefore created his own archbishopric in Lichfield, who presided over all the bishops from the Humber to the Thames. All this began in 786, with the consent of Pope Adrian. The Pope’s official representatives were received warmly by Offa and were present at the Council of Chelsea (787), often called `the contentious synod', where it was proposed that the Archbishopric of Canterbury be restricted in order to make way for Offa's new archbishop. It was vehemently opposed, but Offa and the papal representatives defeated Archbishop Jaenbert, installing Higbert as the new Archbishop of Lichfield. Pope Adrian sent Higbert the pallium, denoting his support for this move. In gratitude, Offa promised to send an annual shipment of gold to the pope for alms and supplying the lights in St. Peter's church in Rome. However, The Archbishopric of Lichfield only lasted for 16 years, ending soon after Offa's death, when it was restored to Archbishop Aethelheard of Canterbury.

Click on any small image to see a larger version

Image from wikipedia, edited to show more detail, click here to see original.

Starting in 1085 and continuing through the twelfth century the original wooden Saxon church was replaced by a Norman Cathedral made from stone, and this was in turn replaced by the present Gothic Cathedral begun in 1195. It was completed by the building of the Lady Chapel in the 1330s. The Quire dates from 1200, the Transepts from 1220 to 1240 and the Nave was started in 1260. The octagonal Chapter House, which was completed in 1249 and is one of the most beautiful parts of the Cathedral with some charming stone carvings, houses an exhibition of the Cathedral's greatest treasure, the Lichfield Gospels, an 8th century illuminated manuscript.

There were three sieges of Lichfield during the period 1643-46 (civil War) as the Cathedral was surrounded by a ditch and defensive walls, and made a natural fortress. The Royalists were defeated in March 1643, and the Parliamentarians a month later. In 1646, the Parliamentarians were once again victorious, but the Cathedral suffered extensive damage, the central spire was demolished, the roofs ruined and all the stained glass smashed. Today the windows of the Lady Chapel contain some of the finest medieval Flemish painted glass in existence. It came from the Abbey of Herkenrode, now in Belgium, in 1801, having been purchased by Brooke Boothby, when that Abbey was dissolved during the Napoleonic Wars. It was then sold on to the Cathedral for the same price. It dates from the 1530s. There are also some fine windows by Betton and Evans (1819), and many fine late 19th century windows, particularly those by Charles Eamer Kempe. 

Bishop Hacket was responsible for bringing the building back into use after the Civil War, but the interior you see now, particularly east of the Quire Screen, was the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott who was Cathedral Architect from 1855 to 1878. He returned the Cathedral to what he believed it would have looked like in the Middle Ages. It is recognised as some of his finest work with the magnificent Quire screen and gates made by Skidmore of Coventry, the beautiful Minton tiled floor in the Quire, Presbytery and Sanctuary, and the High Altar Reredos decorated with semi-precious stones from within the Diocese. The carved figures were a later addition.

Cathedral close, main fine period properties

Sleeping children photo from Wikipedia

Lichfield Angel

In February 2003, an eighth century sculpted panel of the Archangel Gabriel was discovered under the nave of the Cathedral. The panel was broken into three parts but was still otherwise intact and had traces of red pigment from the period. It was first unveiled to the public in 2006, when visitor numbers to the Cathedral trebled. After being taken to Birmingham for eighteen months for examination, it is now exhibited in the Cathedral.

Location: Lichfield Cathedral, Lichfield, Staffordshire

Grid Reference: SK115097 Ceremonial County: Staffordshire

Map Link: Multimap

Aerial photo: Multimap     Google  (good)

Getting there: Lichfield is 17 miles north east of Birmingham near to the M42.

Website: Own
Other Useful Websites: wiki 
Address: 19A The Close, Lichfield, Staffordshire
Postcode: WS13 7LD Telephone: 01543 306100
Opening Times:  every day from 7.30am until 6.15pm.  In the summer months (Easter to September) it remains open until 7.00pm on Saturdays and Sundays. 

Charges: No entry charge but donation expected. They suggest £3.00 for adults.

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List of all Anglican cathedrals and other major Anglican churches in the UK

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Page Ref: Lichfield_Cathedral

Classification: Abbeys (incl. all Christian buildings)

Date Updated: 09/2008

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