From a distance, the cathedral has been described as "looking like an upturned gas-cooker", due to the square central tower and a set of turrets that bring to mind Battersea Power Station. However, on closer inspection, the building is impressive, especially internally. All the major styles of English medieval architecture, from Norman to Perpendicular are represented in the present building and there are many features of interest. Built between 1093 and 1537, Chester’s particular fame is its medieval choir stalls dating from 1380, with detailed and often comic figurative carving. It retains substantial monastic buildings including a large refectory which is still in use as a cafe. The plan and map below will give a basic understanding of the layout. It is a cruciform design with an enlarged south transept, a central tower and the bases of two incomplete towers at the west end. To the northwest is a cloister and to the southeast a modern, detatched belfy, perhaps just a little copied in the design of Tesco's store in the distance.
Even if you are not religious, Cathedrals have many things that can lift us out of the present: "events do not write - but people do", and they carve, build, spin windows in stained glass and illustrate wonderful books. People have been coming here, for a "special" purpose for perhaps thousands of years. They brought their tales, left their mark and passed on.
Location Chester Cathedral, 12 Abbey Square, Chester, CH1 2HU, Cheshire, England Phone 01244 324756 Site http://www.chestercathedral.com/
- 1 The Temple
- 2 The Church
- 3 The Abbey
- 4 The Cathedral
- 5 Points of Interest
- 5.1 Baptistry
- 5.2 Consistory Court
- 5.3 Chester Imp
- 5.4 Chester Cathedral Library
- 5.5 Cobweb Painting
- 5.6 HMS Chester Memorial
- 5.7 Demonic Footprint
- 5.8 Everest Window
- 5.9 Frderick Phillips Memorial
- 5.10 Henry Twells Clock
- 5.11 The Misericords
- 5.12 Narwhal Tooth
- 5.13 Political Corbels
- 5.14 Pulpit
- 5.15 Refectory
- 5.16 Supposed Tomb of Emperor Henry
- 5.17 Water of Life
- 5.18 Werbergh's Shrine
- 6 Sources and Links
According to legend, a "prehistoric Druid temple" existed on this site, which was succeeded by a Roman temple dedicated to Apollo, and then, when Christianity became the state religion of Rome in the fourth century AD, the pagan temple may have become a Christian basilica on the site of the present cathedral. The story of the "Temple of Apollo" is told by "The history of Cheshire" (containing King's Vale-royal entire, Volume 2 By Daniel King, William Smith, William Webb (gentleman.), Sir Peter Leycester, Samuel Lee, Thomas Pennant, Francis Grose) as dating from prior to 1653. The story of the Gloverstone is perhaps older still.
In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo (in Greek, Ἀπόλλων—Apóllōn or Ἀπέλλων—Apellōn), is the ideal of the kouros (a beardless youth), and has been variously recognized as a god of light and the sun; truth and prophecy; archery; medicine and healing; music, poetry, and the arts. Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, and has a twin sister, the chaste huntress Artemis. Apollo became associated with dominion over colonists, and as the patron defender of herds and flocks. As the leader of the Muses (Apollon Musagetes) and director of their choir, Apollo functioned as the patron god of music and poetry. Hermes created the lyre for him, and the instrument became a common attribute of Apollo. Given all these attributes it would have been easy to locate a Christian church on the site of his temple.
An alternative origin to Apollo is Mithras who's religious practice was centered on the mithraeum (Latin, from Greek mithraion), either an adapted natural cave or cavern or an artificial building imitating a cavern. Mithraea were dark and windowless, even if they were not actually in a subterranean space or in a natural cave. The site of a mithraeum may also be identified by its separate entrance or vestibule, its "cave", called the spelaeum or spelunca, with raised benches along the side walls for the ritual meal, and its sanctuary at the far end, often in a recess, before which the pedestal-like altar stood. Despite all this gloom, Mithras, like Apollo, was a solar deity. Mithras was a popular god with the later Roman legions and a Mithraic carving was apparently found at Chester. Mithras is frequently associated with bull-fighting and cattle markets and there was a major cattle market associated with Bovium, near Chester, from an early date. Chester's bullring was only destroyed in 1591 before which it was the Town Crier's duty to announce the fight and proclaim: "Oyez, Oyez, If any man stands within 20 yards of the Bullring, let him take what comes".
In the winter of 1921-2, during the construction of the War Memorial between the south porch and the entrance to the south transept, extensive remains of a Roman building were unearthed. Walls four feet in thickness with fine ashlar faces on both sides had been built upon the solid bedrock, and in places were built on top of flat paving stones which may have been the remains of an even earlier building. The practice of building churches on the sites on earlier places of "pagan" worship was actually promoted by the church. One of the epistles of Pope Gregory to Abbot Mellitus (dated to 601 AD) asking him to help Augustine with the conversion of the Anglo Saxons contains the following instruction (note the comment about the slaughter of oxen):
- "Tell Augustine that he should be no means destroy the temples of the gods but rather the idols within those temples. Let him, after he has purified them with holy water, place altars and relics of the saints in them. For, if those temples are well built, they should be converted from the worship of demons to the service of the true God. Thus, seeing that their places of worship are not destroyed, the people will banish error from their hearts and come to places familiar and dear to them in acknowledgement and worship of the true God. Further, since it has been their custom to slaughter oxen in sacrifice, they should receive some solemnity in exchange. Let them therefore, on the day of the dedication of their churches, or on the feast of the martyrs whose relics are preserved in them, build themselves huts around their one-time temples and celebrate the occasion with religious feasting. They will sacrifice and eat the animals not any more as an offering to the devil, but for the glory of God to whom, as the giver of all things, they will give thanks for having been satiated. Thus, if they are not deprived of all exterior joys, they will more easily taste the interior ones. For surely it is impossible to efface all at once everything from their strong minds, just as, when one wishes to reach the top of a mountain, he must climb by stages and step by step, not by leaps and bounds."
Another find from Chester is a Roman copper alloy brooch with coloured enamel and a geometric pattern of triangles said to represent the sun’s rays - a version of the imported sunburst pattern introduced to Britain from Gaul and taken up by British metalworkers. This pattern was popular on items such as dress fasteners and brooches in the first and second centuries AD and it has been suggested that Mithraism, with its cult of the unconquerable sun, was largely responsible for the pattern’s popularity with the legions. In the item found in Chester, a small loop, now broken, suggests that the brooch was one of a pair, connected by a fine bronze chain. Such wearing of brooches in pairs seems to be a particularly British characteristic, so it is possible that this find indicates adoption of Mithraism by the Romano-British. Given the tendency for religious sites to be re-used there is a slim chance that the vast, and clearly early Norman, undercroft of the cathedral could have previously been the site of a temple of Mithras. A Mithraeum has been discovered at Caernarfon, a Roman settlement well connected with Chester. Three mithraea have been identified, at Housesteads, Carrawburgh and Rudchester on Hadrian's wall which is well connected to the legion at Chester. Others have been found in Poetovio (today Ptuj) in Pannonia Valeria, from which the legion in Chester originated. There is a an old paper on Mithraea in Chester in vol 24 of the Archaeological Society.
After the withdrawal of the Roman legions from the province of Britannia in c.410, the natives of the island of Great Britain were left to defend themselves against the attacks of the Saxons, yet before the withdrawal Britannia had been converted to Christianity and had even produced its own heretic in Pelagius (who argued a lot with the other Saint Augustine) . Britain sent three bishops to the Council of Arles in 314, and a Gaulish bishop went to the island in 396 to help settle disciplinary matters. After the legions left, pagan tribes settled the southern parts of the island, but Western Britain, beyond the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, remained Christian. This native British Church developed in isolation from Rome under the influence of missionaries from Ireland. This British church was centred on monasteries instead of bishoprics. Other distinguishing characteristics were its calculation of the date of Easter and the style of the tonsure haircut that clerics wore. Evidence for the survival of Christianity in Britain during this time includes the occurrence of "eccles", derived from the Latin for church, in place names, as in Eccleston.
Several figures from the early history of the Church are associated with Chester or places close by, indicating that it must have been a religious center of some importance. The traditional belief kept in the abbey was that Æthelflæd of Mercia, introduced the cult of St Oswald at Chester when the church (St. Peter and St Paul) on the site of the cathedral (and having the same name as Augustine's Abbey at Canterbury) was refounded by Æthelfiæd in 907 and re-dedicated to St. Werburgh (whose relics were in Chester around 874) and St. Oswald.
St German of Auxerre - came to Britain in 429 and defeated the Saxons and Picts at "Maes Garmon" near Mold in the (supposed) "Battle of the Hallelujahs". The site, now marked by an obelisk, lies at the western end of the easiest valley route (and classic ambush point) through the Clwydian hills. The Life of St Garmon describes the events as follows:
- Meanwhile the enemy had learned of the practices and appearance of the camp. They promised themselves an easy victory over practically disarmed troops and pressed on in haste. But their approach was discovered by scouts and, when the Easter solemnities had been celebrated, the army--the greater part of it fresh from the font--began to take up their weapons and prepare for battle and Germanus announced that he would be their general (dux proelii, "leader for this battle"). He chose some light-armed troops and made a tour of the outworks. In the direction from which the enemy were expected he saw a valley enclosed by steep mountains. Here he stationed an army on a new model, under his own command.
Other Christian missionaries of the period include Patrick who (at least according to legend) landed in the Wirral. A Chester legend (recorded by Phillip Jones) holds that a certain "Gormundus", a "Roman Cap’tayne", had built fortifications at Heronbridge, a former Roman site just upriver from Chester and defeated the “Saxons” in a major battle. It has been suggested that "Gormundus" is a corruption of "Garmonus", and it is noteworthy that St German had been a soldier (some say a lawyer) before he became a man of the cloth, however the legend seems to be a confusion between St German's battle at Maes Garmon and the later Battle of Chester (616).
The text on the Maes Garmon obelisk reads as follows:
- "In the year 420 the Saxons and Picts having joined their forces made war upon the Britons and engaged them on this plain which bears to this day the name of Maes Garmon. As the British leaders Germanus and Lupus were about to commence the battle Christ himself fought in the camp. Thrice the British army exclaim Alleluia. The hostile troops are confounded with dismay and the Britons triumph over their enemy without bloodshed. Thus it was faith and not force that obtained the victory. In memory of the Victoria Alleluiatica Nehemiah Griffith has erected this monument AD 1736."
A well nearby called Ffynnon Gwaed or the Bloody Well seems also to have derived its name from this battle, so it might not have been quite so bloodless.
An important synod of St Augustine with the British bishops at "Urbs Legionis" (Chester) was listed in the Annales Cambriae for the year 601 (other sources suggest Aust in Gloucestershire or Cressage in Shropshire). Augustine was a Benedictine monk who arrived in Britain 597 and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury (also in 597). While he is considered the "Apostle to the English" and a founder of the English Church it should not be forgotten that the Celtic church was already flourishing, possibly as a survival of Christianity from Roman times, or possibly as a result to earlier waves of missionaries. St Patrick was Romano-British and had been active in the first half of the 5th century. By 600, in Kent, the Saxon king Æthelberht of Kent was in the process of converting to Christianity and obviously both the Celtic and the Roman Church saw the opportunities that this would bring. Augustine, tried to reach an agreement with the Celtic bishops who would not cooperate with the new arrival from Rome, and refused to give up their existing traditions regarding baptism and the dating of Easter. That Chester was selected as the location of a synod suggests that some local infra-structure had survived from Romano-British times. A Celtic monastery had been established at Bangor-on-Dee in about AD 560 by Saint Dunod and was an important religious centre in the late 5th and early 6th centuries. According to some accounts, St Dunod was still alive at the time of the Synod and apparently chaired the meeting (although this may not have been the case).
Legend relates that a local hermit was consulted by the celtic priests as to whether they should join or oppose Augustine. The hermit devised a simple test: the locals would arrive after Augustine and if Augustine rose to greet them then then he was sufficiently humble. Augustine remained seated when they arrived and that was sufficient excuse for them. Perhaps they were looking hard for such an excuse.
Augustine died in 604. Shortly thereafter in 616 the Battle of Chester was fought (possibly at Heronbridge) between Æthelfrith of Northumbria (a Pagan) against Kings Selyf Sarffgadau of Powys (leading the army of Din Eirth) and Cadwal Crysban of Rhôs (with a smaller force from eastern Gwynedd) - and possibly also Iago ap Beli. A large number of Saint Dunod's monks were slaughtered - said to be in keeping with Augustine's dire prophecy that:
- if they would not accept peace with their brethren, they should have war with their enemies.
So what was the church like at this time. It appears that it was a collegiate church dedicated to St Peter and St Paul, but exactly when it was established is uncertain. Records relating to settlement in Chester from this time are sparse. We have the suggestion of the synod in 601, and we know that St John's Church was possibly established in 689 by king Æthelred, (St Werbergh's uncle) but there is no record of any other church activity in Chester until the time of Æthelflæd, some two hundred years later. If there was a religious community within the walls it was presumably independent of any of the organised religious houses, or given the separate establishment of St Johns - conspicuously outside of the city - may have been associated with the celtic church.
Legend has it that the Mercian Anglo-Saxons had been led across the North Sea to Britain by one Icel who gave his name to the Iclings (or Iclingas), the ruling dynasty of Mercia. His father, Eomer was the model for the king of the same name in Tolkein. Penda, who died around 655 was said to be a descendant of Icel, with a lineage purportedly extending back to Woden. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives his descent as follows:
- Penda was Pybba's offspring, Pybba was Cryda's offspring, Cryda Cynewald's offspring, Cynewald Cnebba's offspring, Cnebba Icel's offspring, Icel Eomer's offspring, Eomer Angeltheow's offspring, Angeltheow Offa's offspring, Offa Wermund's offspring, Wermund Wihtlaeg's offspring, Wihtlaeg Woden's offspring.
Penda military successes were due in part to his alliance with Cadwallon ap Cadfan who (according to the often dubious Geoffrey of Monmouth) returned spectacularly from exile (either in Brittany or Ireland) and become caught up in a Mercian siege of Caer-Uisc (Exeter). Cadwallon defeated the Mercians, forcing Penda into a mutual anti-Northumbrian alliance, sealed by Cadwallon's marriage to Penda's sister (or half-sister), Alcfrith of Mercia. They regained Gwynedd at the Battle of Cefn Digoll (Long Mountain near Welshpool c.630) and hounded the Northumbrians northward. They wreaked revenge on the Northern Angles for the defeat at the Battle of Chester, burning York, sacking Yeavering (Ad Gefrin) and butchering so many Northumbrians that the Northern Angles thought they were all to be exterminated. As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts it: "Cadwallon and Penda went and did for the whole land of Northumbria".
Penda's impact on history was his part in the challenge to the power of Northumbria. He defeated the Northumbrian king Edwin at the Battle of Hatfield Chase in 633. After Edwin's death, Northumbria briefly fell apart into its two constituent kingdoms. He was succeeded by Osric, son of Edwin's paternal uncle Ælfric, in Deira, and by Eanfrith, son of Æthelfrith and Edwin's sister Acha, in Bernicia. Both sucessors reverted to paganism, and both were killed by Cadwallon (Eanfrith's reign was short, as he was killed by Cadwallon whilst trying to negotiate peace - according to Bede, Osric was killed by Cadwallon whilst trying to besiege him). However, within a year Oswald of Northumbria killed Cadwallon (at the Battle of Heavenfield c634), reunited the kingdoms, and subsequently re-established Northumbrian hegemony over the south of England. Then, in 641, Penda (assisted by Cynddylan of Powys) slew (and dismembered) Oswald at the Battle of Maserfield (641 or 642, the site of the battle is traditionally identified with Oswestry - but Oswald still had some travelling to do). Despite his reign ending in a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Winwaed in 655 (by the Northumbrians under Oswald's brother Oswiu), Penda had firmly established Mercia on the road to becoming the main power in England.
Oswald was given a strongly positive assessment by the historian Bede, writing a little less than a century after Oswald's death, who regarded Oswald as a saintly king; it is also Bede who is the main source for present-day historical knowledge of Oswald. Although Edwin had previously converted to Christianity in 627, it was Oswald who did the most to spread the religion in Northumbria. Shortly after becoming king, he asked the Irish of Dál Riata to send a bishop to facilitate the conversion of his people, and they eventually sent Aidan for this purpose; initially, the Irish sent an "austere" bishop who was unsuccessful in his mission, and Aidan, who proposed a gentler approach, was subsequently sent instead. Oswald gave the island of Lindisfarne to Aidan as his episcopal see, and Aidan is said by Bede to have achieved great success in spreading the Christian faith; Bede mentions that Oswald acted as Aidan's interpreter when the latter was preaching, since Aidan did not know English well and Oswald had learned Irish during exile in Ireland.
Initially Penda's son Peada became king under Oswiu of Northumberlands's overlordship, but was murdered a year later (656). According to Bede this was from "the treachery, it is said, of his own wife .. during the very time of celebrating Easter", or as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts it:
- "Peada ruled no length of time, because he was betrayed by his own queen at Eastertide"
His brother Wulfhere came to the throne when Mercian nobles organized a revolt against Northumbrian rule in 658, and drove out Oswiu's Northumbrian governors. Wulfhere was the first Christian king of all of Mercia, though it is not known when or how he was converted, it has been suggested that he adopted Christianity as part of a settlement with Oswiu. Mercian relations with the Northumbrians improved in part through various dynastic marriages: Wulfhere's sister Cyneburh married Alhfrith, a son of Oswiu, and brothers Æthelred and Peada married daughters of Oswiu, which in Peada's case was apparently not a wise choice. Still, one needed to enjoy life while one had it, two devastating plagues happened during this period: one in 664 (possibly Yellow Fever) and the other in 682.
Werbergh (Werburga) Patroness of Chester, Abbess of Weedon, Trentham, Hanbury, Minster in Sheppy, and Ely, was born in Staffordshire early in the seventh century. She is often portrayed with a goose that she is said to have returned to life after it had not only died but been cooked and eaten (one wonders quite how she managed to obtain all the parts of the corpse). Her mother was Eormenhild, daughter of Ercombert, King of Kent, and his wife Sexburga. Her father was Wulfhere, son of the lifelong pagan Penda and eventually to be king of Mercia. There are no contemporary records of Werbergh's activities - the earliest account of her life was written by Goscelin, a Flemish monk, in the 1089's.
Legend says that Wulfhere wished to marry his daughter, Werburgh, to Werbode, (a "perverse heathen" according to Chamber's Book of Days). However, Werburga's brothers, Wulfad and Rufinus, objected to the union. Unable to defeat their opposition, Werbode poisoned the King's mind against his sons and obtained his authority to have them arrested for treason. Wulfhere too hastily accepted the fabricated evidence and the guiltless young men were condemned to death. On discovery of the plot, Werburgh decided to become a nun and "Werbode was poisoned by an evil spirit, and died raving mad". This story is unlikely to be true, as the only recorded sons of Wulfhere were Coenred (who was young at the time) and possibly a Berhtwald (who would have been even younger). Even if it is true in part Werbergh might not have been involved. The Peterborugh diocesan history relates a similar tale but does not mention Werbergh:
- At Peada's death his next brother, Wulfere, succeeded to the throne. Wulfere professed himself a Christian, and he had married Ermenild, daughter of Egbert, the Christian king of Kent. But his character and conduct little harmonised with his profession, or with the wishes of his queen. He had two sons, Wulfade and Rufine, whom he had not even brought to Holy Baptism. Wulfade, so says the legend, was one day hunting, when the stag of which he was in pursuit took refuge in a cell of St. Chad, an incident which led to the conversion of the young prince, and afterwards of his brother Rufine. Their father, enraged at the youths for their profession of Christianity, slew them both with his own hand in their private oratory, a retreat in which they were betrayed by his steward, Werbode. The story relates that Werbode was strangled by the devil before the palace.
Hemingway, in his "Panorama of the City of Chester", tells an even more unlikely tale (for which their seems to be no historical basis at all):
- "The abbey which gave birth to this see, is of such antiquity as to have been a nunnery more than eleven hundred years ago, founded by Walpherus King of the Mercians for his daughter St Werburgh; who the good wives of the present day will wonder to hear took the veil after living three years with her husband Cedredus in a state of vestal purity!!! Whether this chaste lady's immaculacy was more ascribable to her constiutional coldness or spiritual heat historians have not been kind enough to inform us; nor even have they vouchsafed to say, what sort of a man her husband was!!"
The traditional tale is that despite her beauty and attractions as a royal princess, she rejected all suitors and entered the Abbey of Ely, founded by her great aunt Æðelþryð (who was then abbess and later became St Æðelþryð). Werburgh's grandmother (later St Sexburga) succeeded Æðelþryð as abbess, and Werbergh's own mother (later St Eormenhild) was to enter the convent after Wulfhere's death in 675, and eventually become abbess. Great-aunts of Werburgh include St Æthelburg of Faremoutier and St Saethryth among other saints. Aunts included saintly sisters St Cyneburh and St Cyneswith. There was purportedly even an infant grandson of Penda named Rumwold who lived a saintly three-day life of fervent preaching. Not to be outdone by the Mercians, Oswald of Northumbria who had died at the Battle of Maserfield (believed to be just north of Oswestry) became a saint as well - Oswald and Werbergh would finally be reunited in a very strange manner.
So many "princess" saints raises the suspicion that the rival Celtic and Roman Churches were attempting to curry favour with the ruling classes. Indeed, at this time King Oswiu of Northumbria (Werbergh's uncle's father in law)) had the problem that he (Celtic) and his queen - St Eanflæd (Roman) - celebrated Easter weeks apart. Finally, at the Synod of Whitby in 664, King Oswiu of Northumbria ruled that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome, rather than the customs practised by the Celtic Church. Prior to 1234, local bishops could canonise whoever they wanted (whether they were dead or not) and is not beyond reason that the profusion of saints can in part be explained by attempts by the Church to gain influence with the local rulers by offering them the ideal gift for their mother, sister, aunt or granny - sainthood.
Coenred (or Cenred, Coinred, Kenred) the son of Wulfhere (and hence the brother of Werbergh), was probably too young to succeed to the throne when Wulfhere died in 675, and so his uncle Æthelred ruled until around 704, when he abdicated (and became a monk). Æthelred has been descibed as overly pious but he did decisively defeat the Northumbrians at the Battle of the Trent in 679. During his reign Æthelred invited Werburgh to return home, assume control of all the Mercian convents and "bring them to a higher level of discipline". Werburgh spent the rest of her life reforming these Mercian establishments and founding new religious houses including those at Trentham, Hanbury and Weedon.
In 689 Æthelred (Werbergh's uncle) founded St John's Church at Chester.
- dclxxxix Anno Domini d.c. octogesimo ix Rex Merciorum Ethelredus, avunculus beate Werburge, ope Wilfrici episcopi Cestriensis, ut reffert Giraldus, fundavit ecclesiam collegiatam in suburbio civitatis Cestrie in honorem Sancti Johannis Baptiste. (689 In the year of our lord six hundred and eighty-nine Ethelred, king of the Mercians, the uncle of S. Werburg, with the assistance of Wilfric, bishop of Chester, as Giraldus [Cambrensis] relates, founded a collegiate church in the suburbs of Chester in honour of S. John the Baptist.)
Werbergh died at Trentham, 3 February, 699 or 700. She had apparently decided on Hanbury as her final resting place but happened to be at Trentham when she died. The nuns at Trentham refused to give up the body and even instituted security arrangements to prevent its removal. Despite this an expedition from Hanbury succeeded in "miraculously" recovering her remains.
The story of her arrival in Chester is preserved in the writings of two monks of Chester: Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon, of the mid 14th century and Henry Bradshaw's life of St. Werburgh, of the late 15th. According to tradition the body of St. Werburgh, was carried to Chester in 874 from its resting place at Hanbury in Staffordshire by nuns fleeing from the Danes. Bradshaw (died 1513, is not always accurate about Werbergh, as in the following passage:
- In the Abbey of Chester she is shrined richly, Prioress and ladye of that holy place, the chief protectress of the said Monastery, long before the Conquest, by divine grace protectress of the City, she is and ever was called special primate, and principal president..
Werbergh was never prioress of the abbey and Bradshaw may be confusing her relation with St Johns. St Werbergh's relics have had their uses:
- From an ignorant infatuation ofthe supposed virtues of this royal virgin her relics were held in the most super stitions reverence and were frequently resorted to in time of war or other trouble as to a divine mediator and comforter One instance shall suffice of her miraculous interposition which was during a seige by the Welsh Prince Griffith or Griflin when her bones were again unearthed and exhibited to the marauders who were instantly struck blind and thus the city was preserved.
in 900 Edward the Elder was consecrated at Kingston-upon-Thames by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Plegmund (890-c.924) of St Plegmund's Well fame): "Edwardus rex Anglorum est consecratus in regem a Pleemundo Dornobernensi archiepiscopo apud Kingestune". Edward has another connection with the area around Chester, he died at Farndon. Edward illustrates well how much intercourse there was between Britain and Europe by looking at the marriages of his daughters:
- Eadgifu (902 – after 955), who married Charles the Simplet he King of Western Francia from 898 until 922 and the King of Lotharingia from 911 until 919–23.
- Ælfgifu who married "a prince near the Alps", sometimes identified with Conrad of Burgundy or Boleslaus II of Bohemia or Boleslaus I, Duke of Bohemia.
Plegmund was granted his pallium by Pope Formosus, but the legend of his origins living as a hermit at Plemstall in Cheshire ("Plemstall" means "holy place of Plegmund") may only the date from some 300 years after his death.
Æthelflæd (alternative spelling Aethelfled, Æthelfleda, Ethelfleda) (872/879 – 918) was the eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and his wife Ealhswith. She had four or five younger siblings, including Edward the Elder and Ælfthryth. She was 15 when she married Aethelred later the ealdorman or earl of Mercia, in about 886, and had one daughter, Ælfwynn. The marriage was probably arranged to cement relations between Mercia and Wessex against the Danes. While travelling to Mercia for her wedding her party was attacked by the Danes in an attempt to kill her and so sabotage the alliance between Wessex and Mercia. Though half her company perished in the first attack, Ethelfleda used an old trench as a fortress, and defeated the Danes. Malmesbury relates, that after the birth of her first child she was:
- " so much astonished at the pain, that ever after, she refrained the embraces of her husband for almost forty years, protesting often, that it was not fit for a king's daughter to be given to a pleasure that brought so much pain along with it; and thereupon grew an heroic virago, like the ancient Amazons, as if she had changed her sex, as well as her mind."
On her husband's death in 911 after the Battle of Tettenhall, she was elevated to the status of "Lady of the Mercians". This title was not a nominal position; she was a formidable military leader and tactician. Æthelflæd ruled for approximately eight years. According to Henry Bradshaw, Æthelflæd, enlarged the original church in honour of St. Werburgh and transferred the original dedication to Peter and Paul to a new parish church in the centre of the city, but Bradshaw also mentions that a tablet in St John's church ascribed the foundation of the house of canons to Æthelflaed's nephew, Edmund. King Athelstan has also been credited with the foundation, since Higden states that there were secular canons serving St. Werburgh at Chester from the time of Athelstan until the arrival of the Normans. Of the three rival founders Æthelflæd, who, with her husband Ethelred, restored the city in 907, is the most likely, although there is no definite evidence of the existence of a church of canons dedicated to St. Werburgh at Chester before 958. In that year Edgar, king of the Mercians, granted to the familia of St. Werburgh 17 hides of land in Hoseley (Flints.), Cheveley, Huntington, Upton, Aston, and Barrow.
Æthelflæd of Mercia is believed to have been a follower of the cult of St Oswald (the same Oswald who had ruled Northumbria and waged war on Mercia). In his day Oswald was undoubtedly held in great repute, so much so, that he was favourably compared with even Caesar and Alexander:
- "They say, that Alcibiades conquered himself, Alexander the world, and Cassar the enemy. But Oswald conquered at once himself, the world, and the enemy."
In 909 Oswald's remains (they were now at Bardney Abbey) were captured by a Mercian expedition and (mostly) taken (by Æthelflæd) away for reburial at Gloucester. Oswald's head was interred in Durham Cathedral where it is generally believed to remain, although there are at least four other claimed heads of Oswald in continental Europe. One of his arms is said to have ended up in Peterborough Abbey later in the Middle Ages - where the monks built a watchtower to stop it being moved again. A late tradition holds that the cult of St. Oswald was introduced at Chester when the minster was refounded by Æthelfiæd and re-dedicated to St. Werburgh and St. Oswald in 907. It is odd to think that Werbergh, whose grandfather Penda slew Oswald in 641 at Oswestry, should come together again in this strange way. The foundations of St Oswald's church forms part of the Cathedral but nothing is known of the fabric of the Anglo-Saxon minster, except that it was beautified by Earl Leofric of Mercia (d. 1057) and his wife Godiva.
St John vs Peter and Paul
Little is known about the early relationship between two major churches at Chester. St Johns Church supposedly dates from Æthelred, king of Mercia (674–704) in 689 - but it is a puzzle why that church was not built within the city walls, which would have been a far more secure place. It has been suggested that the city already had a church - later to become St Werburgh's. As suggested above, St John's, associated with the celtic-church hating "Wulfrice" (Wilfid), may have been established as a Roman counterpart to an established Celtic church. The outspoken Wilfrid famously sought to - "root out the poisonous weeds planted by the Scots" (the Scots were believed to have lived in Ireland at that time), and way back at the synod of Chester in 600, the sympathies of the city's religious community seem to have been with Iona rather than Rome.
Stranger still, is the fact that in 875, St Werbergh's shrine (the smaller one containing her mortal remains not the later stone one) was moved to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul within the city walls of Chester and not to St Johns, which may have been built for her by her uncle, and employer, Æthelred. Perhaps that was just a question of safety, or was there some rivalry involved? Curiously, St Augustine had founded another abbey of St Peter and St Paul at Canterbury - could this be an attempt by the Peter/Paul church to gain some legitimacy?
The first abbey in Chester - the Abbey of St John the Baptist - was founded in 906 by a later Ethelred, Earl of Mercia (he was married to Æthelflæd). These were troubled times, Mercian independence was not to last as in 907 Edward the Elder "regained Chester" (ref) after a battle. Again, why establish the Abbey outside the city?
Perhaps a solution can be found with Æthelflæd of Mercia, who is said to have been a follower of the cult of St Oswald (the same Oswald who had ruled Northumbria and waged war on Mercia). Tradition holds that the cult of St. Oswald was introduced at Chester when the church (St. Peter and St Paul) on the site of the cathedral (and having the same name as Augustine's Abbey at Canterbury) was refounded by Æthelfiæd and re-dedicated to St. Werburgh and St. Oswald in 907. Æthelfiæd clearly selected two "Northern English" saints to replace Peter and Paul. Both were associated with lands lost to the "Danes": Oswald from Northumbria (conquered by the "Danes" c.867) and Werbergh from Mercia (conquered by the "Danes" c.874). Moreover, she selected two saint's who came from royal houses that had been engaged in bitter warfare - perhaps a hint that she meant the Anglo-Saxons to forget their differences in the face of a common foe.
There are more "Celtic" connections. Shortly after becoming king, Oswald asked the Irish of Dál Riata to send a bishop to convert his people, and (after a false start) they sent Aidan to whom Oswald gave the island of Lindisfarne as his episcopal see (Bede mentions that Oswald acted as Aidan's interpreter when the latter was preaching, since Aidan did not know English well and Oswald had learned Irish during his exile). The Mercians also had celtic connections, having had St Chad as their first bishop, another Celtic Christian. A modern (1961) stained glass window at the west end of the nave depicts northern saints Werburgh, Oswald, Aidan and Chad as well as Wilfrid, and Queen Æthelfiæd.
Taking all this evidence together it appears that Æthelfiæd may have been supporting a unified Celtic community rather than a Roman one and this may lend some weight to the theory that St Werbergh's and St John's may well have differed in the extent of their allegiance to Rome.
Dunstan and Edgar
In 953 Edgar the Pacific, (c. Aug 7, 943 – July 8, 975) was crowned at Chester as the first king of all England. The religious rites used in his coronation (use of anointing etc.) were devised by Dunstan (Archbishop of Canterbury 959-988), who was perhaps torn between the Celtic and Roman Church, and have been in use ever since. King Edgar is said to have prayed in the minster (monasterium) of St Johns after being rowed along the River Dee. There is no mention of the church which was to become the present cathedral in most versions of that tale with the exception of Henry Bradshaw (in his "Life of St Werburgh") who also has Edgar visit the shrine of St Werburgh - considered unlikely by many and an invention by Bradshaw.
St Dunstan functions as the patron saint of goldsmiths and silversmiths, as he worked as a blacksmith, painter, and jeweller. His Feast Day is May 19, which is why the date year on English hallmarks runs from May 19 to May 18, not the calendar year.
It is not known exactly when Leofric became the Earl of Chester. Leofric was obviously a man of considerable talent and statesmanship as no man could survive forty years as Earl without these qualities. Probably made Earl (a rank and title new to the English, replacing and enhancing the Anglo-Saxon "ealdorman") in 1017 by the Dane Cnut, Leofric thrived and survived through Cnut's reign. The next king was Harold Harefoot (1035-1040), in whose selection as successor Leofric was instrumental. Hardacnut, Cnut's other son, reigned next (1040-1042), and then came Edward the Confessor's rule (1042-1066) during which Leofric died (in 1057). Leofric's grand-daughter, Ealdgyth married firstly the Welsh prince Gruffyd (also known as "King Of The Britons" - killed 1063), and secondly 1066 Harold Godwinson (Harold II) - Harold complicates matters by having a mistress also called Ealdgyth. Harold's January 1064 marriage seemed like a shrewd political move. Aldgyth was the widow of his enemy and the daughter of the ruling house of Mercia. One of Ealdgyths brothers, Edwin was Earl of Mercia while another, Morcar, would also rise to prominence. Unfortunately, the Normans invaded: two armies clashed at the Battle of Hastings, near the present town of Battle on October 14. 1066 - and Harold died.
Identified as a centre of disaffection and potential further revolt, Chester was dealt with severely. In 1071 Edwin, Earl of Mercia again sought to rebel but Edwin was soon betrayed to the Normans by his own retinue and killed (Morcar joined the insurgents in the Isle of Ely - Bishop Aethelwine of Durham and Hereward the Wake, and remained with them until the surrender of the island later that year. Morcar, it is said, surrendered himself on the assurance that the king would pardon him and receive him as a loyal friend. William, however, committed him to the custody of Roger de Beaumont, who kept him closely imprisoned in Normandy). By 1071, the value of recoverable taxes had reduced from £45 to £30 (of silver) and Chester was described as 'greatly wasted'. Of 487 houses standing in 1066, 205 had been lost and were perhaps not rebuilt before 1086. The increase in the taxation of the city under Earl Hugh to £70 and a mark of gold (about its pre-conquest level) may indicate more burdensome exactions rather than returning prosperity.
William I created the "Honor of Chester" from the landed estates of dozens of pre-Conquest owners. Firstly, there were the lands of Earl Edwin of Mercia, the minster church of St Werburgh and all the lesser theigns and freemen that formed a neat package defined by the county boundary. This concentration of ownership within a single county was unique in Domesday's time and the only other lords which came close were Roger of Montgomery (Shropshire) and Williams half-brother Robert of Mortain (Cornwall), but even these two had to co-exist with other French lords within their county.
A direct consequence of the Norman invasion of 1066 was the near total elimination of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy, and the loss of English control over the institutions of state such as the Church. By the time of the Domesday Book (1086), only two English landowners of any note had survived. By 1096 no church See or Bishopric was held by any native Englishman - all were held by Normans.
In 1092, at Hugh of Avranches's third invitation Anselm of Bec came from France to England to found the Benedictine Abbey at Chester. Alselm had spent some time in Avranches in 1060 before entering the abbey of Bec as a novice - and it is possible that he met Hugh then. The Chester Annales record the foundation thus:
- In hoc anno venit dompnus Anselmus abbas Ecclesiæ Beccensis Angliam qui sepius ante venerat in Angliam, veniens itaque tunc Angliam Anselmus a multis acclamatus archiepiscopus, quitanti honoris onus humiliter fugiens, rogatu nobilis principis, comitis Hugonis Cestriam venit, ibique abbatiam in honorem Sanctæ Werburgæ fundavit, et monachis ibidem congregatis Ricardum monachum Beccensem primum abbatem instituit. Quo facto, in eodem anno in reditu suo a Cestria, archiepiscopus Cantuariensis factus est. (1093 In this year the lord Anselm, abbot of the church of Bec, came to England, who before this had frequently been in England. On his coming to England this last time, Anselm was acclaimed by many as archbishop, but, humbly desiring to escape the burden of so great an honour, on the invitation of the noble prince, earl Hugh, he came to Chester, and there founded the abbey in honour of S. Werburg, and, having assembled the monks together, he appointed Richard, a monk of Bec, the first abbot. Having done this, in the same year, upon his return from Chester, he was made archbishop of Canterbury.)
In reality the situation was rather more complex. When about to return to Bec, Anselm was refused permission by the then king (William Rufus) but the following year, when the king fell ill (and believed himself dying) Anselm was nominated to the then vacant see of Canterbury (after Lanfranc's death in 1089, the king delayed appointing a new archbishop for many years, appropriating ecclesiastical revenues in the interim). The reluctant Anselm was finally consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093 (this was a disaster for William as the two did not get on). In exchange for retaining office, Anselm demanded certain conditions -- that King William return the possessions of the see, accept Anselm's spiritual counsel and acknowledge Urban II as pope, in opposition to Antipope Clement III. He only obtained partial consent to the first of these demands, and the last involved him in serious difficulty with the king. The Church's rule stated that metroplitans could not be consecrated without receiving the pallium from the hands of the pope. Anselm, accordingly, insisted that he must proceed to Rome to receive the pall, but King William would not permit it; he had not acknowledged Urban II as pope and maintained his right to prevent a pope's acknowledgment by an English subject without his permission. A council of churchmen and nobles was held to settle the matter, and advised Anselm to submit to the king, but he remained firm and the matter was postponed. During this time, William sent secret messengers to Rome. They acknowledged Urban II and prevailed on him to send a legate to the king bearing the archiepiscopal pall. Anselm and King William were partially reconciled, and the matter of the pall was finally decided. It was not given by the king but laid on the altar at Canterbury, where Anselm received it.
Over a year later, Anselm encountered further trouble with King William - wishing to visit the pope he obtained the king's permission to leave with great difficulty and, in October 1097, set out for Rome. William immediately seized the revenues of the see and retained them until his death. Anselm was received with honour by Urban II but the pope did not wish to become deeply involved in Anselm's dispute with the king. When he attempted to return to England, King William would not permit him entry. However William was killed in 1100 and his successor, Henry I, invited Anselm to return to England under certain conditions: Anselm was to receive from him, in person, investiture in his office of archbishop. The papal rule, however, stated that all homage and lay investiture were strictly prohibited. Henry refused to relinquish the privilege possessed by his predecessors, and proposed that the matter be laid before the pope. Two embassies were sent to Paschal II regarding the legitimacy of Henry's investiture, but he reaffirmed the papal rule on both occasions. King Henry remained firm. In 1103, Paschal II again ruled in favor of papal rule, and passed a sentence of excommunication against all who had infringed it, except King Henry. Forbidden to return to England unless on the king's terms, Anselm withdrew to Lyons and awaited further action from Pope Paschal. In 1105, Paschal did act, excommunicating King Henry. Henry was seriously alarmed. He arranged a meeting with Paschal, and a reconciliation was established. In 1106, Anselm was permitted to cross to England with authority from the pope to remove the sentence of excommunication from the "illegally"-invested churchmen. By 1107, the long dispute regarding investiture was finally settled with a compromise in the Concordat of London, whereby Henry relinquished his right to invest his bishops and abbots but reserved the custom of requiring them to do homage for the landed properties tied to the episcopate. The remaining two years of Anselm's life were spent in the duties of his archbishopric. Anselm died on 21 April 1109.
Rivalry with Lichfield?
The new abbey was not the only Norman church-building being progressed at the time. In 1075 Peter de Leia, bishop of Lichfield (consecrated in 1067) had removed his episcopal see to St Johns Church at Chester and planned a huge new church. Notably, he didn't choose to locate himself at St Werbergh's. De Leia died and was buried in Chester in 1085, and his successor Robert de Limesey translated his see from Chester to Coventry in 1102. Robert was one of the bishops, along with Gerard, Archbishop of York and Herbert de Losinga bishop of Norwich, who returned from Rome (in 1102) to informed Henry I that Pope Paschal II had confirmed Henry could personally invest bishops, provided they were good men. This was during the Investiture Crisis (see above), and Paschal later denied what had been said and excommunicated all three bishops.
Was there a rivalry between the Earls of Chester and the Bishops of Lichfield? It's possible that Hugh of Avranches repeated requests to Anselm of Bec was intended as a direct response to the presence in Chester of the Norman Bishop de Leia. Hugh, having obtained the assistance of perhaps the most pretigious prelate of the Norman world, then proceeded with a plan for rebuilding on a monumental scale, reinforced its rights and privileges, and almost doubling its estates.
Before his death in 1101, Hugh had made a huge fortune from his position as the Earl of Chester and also became so fat that he could hardly walk (he was known in later life as "Hugh the Fat" - presumably only out of earshot). Orderic Vitalis states that Hugh was "a slave to gluttony, he staggered under a mountain of fat" and was "given over to carnal lusts and had a numerous progeny of sons and daughters by his concubines". The Welsh called him Hugh Flaidd (Hugh the Wolf or Hugh Lupus) and a wolf's head appears on his arms. In an 1086 engraving of the coat of arms the artist has gave the head of the wolf a wide grin, which might be mistaken for that of a cat - this has been suggested as the origin of the Cheshire Cat. As regards Hugh, Hemingway quotes the following:
- He was, "saith Ordericus, not only liberal, but profuse; he did not carry a family with him, but an army. He kept no account of receipts or disbursements. He was perpetually wasting his estates; and was much fonder of falconers and huntsmen, than of cultivators of land, and holy men , and by his gluttony he grew so excessively fat, that he could hardly crawl about.
From an early period the monks of St. Werburgh's claimed that Earl Hugh I had granted them the right to hold a fair on the three days around the feast of St. Werburg's translation on 21 June. Robert of Torigny's De Immutatione Ordinis Monachorum records that "Hugo vicecomitis Abrincatensis postea…comes Cestrensis" also founded "abbatiam Sancti Severi in Constantinensi episcopatu" - Saint-Sever in Normandy. Although it has been suggested that Hugh became a monk at St Werburg in Chester, four days before he died (1101), the Chester Annales simply records his death:
- Defuncto Hugone comite cestrensi principe nobili. Ricardus puer vij annorum comitatum suscepit. (1101 The noble prince Hugh, earl of Chester, being dead, Richard, a boy of seven years of age, inherited the earldom.)
There is a "slight" problem with the charter of Abbey, which like many such documents goes to great lengths to ensure that the grant is perpetual and cannot be reversed later. The charter ends:
- " Et ut hc omnia essent rata et stabilia in perpetuum, ego Come Hugo et mei Barones confirmavim us (&c.), ita quod singuli nostrum propria manu, in testimonium posteris signum in modum Cruc is facerunt:"
..and is signed by the earl himself; Richard of Avranches (his son); Hervey, bishop of Bangor ; Ranulf de Meschines (1074-1129: Richard's nephew, who eventually inherited the earldom); Roger Bigod; Alan de Perci; William Constabular (William FitzNeil - Baron of Halton); Ranulph Dapifer; William Malbanc (Baron of Nantwich}; Robert FitzHugh (Baron of Malpas); Hugh FitzNorman; Hamo de Masci (Baron of Dunham-Massey); and Bigod de Loges. The little problem is that the charter cannot date from 1093 and be signed by Richard (1094-1120: who was only seven years old in 1101). This problem is solved if the charter is dated later than 1093 and merely confirms the earlier grant - but then the problem arises that Robert FitzHugh may have been dead by then (he also died in 1120 on the White Ship). However it should be remembered that medieval monks were known to fake charters at times.
Earl Hugh was initially buried in the cemetery of the Abbey ; but his nephew Ranulf de Meschines removed the body to the chapter-house, as appears from the charter in which Ranulf granted Upton to the Abbey:
- "Notum sit vobis pariter me concessisse quando feci transferri corpus Hugonis comitis avunculi mei a cimiterio in capitulum," ("Be it known to you that in like wise I granted, when I had the body of Count Hugo, my uncle, removed from the graveyard to the newly built chapter-house.")
Nowadys, the chapter-house houses part of the cathedral library. In the vestibule is a copy of Ranulf Higdon's Polychronicon. His world map shows England at the edge of the world, and features Bangor but not Chester.
Richard of Bec, the first abbot died in 1117 (he was buried in the east angle of the then south cloister), but his tenure had not been without difficulty. The founder's son, Richard_of_Avranches, gave little to the abbey during his short tenure of the earldom; apart from the grant of a mill at Bache, his gifts were restricted to the city and its suburbs. There was a tradition in the abbey that he quarrelled with the abbot over the manor at Saighton and that he 'intended to alter and change the foundation of the said abbey to another religion' but was only prevented by his providential death in the White Ship; there may be some substance to the story as the abbacy was left vacant during the last years of Earl Richard's life (1117-1121).
William, the second abbot was elected 1121, died 1140. He was followed by Ralph, (elected 1141, died 1157), Robert I, son of Nigel, (elected 1157, died 1175) and Robert II, (elected 1175, died 1184).
The earliest surviving structure is the north transept, datable on stylistic grounds to the 1090s. The interior, plain and unenriched by sculpture, includes an eastern arch leading into a chapel, originally apsed, and an arcaded triforium opening on a passageway in the wall above. To the west, the wall was plain except for three blocked openings at triforium level which probably originally served another passage. Traces of a similar opening at the east end of the north wall indicate that the passageway was originally continuous round the transept. A blocked doorway in the monks' night stair in the north-east corner of the transept perhaps opened on to a wooden gallery. All the arches are plain and unmoulded and the capitals simple cushions. Some of these capitals, and possibly some of the columns, could well be re-used Roman masonry.
Rebuilding: late 12th and early 13th century
Around 1150 the scholar Robert of Chester returned to England from Segovia in Spain. While translating Al-Khwārizmī's book about algebra (as Liber algebrae et almucabala), Robert made an error that lives on today. Arabic script consists of consonants with vowels punctuated underneath and often omitted. The trigonometric ratio known as the "sine" originated in India and the Sanskrit word for "half the chord" is "jya-ardha" ("jya" means "a bow-string" in Sanskrit), abbreviated to "jiva". This was adopted by the Arabs as "jiba", written "jb". When Robert translated the word, not understanding the Hindu origin, he supplied Arabic vowels yielding the word for bay or inlet ("jaib"). In Latin, a bay or inlet is "sinus". English usage converted the Latin word sinus to "sine". Hence the origin of the trigonometric function named sine.
There was further building in the late 12th and early 13th century. Earl of Chester (1181-1232) Ranulf de Blondeville took lands and revenues pertaining to the fabric into his protection, and ordered his officials to ensure payment to the directors of the work.
Robert II died 31st August 1184 leaving the abbacy vacant. This came at an unfortunate time: Hugh de Kevelioc had died in 1181 and his son Ranulf de Blondeville (born 1170) was a ward of Henry II until 1187. Henry took the oportunity to seize the abbey and pass it on to Hugh de Nonant. The vacancy was ended by the appointment in 1186 of Robert of Hastings, a monk of Christ Church, Canterbury and a partisan of Archbishop Baldwin. William of Newburgh noted that Baldwin (a Cistercian) has sought to replace monks with secular canons at the great cathedrals - de Nonant had acted in a similar way. Hastings' appointment was not popular with the monks of Chester; the general confirmation of possessions and privileges obtained from Clement III contained a provision for the orderly election of abbots and in 1194, after protracted litigation, Robert of Hastings' rival, Geoffrey, obtained the abbacy with the help of the now adult Earl Ranulf and at the price of a pension of 20 marks a year for Hastings. The death of Archbishop Baldwin at Acre in November 1190 probably helped Geoffrey's case as it deprived Robert of his protector.
It is recorded that in 1180 nearly the whole of Chester was burnt on a Sunday in Mid-Lent, which may account for the fact that Geoffrey, the seventh Abbot (a.d. 1194), complained that the church was in ruins, and that there was no money with which to rebuild it, but he succeeded in getting sufficient funds together to build the choir. Geoffrey, in language doubtless exaggerated, describes the state of the choir as
- "intolerably threatened with ruin, and threatening with danger of death those who assisted at the divine offices."
It was probably in Abbot Geoffrey's time that Lucian, a monk of St. Werburgh's, wrote his description of Chester, De Laude Cestrie, which contains, in addition to much praise of the virtue and learning of the monks, an account of the hospitality provided both to fellow religious and to travellers:
- The seats about their table are worn by reason of the many meals given to strangers, such is their innate liberality. Here travellers to and from Ireland find rest, companionship and shelter while waiting for wind and tide.
Lucian may have a sub-text in view of a general feeling amongst the monks that since Hugh de Nonant and Archbishop Baldwin there was a general tendency to replace monks at cathedrals with secular canons.
There does seem to have been a strong connection with Ireland at the time - unsurprising given that the English were busy conquering it and Chester was a major port in the campaign. In 1183 a colony of monks was sent to Ireland. John de Courcy gave ten carucates of land to the abbey in order that it should supply a prior and monks to replace the secular canons whom he had expelled from the church of St. Patrick in Downpatrick, Patrick's burial place. (this abbey was destroyed by an earthquake in 1245).
Pastoral letters appealing for funds are extant from Peter de la Roche bishop of Winchester dated in 1205 and from William bishop of Coventry shortly after which describe the state of the church as deplorable with the choir open to the weather and without doors These spirited appeals of the bishops appear to have been very successful for it is evident that a large accession of funds was received about this time. Geoffry's successor, Abbot Hugh Grylle (elected 1208, died 1226), was afterwards remembered as a builder, and there is evidence that much work was done in his time. In particular, he may have been responsible for the Early English clerestory arcade, traces of which remain in the north-west corner of the nave (4), and for the early 13th-century changes to the east chapel of the north transept (12), which was given a square end and a ribbed vault. More extensive, though now lost, was the work done at the east end: numerous architectural fragments retrieved from the site attest to the scale of the undertaking, which probably involved wholesale rebuilding, including square-ended choir (6) aisles.
Hugh was followed by William Marmion, (elected 1226, died 1228), Walter of Pinchbeck, (elected 1228, died 1240), Roger Frend, (elected 1240, died 1249) and Thomas of Capenhurst, (elected 1249, died 1265). In the earlier 13th century there were setbacks during the period of baronial rebellion when the disgruntled heirs of benefactors and others took advantage of the lack of strong central authority to challenge and attack the privileges and property of the house. Fortunes revived, however, under the long and vigorous rule of Abbot Simon Whitchurch (1265-91) and his successor, Thomas Birchills (1291-1323). The abbey's hold on its property and its relations with the heirs of benefactors and other religious houses were again disturbed by the unsettled political conditions after 1258. Sir Roger de Mold, justice of Chester, attempted to deprive the house of its right of presentation to Neston church which had been given by his ancestors; in 1258 he forced a one-sided settlement on the abbey by which it lost Broughton, near Hawarden and on account of which, according to the abbey's chronicler, de Mold (de Montalt) met with a succession of misfortunes:
- Roger de Montalt, then justiciary of Chester, having violently attacked [and laid claim to the possessions of] the lord Thomas the abbot and the convent of S. Werburg at Chester, extorted from them the manor of Bretton in consideration of his confirmation of the manors of Lawton and Goosetree, and the advowsons of the churches of Neston, Bruera, and Coddington. And the eldest son of the said Roger died within fifteen days. Many other notable misfortunes befell the said Roger not long afterwards. Roger himself died in poverty within two years, the common people being ignorant of the place of his burial.
Rebuilding: late 13th century
The plan on the right (by Jooperscoopers) is of the cathedral in 2010. North is at the top (an updated map with dated structures can be found on Wikipedia). The parts of the cathedral are identified as follows:
1 - West Door 2 - Southwest Tower and Consistory Court 3 - Northwest Tower and Baptistry 4 - Nave 5 - Crossing 6 - Choir 7 - Lady Chapel 8 - Southwest Porch 9 - South Aisle 10- South Transept 11- South Door 12- South Choir Aisle/St Erasmus chapel 13- North Aisle 14- North Transept 15- North Choir Aisle 16- St Werburgh's Chapel 17- Vestry 18- Vestibule 19- Chapter House 20- Slype 21- Monk's Parlour and Song School 22- Refectory 23- Shop 24- Undercroft 25- Abbot's Passage 26- Cloister 27- Reception 28- Memorial Garden
In the mid 13th century the abbey embarked on an ambitious reconstruction. It began with the Lady chapel (7), a building of three bays with lancet windows and a lierne with ridge rib and tiercerons, perhaps inserted in the 1280s. Between 1250 and 1280 the work was extended to include the reconstruction of the entire eastern limb of the church, a process which lasted until c. 1340 and involved at least six master masons. The rebuilt choir (6) was of six bays, with aisles ending in polygonal apses and a Chartres-like elevation comprising richly moulded arcade, trefoil-arched triforium, and tall clerestory.
The architecture of this period is known as the Decorated Gothic, or simply "Decorated". Traditionally, this period is broken into two periods: the "Geometric" style (1250-90) and the "Curvilinear" style (1290-1350). Decorated architecture is characterized by its window tracery. Elaborate windows are subdivided by closely-spaced parallel mullions (vertical bars of stone), usually up to the level at which the arched top of the window begins. The mullions then branch out and cross, intersecting to fill the top part of the window with a mesh of elaborate patterns called tracery, typically including trefoils and quatrefoils. The windows of Chester cathedral show a progression of the tracery from the Decorated style through to the Perpendicular. Parker writes of it:
- "Owing to the slow progress of the work, and the frequent changes of style during that long period, we have in the different parts of the church wat we may take as a type of each of the principal varieties of Gothic window tracery; so much so, that if we did not know that the same types may be readily found in numerous other places, we might supposse that the whole had been developed here in Chester."
The first phase consisted of the arch into the Lady chapel (7), the polygonal apse chapels, the eastern responds of the choir (6) arcade, and part of the first arch on the north side. The aisle apses were three-sided and rib-vaulted and were destroyed in the late 15th or early 16th century, when the aisles were extended eastwards. That on the south, reconstructed by Scott in the 19th century, retains a piscina with geometrical tracery. Of that on the north there survive the remains of a window recess much more elaborate than its neighbours in the Lady chapel, another piscina with geometrical tracery, and a doorway to an exterior spiral staircase. The work is characterized by complex mouldings of arch, capital, and base similar to those produced at Lichfield cathedral probably in the 1260s, and very closely related to part of the south chancel aisle of St. Mary's, Stafford, which may well have been by the same mason.
All this was done against a background of troubled times. In April 1265 at the height of the civil wars. The justice of Chester, Luke de Tanai, delayed the admission of the new abbot for three weeks while he wasted the abbey's goods; in May Simon de Montfort ordered the restitution of everything taken during the vacancy and himself invested the abbot with the temporalities of the house. This assumption of authority infuriated the Lord Edward (later Edward I) who denied Abbot Simon (elected 1265, died 1291) access to the abbey until August when he relented and handed over the goods and revenues of the house. The Chester chronicle has a long rant about this, and seems especially concerned about the wine:
- The lord Edward however was much enraged with Simon, abbot of Chester, for a long time refusing him access to the monastery, and holding out many threats to him, because he had been promoted by the licence of the lord Simon de Montfort, and without Edward having been consulted. At length, on the arrival of the same abbot at Beeston, on the vigil of the Assumption [August 14], the lord Edward contrary to the hope of many, but moved by divine inspiration, graciously admitted the said abbot, and by the advice of the lord James de Audley, then justiciary of Chester, commanded the revenues of the monastery to be so fully restored to him, that for two casks of wine consumed in the household of the said lord Edward, during the time of his anger against the abbot, he caused two other casks to be taken from the castle at Chester, and restored to the said abbot. From which it is clear that the lord of Cheshire ought to have no revenues at all of the abbey of S. Werburg during the term of its vacancy, because the said abbey is founded upon no barony, but all that pertains to it has been given in absolute and perpetual frankalmoign.
A second phase, dating probably from the 1270s, saw the completion of the first and second piers on the north side of the choir (6) and the wall of the north choir aisle. At much the same time, a fully fledged Decorated style appeared in the first two bays on the other side of the choir. The master responsible for that, and perhaps other designers, carried the work as far as the first two bays of the triforium on the north side and part of the first bay of the triforium on the south, and also built the first two bays of the wall of the south choir aisle. Then, it seems, work stopped, possibly due to the king's building works in Wales and at Vale Royal abbey, both initiated in 1277. The king borrowed 100 men from Abbot Simon in that year for the building of Flint castle, and drew further on the community's resources in 1282, but, even so, as late as 1285 orders were issued to support the monks 'in the great work of building the church'. The new monks at Vale Royal were evidently not that popular with the locals:
- It is not to be wondered at that the abbots and the whole monastery should, almost from the first, be regarded with confirmed dislike as harsh and oppressive masters. This dislike took more than once a very pronounced form. Walter de Hereford, the second abbot, is memorable for defeating a knight and his armed retainers who attempted to force a passage through the precincts of the abbey. He afterwards showed courage in appearing in the court of Chester, after some popular disturbances excited against his convent by the Justice of Chester, and pleading his cause successfully in person after his attendants had fled. So hated was his successor, John de Hoo, by the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, that he sought a licence to resign. The fourth abbot, Richard de Evesham (when a brother of the monastery), had his horse shot under him with arrows as he was collecting tithes.
The Abbot's Well
In 1278 the monks obtained their water via a culvert from a spring in "Newton Fields". There is no sign of such a spring today, but evidence of a past watercourse comes from early OS Maps which show a sinuous curving of plot boundaries between St Anne's Street and Brook Street. The whole area how lies beneath tower-block developments, but the spring (if it existed) which fed this watercourse would have been somewhere just north of the present day Gorse Stacks roundabout.
According to Hemingway, it was during Simons' abbacy that:
- A cistern twenty feet square was made at Christleton and another formed within the cloisters and a communication established by pipes which a patent from Edward I enabled the monks to carry through all intervening lands permitting even the city walls to be taken down for the purpose It is observable that a forester of Delamere Randle de Merton whose estate was trespassed on in consequence of this order ventured on cutting off the pipes which the abbots had laid for which he was ordered to make reparation by a royal mandate (13 Edward I)
The site of the well at Christleton was long known as "The abbot's well" and lies some short distance from what is now the the Abbot's Well Hotel. Abbot Simon described as: "a prelate of great ability, and a man of energy, a man of taste, a man of piety, and a thorough man of business", decorated the gatehouse of his palace at Saighton with his emblem, the black dog, and it is probably true that the name of the Black Dog public house (Saighton) comes from the same origin. Not unsuprisingly the origins of the "Black Dog of Saighton" have been forgotten and it has passed into local folklore as a spectral hound.
On a visit to Chester in 1283 Edward I swore to preserve the liberties of St. Werburgh but that did not prevent his taking the revenues into his own hands for three months on the death of Abbot Simon in 1291 and demanding a pension of £5 for a royal clerk. Ripley's grave was found under the Chapter House floor in 1723. Although this clearly bore the monogram "S.R". the skeleton wrapped in black leather was long thought to belong to Hugh Lupus because of the supposed "wolf's head" on the stone. This was of course the same "Black Dog" as is mentioned above. The stone is on display at the cathedral.
Rebuilding: 14th century
To preserve visual unity the early 14th-century master retained the arch mouldings of the north choir arcade and the hollow chamfers of the south, though amended the somewhat odd design of the north triforium. His principal innovation was to use the sunk chamfer, not only in the jambs of the clerestory windows but also in the piers of the arcade. The sunk chamfer first appeared at Caernarfon castle, and its employment at Chester could be evidence of the hand of Richard the engineer, who had worked in Wales with Master James of St. George to whom the abbot Birchills pledged substantial sums in 1310 and 1312–13. The house was visited on behalf of the bishop in 1315 and 1323. The results of this audit were not good. Birchills was rebuked for:
- having too many personal servants, holding too many feasts, eating meat on fish days with a few favourite monks in his own apartments,
- using the convent's money to buy legal books;
- showing favouritism and laxity in controlling his servants.
Also, the prior was forbidden to hunt and in 1323 it was ordered that: no monk was to leave the abbey except with special permission and a fellow monk of good reputation as a companion. Three monks who had been accused of incontinence and violence were confined to the abbey - for reasons that can only be speculated about, one of them was forbidden to talk to any woman except in the presence of a senior member of the convent. Within the monastery no "fashionable clothes" were to be worn, there was to be no drinking after compline, silence was required in the refectory and any left-overs were to be distributed to the poor and not used to feed the greyhounds and other hunting dogs which the monks kept. The locals seem to have been as bad as the monks though - in 1321 it was considered unsafe for the monks to leave the abbey:
- ..on another occasion in the same year the Oldyntons murdered John Boddeworth, a monk of the abbey, and afterwards played at football with his head.
William Bebington, was elected Abbot in 1324 and was dead by 1352. By the 1330s the choir, including the clerestory, had been finished. The crossing and the last two bays of the south choir aisle seem also to have been under construction at that time; they bear a close resemblance to work at St. Mary's, Stafford, Audley (Staffs.), and Shifnal (Salop.), probably supervised by the same master mason between 1327 and 1337. A petition from around this time describes that the monks intended to continue with the nave and the bell tower which was ruined and dangerous and complained that with losses caused by the Welsh wars and by flooding, resources were insufficient to maintain hospitality and pay for the building work. The vaults of the roof were to remain unfinished. The high vault was never built, while those over the aisles were added later, probably in the 15th century, and do not conform to the original scheme: except in the earliest bay of the north aisle the ribs of the springers have a more complex profile than those of the vaults. The vaults over the north side are simpler and probably earlier than those on the south: they have a ridge rib and an additional transverse rib in the middle of each bay, whereas in the south aisle vault the transverse ribs are replaced by two tiercerons, except in the most easterly bays.
Additional revenues secured by the abbey's appropriation of the rectory of Chipping Campden in 1340 perhaps encouraged a further expansion of building operations. Then, if not earlier, the monastic choir was closed by a stone pulpitum, remains of which survive as screen walls in the choir aisles. Further modifications seem to have been made to the choir itself, including the elaborate sedilia with four canopied seats (much restored by Scott), and the gabled aumbries opposite. At the same time that the Abbey was producing it's famous choir stalls, Ranulph Higden (c. 1280 - c. 1363) was hard at work at work on his famous Polychronicon, said to be "St. Werburgh's greatest contribution to medieval learning". Higden's book was a "best-seller" of the times and in 1352 he was summoned to Westminster with his chronicles to advise Edward III and his council.
Bebington was followed by Richard Sainsbury, (elected before 1352, resigned 1362). Sainsbury's rule as abbot was turbulent and he had inherited an expensive program of building work. Abbot Sainsbury continued, but was unable to complete, the rebuilding of the nave and the asymmetrical enlargement of the south transept. In 1354 Sainsbury obtained letters of protection from impressment into the service of the Black Prince for twelve of the carpenters, masons, and other workmen who were then continuously working on the church. Sainsbury frequently clashed with the officials of the Black Prince (then earl of Chester) who were prepared to allow only such claims to privileges as could be substantiated by charters. There was, for example, a protracted quarrel on the question of the abbey's liability to contribute to the repair of the Old Dee Bridge with the prince repeatedly questioning its claim to be free of all secular demands. It is possible that some of the more "dubious" charters actually date from this period. On several occasions the abbot or his officials were accused of attempting to settle disputes with their tenants or the prince's forest officials by violence. In 1361 Thomas Newport, later abbot, apparently persuaded two of the monks to attack Abbot Sainsbury in his own chamber, giving the Black Prince and his council the opportunity to interfere in the internal affairs of the abbey. Thomas de la Mare, abbot of St. Albans and president of the Provincial Chapter, visited Chester and he forced Abbot Sainsbury, (whom he found guilty of dilapidation, encouragement of vice, and mockery of the Rule), to resign. Sainsbury continued to dispute his resignation until 1374 or later.
Thomas Newport (elected 1363, died 1386) complained of the urgent need for repairs and obtained a licence to employ six masons, a quarryman, and four stone-workers. Newport seems to have been unpopular as a landlord as Abbot Sainsbury and in the summer of 1381 his tenants in Wirral rose in arms and assembled at Lea-by-Backford where they were seized and taken to Chester Castle. Thomas Newport is recorded to have bribed several of the jury appointed to try a case between William de Chevelifa and himself for having "ravished Margaret Heton at Over on Monday after All Saints Day".
The abbot of St Werburghs was the wealthiest churchman in the archdeaconry. In the clerical poll tax of 1379 he was assessed to pay £4 - the rate for peers of the realm. Each of his 26 monks paid 3s 4d a higher sum than that paid by many beneficed clergy. It appears that the monks bought little from Chester by way of food and that the abbey manors and farms produced sufficient for their needs.
There is no other record of building in the rest of the 14th century. Which included the brief abbacy of William Merston (elected 1386, died 1387). It is generally considered that this hiatus in the building program was brought about by the a combination of the Black Death (first appearing in Chester in 1349) and generally unstable political conditions culminating in the Wars of the Roses a series of dynastic civil wars fought in England between supporters of the Houses of Lancaster and York (1453–1487) .
"Completion" - 15th/16th century
Henry Sutton, (elected 1387, died 1413) apparently wasted the possessions of the abbey, removed many of its goods, and refused to return to Chester. He survived the metropolitan visitation of 1400 but his governance of the monastery continued to cause concern and finally provoked the intervention of the General Chapter of English Benedictines. Opposition to the abbot within the monastery was led by two monks who were conveniently accused of apostasy and various other crimes both inside and outside the abbey, including plotting the death of their abbot, but who luckily obtained a royal pardon in 1412 with the help of the General Chapter.
Thomas Yardley, a leader of the opposition to Sutton was elected in 1413, and remained abbot until his death in 1434. John Saughall (elected 1435, died 1455) presided over further factional strife and in 1437 the abbey was again taken into royal custody, "by reason of it having been wasted by misrule", and committed to the administration of the bishop of Bath and Wells and the earl of Stafford. It is recorded in Hiatt that in 1425 Saughall, was excommunicated for contumacy "with respect to a charge brought against him before a Chapter of Black Monks in 1422 for the reformation of abuses". Richard Oldham, (elected 1455, died 1485) was imprisoned in Chester Castle in 1461 for an unspecified offence, and was required to enter into a bond for £1,000 to keep the peace towards the mayor. In 1480 Oldham and twelve others, of whom at least half can be identified as monks, were bound over to keep the peace with a large body of tradesmen. In the same period a group of women were indicted for being 'whores to several monks' or as Hemingway quotes (with his usual tendency towards mention of scandal):
- "21 Edw IV - divers wymen were indicted who were the paramours of the monks of Chester".
Henry Bradshaw (c. 1450 - 1513) was received into the abbey as a boy and after studying with other novices of his order at Gloucester College, Oxford, he returned to Chester. He wrote a Latin treatise De antiquitate et magnificentia Urbis Cestricie, which is unfortunately lost, and a life St Weburgh (The Holy Lyfe and History of Saynt Werburge) in English seven-lined rhyming stanzas.
The date of the nave arcades (11) is uncertain. A local tradition, originating in the 17th century, attributes the south arcade to the 14th century and the north to Abbot Simon Ripley (1485–1493), mainly on the strength of the monogram formed from his initials on the western respond and the single 'R' on the capital of the third column from the west. The two arcades, both of which appear to have been built anew from the foundations, are, however, almost indistinguishable in character and it has been suggested, that the two arcades date from successive building campaigns in the 15th century by a mason copying the design of the south transept (8).
Abbot John Birkenshaw (elected 1493, resigned 1524), was an even more ambitious builder than Ripley. He probably built the nave (4) clerestory and the roof of the north transept (12) and certainly the west front of the church, probably before 1500. He also extended the north and south choir (6) aisles to overlap the Lady Chapel (7) and built the lower stage of the south-western tower (2) and the adjoining porch (10). The rebuilding of the cloisters (16) was begun by him and continued by Abbot Highfield (elected 1524, died 1527) and Abbot Marshall ("elected" 1527, displaced c.1529). The circumstances of the resignation of abbot Birkenshaw in 1524 must be seen against the background of the coming dissolution. Birkenshaw's exercise of his right to use the mitre and pontifical staff was challenged by Bishop Geoffrey Blythe; in the course of a subsequent suit Birkenshaw refused to produce certain documents, and was excommunicated. He later secured public absolution by a local priest 'in contempt and derision of the apostolic see'. In 1516 Pope Leo X (Giovanni de' Medici) invoked the help of Cardinal Wolsey in dealing with the overbearing abbot but Wolsey was not prepared to intervene until 1524 when Birkenshaw was forced to resign his office ostensibly for infringement of the Statute of Praemunire, but also it seems due to a wrangle involving George Legh of Adlington, who was said to be the husband of Wolsey's mistress. Birkenshaw was replaced briefly by Thomas Highfield, who died in 1527, and then by Thomas Marshall, who was said to have paid Wolsey 1,000 marks for the abbacy of Chester. After the fall of Wolsey (1529) Birkenshaw was restored to his office. Further disputes followed as opposing factions struggling to gain influence over the Abbot and the 'aged and impotent' Birkenshaw was forced to resign in 1538. Thomas Clarke became the last abbot of Chester and Abbot Birkenshaw was allowed a pension of £100 and the cost of the upkeep of a chaplain, three servants, and five horses, provided he took over the responsibility for debts incurred during his abbacy.
Work of the late 15th or early 16th century included the eastern extension of the choir (6) aisles to embrace the two westernmost bays of the Lady chapel (7). Only the northern chapel survives, but the southern one was identical. In the nave (4), the roof and clerestory were apparently going up in 1501. The ornate stellar vault is of wood, not stone as in many other cathedrals. This roof was probably erected when dissolution was already on the horizon, and the lack of a heavy stone roof may have allowed the cathedral to survive collapse during it's later years of neglect and decay. The south-west tower (2) remained unfinished, though some makeshift arrangement, perhaps a wooden belfry, permitted the hanging of three bells. One inscribed with the name of Abbot Birkenshaw was sold in 1551 and is in Conwy church.
There is a peculiar local legend connected with the very stones out of which the Cathedral at Chester is built. On a small manor, near Chester, the monks of St Werburgh are said to have quarried from the rocks there the stone necessary for the work. The steward of the estate had a daughter, Alice,
- "slight of figure and possessed of a pleasing face, just the girl who could tempt a man to sin, and who had just enough of the old Adam in her to lead her to wrong-doing."
The lay brethren of the monastery had an overseer,
- "a cleric of handsome person, whose dark visage showed his foreign descent. Her fall was brought about by him, and he slew his victim and buried her remains in a hole bordering the margin of a stream adjacent, near which grew a beech tree. In course of time this tree had to be cut down to make way for the foundation of a new house, and it was then that the remains of a human body — probably those of the murdered girl — were uncovered. For a long period visions of a cowled priest and a woman, so the story runs, had been seen standing under the tree."
In order to strengthen his otherwise dubious claim to the throne, Henry VII had set a team personal genealogists at work to trace his heritage to Cadwaladr and the ancient British kings. The search "identified" Winchester in Hampshire as Camelot, and it was there that the first Tudor Prince of Wales, Arthur, also Earl of Chester, was born in 1486. He was named after the legendary King Arthur and his christening took place at Winchester Cathedral. Henry VII, was also eager to strengthen his kingdom through an alliance with newly-united Spain, seeking the support of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, against French interests and possible aggression.
In 1489, when Arthur was two years old, as part of the Treaty of Medina del Campo, a marriage was arranged with the Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon (in Spain, Catalina de Aragón). On 14 November 1501, they were married at St. Paul's Cathedral and at the end of the day came the "Bedding Ceremony", in which most of the court put the young couple, both aged 15, to bed. What happened in the marriage bed that night became a matter of considerable debate. Catherine's dueña (Doña Elvira) stated that the marriage was never consummated. Arthur's friends claimed that the following day, he had proudly called for some water, saying that he had "been in Spain" and that being a husband was "thirsty work."
On 2 April 1502 Arthur died. Some say that he died of the "sweating sickness", others say that he was, already weak and sickly, worn out by the sexual demands of his amorous Spanish bride. His younger brother, who never expected to become king, was suddenly in the line for the throne and was to become Henry VIII with the death of his father in 1509. Prior to his death, Henry VII renewed his efforts to seal a marital alliance between England and Spain, by offering young Henry in marriage to Prince Arthur's widow. In order for the new Prince of Wales to marry his brother's widow, a dispensation from the Pope was required. Catherine swore that her marriage to Prince Arthur had not been consummated and the impatience of Catherine's mother, Queen Isabella, induced Pope Julius II to grant dispensation in the form of a Papal bull. 14 months after her young husband's death, Catherine found herself betrothed to his even younger brother, Henry. Only 17 years old, Henry married Catherine on 11 June 1509, and on 24 June 1509, the two were crowned at Westminster Abbey. Thus Henry VIII's argument with Rome started over the question whether, Arthur, the Earl of Chester, had consummated his marriage or not.
Henry eventually became impatient with Catherine's "inability" to produce a male heir. All of Catherine's children died in infancy except Mary, and Henry wanted a son to avoid rival claims to the crown. In 1525, Henry became enamoured with Anne Boleyn and wished to annul his marriage to Catherine. In 1527 Henry appealed to Pope Clement VII to sue for annulment, on the grounds were that the bull of Pope Julius II was obtained by false pretences, because Catherine's brief marriage to the sickly Arthur had, in fact, been consummated. Clement refused, in part because he feared the wrath of Catherine's nephew, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, whose troops had sacked Rome and briefly taken the Pope prisoner earlier that year. The breaking of the power of Rome in England proceeded little by little and things went rapidly downhill. In 1532, Thomas Cromwell, brought before Parliament a number of acts including the Supplication against the Ordinaries and the Submission of the Clergy, which recognised Royal Supremacy over the church. Thomas More resigned as Chancellor, leaving Cromwell as Henry's chief minister. Pope Clement excommunicated Henry VIII in 1533, declaring the marriage with Anne Boleyn null and void. The papal nuncio was withdrawn from England and diplomatic relations with Rome were broken off. Dragging up a long-standing issue, the Ecclesiastical Appointments Act 1534 required the clergy to elect bishops nominated by the Sovereign. The Act of Supremacy 1534 declared that the King was "the only Supreme Head in Earth of the Church of England" and the Treasons Act 1534 made it high treason, punishable by death, to refuse to acknowledge the King as such. In response to the excommunication, the Peter's Pence Act was passed stating that England had "no superior under God, but only your Grace" and that Henry's "imperial crown" had been diminished by "the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations and exactions" of the Pope.
Between 1536 and 1541, the English, Welsh and Irish monasteries were dissolved and their property confiscated. In 1540, Henry sanctioned the destruction of shrines to saints. In 1541 St Werburgh's abbey became a cathedral of the Church of England by order of Henry VIII. At the same time, the dedication was changed to "Christ and the Blessed Virgin" - however many still refer to it as "St Werbergh's". It has been calculated that there were about 28 monks in the abbey at the time of its dissolution and of these eleven, including the prior of the cell on Hilbre Island, were awarded pensions. The last abbot of St Werburgh’s Abbey, Thomas Clarke, became the first dean of the new cathedral at the head of a secular chapter with six prebendaries (four of whom were former monks). It was the second of the six former monasteries to be so re-founded by Henry VIII; Westminster Abbey had been made a cathedral some eight months earlier, and Gloucester, Peterborough, Bristol, and Oxford were shortly to follow. In addition to the dean and prebendaries, the cathedral was served by 6 minor canons, a deacon and sub-deacon, 6 lay clerks or conducts, 8 choristers and a master, 2 teachers of grammar, 24 grammar scholars, 6 bedesmen, 2 under-sextons, a butler, 2 porters, a cook, and an under-cook. The cathedral's endowment consisted of 9 Cheshire manors which had belonged to St. Werburgh's abbey, and of most of the abbey's other possessions in Chester and Cheshire.
Thomas Clarke, last abbot of St. Werburgh's, became the first dean of Chester and died about a month after his appointment. He was succeeded by Henry Man who became bishop of Sodor and Man in 1546. Other deans promoted to bishoprics during the first century of the cathedral's existence were John Piers (d. 1594), William Barlow (d. 1613), and Henry Parry (d. 1616). The remaining 7 deans appointed between 1547 and 1644 died in office. Only two, John Nutter (d. 1602) and Thomas Mallory (d. 1644), survived longer than a decade; Mallory held the deanery for some 37 years, a length of tenure never exceeded.
In 1541, Henry VIII, had combined the archdeaconry of Chester, from the Diocese of Coventry and Lichfield, and that of Richmond, from York, to form the new see. At first the diocese was annexed to the Province of Canterbury, but by another Act of Parliament it was soon transferred to that of York. The first bishop was the Provincial of the Carmelites, John Bird, a doctor of divinity who had attracted the king's attention by his sermons preached against the pope's supremacy. Having already been rewarded by appointment as Bishop of Bangor, he was now translated to Chester. On the accession of Mary he was deprived of his bishopric for being a married man, and died as Vicar of Dunmow in 1556. Despite the origins of the diocese, it was recognized by the Holy See for the space of Queen Mary's reign and George Cotes, Master of Balliol and Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and lecturer in theology, was appointed bishop in 1554. At what is now Barrel Well Hill and was once Gallows Hill, stands the obelisk to George Marsh, an outspoken puritan preacher, from Bolton, who was burned at the stake in 1555 on the north side of the road, after being questioned by Coates. In his "History of the City of Chester" (1831) Joseph Hemingway states that Marsh was imprisoned beside the abbey gateway:
- The two end houses adjoining the gate stand on the site of an old edifice, called the prison-house. On pulling down the latter, about five years ago, a narrow cell was discovered on the first floor, from which all light was excluded, in which, it is said, that martyr to popish cruelty, George Marsh, was immured, previous to his execution at Boughton.
To be fair to Bishop, he did give Marsh plenty of opportunity to recant, but evidently Marsh was quite an obstinate fellow - a Bolton legend has it that a mark on the stone floor of Smithills Hall is a "footprint" left by Marsh stamping his foot - so off to the pyre he went. After Marsh's execution, Coates preached a sermon denouncing Marsh as a heretic. Bishop Coates did not long survive Marsh. Later in 1555 Coates was stricken with a fatal venereal disease, seen as divine retribution. It is recorded in Foxe's book of martyrs (not the most unbiased work) that:
- "And by reason that the fire was unskillfully made, and that the wind did drive the flame to and fro, he suffered great extremity in his death, which notwithstanding he abode very patiently. Upon this, many of the people said he was a martyr and died godly. Which thing caused the Bishop shortly after to make a sermon in the Cathedral Church, and therein affirmed that Marsh was an heretic, burnt like an heretic, and was a firebrand in hell! In recompense of this his good and charitable sermon, within short time after the just judgment of God appeared upon the said Bishop, who through his wicked and adulterous behaviour was (most shamefully it is to be spoken) burned with a harlot and died thereof, as credible report hath been made. For even they which did speak best of him in this case, confessed that he had a hole or sore in the secret and privy parts of his belly. And when some of the Bishop's secret friends (whereof two were aldermen of Chester that had seen the dead body) were gathered together and minding to deface or discredit the rumour that then was upon him, declared the manner of his disease and wound. Whereat one Brassey being then Coroner (and no heretic!) said with an oath that then surely the Bishop was burnt. For he before that time had taken the view of a mariner which died upon the like disease, and in every case had evident sores and tokens as the Bishop had. More particularly might be said touching the last tragedy of this Bishop and his whorehunting. But shamefastness calleth back.".
Coates was succeeded by Cuthbert Scott, then Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University and Master of Christ's College. On the accession of Elizabeth I he was one of the four Catholic bishops chosen to defend Catholic doctrine at the Westminster Conference, and immediately after this he was sent to the Tower and was deprived in 1559. Being released on bail, he contrived to flee to the Continent. He died at Louvain, on 9 October 1564. Later bishops were undoubtedly good churchmen but few led such exciting lives.
A recurrent theme during the first three centuries of the cathedral's existence was its poverty. In the reign of Edward VI, and again in the 1570s, the dean and prebendaries were accused of embezzlement. The depletion of goods and property was aggravated by losses resulting from the reform of the currency in 1551, and plate and a bell had to be sold in order to pay stipends and to finance repairs to the fabric. Under Dean William Cliffe (1547-58) much of the cathedral's endowment was alienated to "fee-farmers" - this assured a guaranteed (lump sum) revenue, regardless of what income the farmer was able to extract. In 1553 most of the remaining lands were granted to Sir Richard Cotton. It was afterwards claimed that the grant to Cotton was made under duress; the dean and two prebendaries, summoned before the Privy Council to answer allegations that they had removed lead and iron from their church, were committed to the Fleet Prison in February 1553 but released shortly before the grant to Cotton. What remained of the endowment was leased out, usually for large up-front payments and low rents. William Downham bishop of Chester from 1561 to 1577 seems to have done little to help matters. He had further problems with the diocesan finances, being dependent on rents that could prove hard to collect.
While the statutes of Chester cathedral contained strict rules for the residence of dean and prebendaries (absences were respectively limited to 100 and 80 days a year), absenteeism was particularly marked in the late 16th century. In 1559 there were said to be only two prebendaries in residence. In 1578 Dean Richard Longworth (d. 1579), chaplain to Queen Elizabeth I, was said to have attended only twice since his appointment six years earlier. Prebendary Hawford, master of Christ's College, had attended only once in the last ten years, and three other prebendaries had achieved little more. One schoolmaster could not remember seeing the dean or any prebendary administering communion during his own thirteen years at Chester. At Bishop Chadderton's visitation in 1583 the dean, Thomas Modesley (d. 1589), and three prebendaries were said to be non-resident. The Braun and Hogenberg map of Chester shows (somewhat roughly) what the cathedral looked like at this time although many of the monastic buildings are "missing".
In 1645 the cathedral was almost the scene of a famous death. On the morning of the 24 September 1645 the Battle of Rowton Heath occurred as part of the Civil War on moor land near the village of Rowton, two miles to the south east of Chester. The engagement lasted all day starting at 9am and continued throughout the day in three stages as Royalists were pushed back towards the City and its walls. As the fighting reached the suburbs it was watched by King Charles I and Sir Francis Gamull from Chester's Phoenix Tower (now also called King Charles' Tower) on the City Walls. At some point the King withdrew to the cathedral tower, but even this was not safe - "skylined" sgsinst the westering sun, a captain standing next to him was shot in the head by musket fire from the victorious Parliamentarians who took residence in St Johns Church tower. Charles survived, only to be beheaded on Tuesday 30 January 1649. This was not his only connection with Chester cathedral Orlando Bridgeman, son of John Bridgeman, the Bishop of Chester, had refused to provide troops to the Royalist army, chasing off the recruiters with gunshots and later presided over the "Trial of the Regicides".
The cathedral's finances, already inadequate before the Civil War, deteriorated steadily during the late 17th and 18th centuries. by 1677 the chapter was forced to resort to borrowing. In that year £100 was borrowed for roof repairs; a loan of £150 was raised towards the cost of a new organ in 1685. By the mid 1690s it became necessary to borrow to discharge the cathedral's ordinary debts, including tenths, taxes, and salaries. Such loans continued to be necessary throughout the 18th century; meanwhile the excess of expenditure over income mounted steadily to reach nearly £1,300 by 1799-1800. The perennial financial difficulties of the cathedral resulted in repairs to the fabric being undertaken only when judged essential. In 1661 the chapter house was said to be so decayed as to be unfit for chapter meetings. Bishop Cartwright complained in 1687 that the cloisters were in disrepair, but he did not find the time to fix them: as after the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 he followed James II into exile and died in Dublin, of dysentery. Only the smallest repairs could be financed from ordinary income; otherwise new sources had to be found. In 1701 the dean and chapter obtained a royal brief for repairs to buildings, the estimated cost of which was £7,000. In 1723 public subscriptions were sought by the treasurer for repairs to the chapter house. His appeal raised £107 towards repairs that cost £118.
In 1724 the "remains of Hugh Lupus" were "discovered" in Chester Cathedral, wrapped in leather, and deposited in a stone coffin, having a cross on the breast. They were re-buried with the following terrible verse:
- Altho my corpse it lies in grave
- And that my flesh consumed be,
- My picture here, now that you have
- An Earl some time of this city
In fact, this was the body of abbot Simon Ripley.
In 1725 Daniel Defoe visited Chester and wrote of the state of the cathedral:
- "Tis built of a red, sandy, ill-looking stone, which takes much from the beauty of it, and which yielding to the weather, seems to crumble, and suffer by time, which much defaces the building"
By the 19th century the fabric of the building had become even more badly weathered. Charles Hiatt wrote:
- "Decay may be, and often is, picturesque. At Chester, the surface rot of the very perishable red sandstone, of which the cathedral was built, was positively unsightly. The whole place previous to the restoration struck one as woe-begone and neglected ; it perpetually seemed to hover on the verge of collapse, and was yet without a trace of the romance of the average ruin. Restoration is a word of which all those who really care for ancient buildings have a wholesome dread. It is frequendy pleaded with a view to covering a multitude of sins of innovation : only too often it actually amounts to that mutilation which is the most fashionable and the worst form of architectural murder. To fill an ancient niche with a new statue, to continue a moulding of which the greater part has disappeared, to "renew " an ancient capital by means of a few sharp strokes of a chisel in the hands of a modern stonemason, are sins at once against common sense and good taste. "
Robert Hodgson/Thomas Harrison
Between 1818 and 1820 the architect Thomas Harrison made plans to restore the south transept (8), adding the corner turrets. He made but slight efforts to ascertain and reproduce any original ancient plan, but probably did no real harm. Unfortunately the Cathedral authorities decided that while Harrison had drawn up the plans, they would have another carry out the work. Harrison wrote a furious letter to the Dean (Robert Hodgson or his successor Peter Vaughan):
- "..presumed the Dean... wished to have a man of some experience to advise with, and superintend, the necessary works of this decayed building..You cannot imagine that I, or any other person, would willingly lend his name as architect to the repairs required in this almost ruinous church... without having the superindendence of such repairs. Would the public be as ready to free me from the responsibility of any failure as the Chapter express themselves to be? I doubt it much"
The work was done without his further assistance to a low standard and he was not even paid for his plans until after his death (in 1829).
Frederick Anson/Richard Hussey
Little more was done until Frederick Anson (1779-1867) was appointed as dean in 1839. He was said, in 1856, to have 'done more to beautify his cathedral than all his predecessors put together'. He had the choir (6) and lady chapel (7) restored in 1843-4 under the direction of the architect Richard Charles Hussey. The mid 18th-century galleries and the pews were removed from the choir (6), and the stalls were moved to the west so that they lay partly under the central tower (5). Anson won particular praise for reintroducing stained-glass windows into the cathedral. At the time of his installation only one pane of coloured glass remained. Under his direction new windows were installed above the west entrance (1), in the nave (4), in the north and south choir aisles, and in the lady chapel (7). The designs were of Pugin, Wailes, the O'Connors, and Clayton and Bell. Before his death, Anson had the whole of the cathedral fabric surveyed, with a view to a comprehensive restoration scheme.
John Howson/George Gilbert Scott
Anson's great scheme was carried out by his successor John Saul Howson between 1868 and 1876, with Gothic Revivalist Sir George Gilbert Scott as supervising architect. Though Scott was not at the outset in sympathy with the high church ecclesiological party, it was by an interview with Benjamin Webb, the secretary of the Cambridge Camden Society (a high-church organisation), as well as to the writings of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, and to a meeting with the latter, brought about through Myers (Pugin's builder), that he owed his first insight into the principles of Gothic art. He strengthened his knowledge of these principles by careful study in the competition for the Martyr's Memorial at Oxford, for which he was selected as architect (1840). His first Gothic building of any size or artistic value was the church of St. Giles at Camberwell, during the progress of which his faith in Gothic architecture was assured. In 1847 the chapter of Ely gave him his first appointment as restoring architect to a cathedral. The enthusiasm of George Peacock, dean, of Ely, for the Gothic Amiens Cathedral led him to pay his first visit to the great French churches, which was followed up in later life by many continental journeys.
Scott's work is better described as "rebuilding" than restoration. While Scott claimed archaeological evidence for his work, in 1872 the dean felt compelled to defend himself against the charge of "destroying the past, and erecting a new building". Scott added the flying buttresses, the parapets along the lines of the roof, the many pinnacles and the gargoyles - none of which appear to have been part of the original plans and which mostly derive from Victorian ideals. Most controversial was Scott's decision to shorten the south choir aisle and terminate it in an apse surmounted by a steep pentagonal roof. The interior of this termination has been made a memorial of Thomas Brassey, the railway contractor who built the Chester and Crewe Railway. On the north wall is a bust of Brassey while the mosaics were executed in Venice (Murano) by Salviati from designs by Clayton and Bell. Scott's proposal to erect a spire on the central tower (5) was rejected, but much of the external appearance of the church is the result of his work. Scott remodelled the tower, adding the familiar turrets and crenellations. At this time Dean Howson found the nave of the church 'if used at all . . . used only as a place for loitering'. His restoration created a great debate and led in part to formation of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
John Darby/The Blomfields
Under John Lionel Darby (d. 1919), the work of restoration continued. Particularly important was that of the south transept (8), carried out under architect Sir A. W. Blomfield (6 March 1829 – 30 October 1899) and his father the bishop of Chester C. J. Blomfield (29 May 1786 - 5 August 1857). Before Darby's death two side chapels were added to it. A start was also made on the restoration of the conventual buildings, particularly the cloisters (16) and the east end of the refectory (17). Further restoration work was carried done by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott between 1891 and 1913, and by F. H. Crossley in 1939.
A new belltower
George Addleshaw became dean in 1963 and did much to publicize the architecture of the cathedral also launching an appeal fund for £300,000 for its restoration. His most controversial achievement was the erection in 1973–75 of a detached belfry designed by George Pace to the south-east of the cathedral, when it became obvious in the late 1960s that continued bell-ringing would endanger the central tower (5). In February 1969, nine of the ten bells in the central tower were removed to be recast by John Taylor & Co as a ring of twelve bells with a flat sixth. The new bells were cast in 1973 and work on the new bell-tower began in the same year. Two old bells dating from 1606 and 1626 were left in the tower. On 26 February 1975 the new bells were rung for the first time to celebrate the wedding of a member of the Grosvenor family. The official opening on 25 June 1975 was performed by the Duke of Gloucester. This was the first detached cathedral belltower was to be erected since the building of the campanile at Chichester Cathedral in the 15th century. A short history of the belltower can be found here.
In 2002 Chester cathedral revived an ancient monastic tradition by producing its own beer, when it launched Chester Pilgrim Ale, a strong (5 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV) bottled beer. The beer was named after a famous feature of the cathedral, the Chester Pilgrim, a carving on a 14th-century bench-end in the choir. There was a medieval brew house in the Abbey Square, now occupied by houses. The cathedral authorities did not follow monastic tradition by brewing the beer themselves, but gave the job to the J. W. Lees brewery in Manchester.
A New Song School
In September 2002, building work started on a new Song School, comprising purpose-built, self-contained accommodation for the choirs. It was built on the site of the original monks' dormitory, long fallen into disrepair and removed in the late 19th century. The song school was constructed of traditional materials, a red sandstone exterior and a slate roof. The total cost of the of the new Song School was around £2 million.
Points of Interest
Frank Selwyn Macaulay Bennett (d. 1947) became Dean in 1920 and while outlining his plans for the cathedral, stated that "besides the regular official services, there should be a considerable variety of use". A month after his installation, Chester became the first cathedral to open its doors to visitors without charge every day, including Sundays, an example followed by ten more cathedrals by 1925. Unfortunately, in 2004 the cathedral imposed a compulsory £4.00 admission charge. This did however include an "audio guide" with headphones that explain some of the history of the cathedral. Many have suggested that this charge is against the spirit of the church, and compared it to "a den of robbers", but there were exceptions for Chester residents. However the Cathedral has now gone back to the "free entry" policy. Some of the specialist tours on offer still require a small charge.
Here are some points of interest that may or may not be in the audio tour:
This is located in the base of the northwest tower and is of Norman construction. It features a marble font, consisting of a bowl on a large baluster dating from 1697, yet carved with Christian symbols such as peacocks (representing the resurrection) and bearing the first and last Greek letters alpha and omega. According to one source, the font was given in 1885 by Earl Egerton. According to another, it was provided by William Moreton, Bishop of Kildare to replace the one "beat to pieces" during riots on the occasion of the Duke of Monmouth's visit to Chester in August 1683. It apparently came from a ruined church in Romagna and is believed to be a village well-head from early Roman times, afterwards taken by the Christians and carved with suitable symbols for a font. The work is of the Ravenna type of the sixth or seventh century.
A more subtle feature is a "Nine Men's Morris" board said to have been scratched into the plinth at the base of a column by a bored monk. Similar boards have been found carved into the cloister seats at Canterbury, Gloucester, Norwich, Salisbury and Westminster Abbey. In some European countries, the design of the board was given special significance as a symbol of protection from evil. To the ancient Celts, the Morris Square was apparently sacred: at the center lay the holy Mill or Cauldron, a symbol of regeneration; and emanating out from it, the four cardinal directions, the four elements and the four winds.
The only old ecclesiastical court in the country to have survived. The woodwork dates from the late 1500s and was placed here in 1636. The courts dealt with probate, slander, libel, non-attendance at church and clergy discipline. Probate jurisdiction was moved to the secular courts by the Court of Probate Act 1857 and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857. Consistory Courts had also corrective jurisdiction over the crimes of clerks, but this was abrogated by the Church Discipline Act 1840. Today, the principal business of consistory courts is now the dispensing of faculties dealing with churchyards and church property, although they also hear the trial of clergy (below the rank of bishop) accused of immoral acts or misconduct (under the Clergy Discipline Act 1892). Some of the records are available online
This is fairly hard to see, but is located in the nave windows west of the screen. The tale of his origin recounts that a monk was walking along the upper gallery and saw the Devil looking in the window. The monk was rather worried about this but the Abbot told him to put up a carving of the Devil in chains, so that he would know what would happen to him if he dared to return. A carving of an "Imp" can also be found at Lincoln.
Chester Cathedral Library
Said to be ‘One of the best libraries of its kind in the North West’. This theological library housed in a magnificent 19th century building. It is open for research and public tours (£3.00 pp or £5.00 pp including admission to the Cathedral: telephone 01244 324756 to arrange your visit).
A picture of the Virgin and Child, painted on a spider's web (or perhaps caterpillar silk). This painting is about 200 years old. A Tyrolean art form, there are apparently only 64 remaining in the world, and this is the only original one in the UK.
HMS Chester Memorial
Mounted on the wall of the southwest crossing pier, this records the names of those killed onboard HMS Chester. Chester was a "Birkenhead" class light cruiser originally planned for export to Greece but purchased, part built, by the British government in 1915. "Chester" was laid down at Cammell Laird in October 1914 as "Lambros Katsonis" but entered service with the Royal Navy in early May 1916. Three weeks later, on the 31st May 1916 she took part in the battle of Jutland and was badly damaged. Repaired, she returned to service, but saw no further significant action apart from the fleet sortie of August 1916. She entered the Nore Reserve in 1919, was paid off in 1920 and sold for scrap in 1921.
Edward Thomas in a 1906 edition of the Cheshire Sheaf wrote:
"When I became a chorister in Chester Cathedral in the year 1828, I, as was the custom with all new boys, was shown by the older choristers a flagstone at the north east corner of the cloisters on which was a mark, said to be the Devil's footprint, and was told that if the flag was removed and replaced by a new one, on the following morning, the footprint would be there again".
A stained glass window dedicated to climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine and their time on Everest (locally named Chomolungma or Qomolangma) can be found in the south transept. It contains the latin phrase "Ascensiones in corde suo disposuit" (in his heart he hath disposed to ascend by steps) from psalm 83. George Mallory was considered to be one of the most talented climbers of his generation. He grew up in the Cheshire village of Mobberley. There is also a stained glass window commemorating Mallory at St. Wilfrid's Mobberley (the same Wilfred who helped found St John's Church). "Sandy" Irvine grew up in Birkenhead. They never returned from their final attempt on the north side of Mount Everest on 8th June 1924. Whether or not they were the first to reach the summit of the world's tallest mountain, 29 years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, remains unknown. Thomas Mallory, an ancestor, was Dean of Chester in the 17th cent.
Frderick Phillips Memorial
A memorial to Frederick Phillips III (great-grandson of Frederick Philipse), who died in Chester in 1785. His memorial reads:
- "Sacred to the memory of Frederick Phillips Esquire late of the province of New York a gentleman in whom the various social, domestic, and religious virtues were eminently united. The uniform rectitude of his conduct commanded the esteem of other whilst the benevolence of his heart and gentleness of his manners secured their love. Firmly attached to his Sovereign and the British Constitution he opposed at the hazard of his life the rebellion in North America and for this faithfull discharge of his duty to his King and Country he was proscribed and his estate one of the largest in New York was confiscated by the usurped legislature of that province. When the British troops were withdrawn from New York in 1783 he quitted a province to which he had always been an ornament and benefactor leaving all of his property behind him which reverse of fortune he bore with calmness, fortitude and dignity which had distinguished him through every former stage of his life. He was born in New York the 12th day of September in the year 1720 and died in this place the 30th day of April in the year 1785 aged 65 years"
The Revolutionary War almost turned out quite differently for Phillips. In 1756 George Washington fell in love with Phillips' daughter Mary and proposed marriage to her. Mary, for reasons unknown, declined the offer of marriage, unknowingly also turning down the possibility of becoming the prototype First Lady of the USA.
Henry Twells Clock
Henry Twells was born in Ashted, Birmingham on March 13th, 1823. Twells attended Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and became Curate at Berkhamsted and Sub-Vicar at Stratford-on-Avon. In 1856, he became headmaster of Godolphin School, Hammersmith, London. He became Vicar of Waltham-on-the-Wolds, Leicestershire, in 1871, and Canon of Peterborough in 1884. After retiring to Bournemouth, he helped at St Stephen’s, and built and partly endowed St Augustine’s Church. He wrote many poems and several hymns. The text of the poem under the clock at the cathedral reads:
- "When as a child I laughed and wept, time crept. When as a youth I waxed more bold, time strolled. When I became a full-grown man, time RAN. When older still I daily grew, time FLEW. Soon I shall find, in passing on, time gone. O Christ! wilt Thou have saved me then? Amen."
The choir stalls date from about 1380. One theory says that these provided an occasional seat for fatigued priests during the almost interminable services of the Roman monastic churches, the name obviously having reference to the compassionate intention. Another and very opposite meaning and holds that if a canon, while leaning on the unstable shelf, became weary and inattentive during the long prayers and chants, and happened to fall on to the desk in front of him, the seat would come down with a loud enough bang to call the attention of his fellow priests to his somnolent state. The carvings of these seat are uniquely detailed and include (among many others):
- A wife with husband on his knees at her feet, with one hand holding him by the tippet of his hood, with the other chastising him with some domestic implement.
- A fox in the habit of a monk making an offering to a nun with two other nuns watching among the trees.
This rare work of the seventeenth century, is a narwhal tusk, seven feet six inches in length, and believed to be carved by a Flemish hand. The narwhal, (Monodon monoceros) is an arctic species of whale, closely related to the beluga. It is easily identified by the long, spiral-patterned tooth protruding from the head of the male. Narwhals are freely hunted by Inuit hunters, but recent studies showing the population’s vulnerability to climate change has prompted a greater effort for conservation. Narwhal tusks are considered to be responsible for unicorn legends. Vikings returning from long trips would often bring spiraled horns as proof of the legendary and magical horse. Several surviving examples of these horns are carved in elaborate designs, and were believed to have healing properties. Close inspection (such as that of Olaus Wormius) proves that the unicorn horns are actually the tusks of the narwhal. Drinking from a cup carved from a tusk was said to negate any poison. A London doctor advertised a drink made from ground up narwhal tusk that could cure scurvy, ulcers, dropsy, gout, consumption, coughs, heart palpitations, fainting, rickets, and melancholy. Churches would put small chunks of narwhal tusk in the holy water to help speed along miracle cures for ailing churchgoers. In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth l used a tusk as a scepter, which was said to be worth the cost of a castle at the time.
Outside the cathedral, on the south transept, are a series of corbels which embody Victorian political humour. One shows William Gladstone, pen in mouth, uprooting a church - a reference to the the pamphlet "The Vatican Decrees in their Bearing on Civil Allegiance" which he published in 1874. Another shows Benjamin Disraeli, with a sword in his hand, defending the crown. Disraeli's first premiership was dominated by the heated debate over the established Church of Ireland and this is believed to be a reference to that.
Donated by the Freemasons, In keeping with this the carvings on the pulpit represent the building of King Solomon's Temple, the preaching of St John the Baptist in the Wilderness, and the showing of the Heavenly City of the Apocalypse to St John the Evangelist.
The gem of the refectory is the lector's pulpit, near the south-east corner of the room, which, with its charming staircase in the wall, is an unusually fine piece of pure Early English work. One of the best things about the refectory is that you can visit it for the price of a cup of tea. Opening times and special offers are listed on the cathedral website. The tapestry on the west wall, depicting a scene from Acts, was woven at Mortlake in the 17th century from a cartoon by Raphael. The heraldic paintings on the north wall represent the arms of the Earls of Chester. The tracery in the large east window is by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, and the stained glass dates from the 1920's. The outline of the two original lancet windows can be seen on either side. The hammer-beam ceiling, designed by F.H. Crossley, was installed in 1939. The Creation Window on the West Wall is a colourful interpretation of the Six Days of Creation installed in 2001 to celebrate the Millennium, designed and made by Rosalind Grimshaw. In 1983, Ros Grimshaw, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She refused to allow her illness to prevent her from working, and in 2000 won the commission to design and make the ‘Creation’ stained glass window -considered to be the finest and most inspired work of her whole career.
Supposed Tomb of Emperor Henry
The tradition that a German Emperor Henry (IV or V) was buried in the abbey church goes back, remarkably, to the late 12th century. In 1728 it was believed that his bones were housed in a lead coffin enclosed within a stone monument located beneath the 'pyramid' which rose from the south choir aisle. Later, however, he was said to rest in the north choir aisle, in an alabaster altar tomb adorned with trefoil- and quatrefoil-headed niches apparently dating from the 15th century. Holy Roman Emperor Henry (8 November 1086 – 23 May 1125) is one candidate for the mysterious anchorite at the Hermitage.
Water of Life
The bronze "Water of Life" statuary in the cloister, by Stephen Broadbent depicts the story of the woman of Samaria. The cloisters garden was set out in the 1920's, the statue stands on the site of a the cistern, supposedly connected to the Abbot's Well at Christleton. The statue was presented to the Cathedral by NWS Bank PLC in 1994 in association with the 900th anniversary of the Benedictine Abbey of St Werburgh on the site in 1092. Another well with a similar association, Jacob's Well, can be found in Grosvenor Park.
The original design of the shrine is unknown. The shrine, which is made of a similar red sandstone as the Cathedral has undergone at least two physical transformations in its long history. It was enlarged around 1340, apparently because of its popularity as a place of pilgrimage and reported miracles. The shrine was smashed in 1538 by Henrician reformers, perhaps in consequence of Bishop Lee's visitation of 1536. In the 1620s, when it was described as a 'fair stone in the middle of the church', it served as the burial place for Bishop Downham, and in 1635 the base and part of the upper section were adapted to make a throne for the bishop. The shrine was restored in 1888 by Arthur Blomfield. The restoration returned earlier pieces of the shrine which had been used for the podium and canopy of the bishop's throne (in the quire) and in the west end of the nave.
The lower part of the present shrine contains a series of six niches. In pre-Reformation times, prayers were spoken by pilgrims while the petitioner knelt at the shrine with their head in a recess. The cavity served both as amplifier and filter, thus giving the petitioner’s voice dramatic and emotional emphasis: only modest vocal effort is required to produce a strong voice. Acoustical experiments have demonstrated that the shape of each recess is such that – with their head in shrine recess - the petitioner’s own speech is greatly enhanced over the entire range of human hearing, and there is also some "mysterious sounding reverberant halo" imparted to petitioner’s voice. It has been suggested that this resonant acoustical effect of the recesses is intentional.
The upper part of the shrine is decorated with statues of the royal houses of Mercia, Kent and others associated with St Werbergh. The statues each carry a scroll which should bear their names although many of these cannot be read. The earliest of the figures that remain is that of Creoda - whose existence is now disputed by some, but has been said to have been the first king of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, ruling toward the end of the 6th century. He was almost certainly a pagan. Bede wrote that Penda, the second figure as listed below, tolerated the preaching of Christianity in Mercia itself, despite his own beliefs. The most recent ruler among the figures that survive is Burgred who became king of Mercia in 852. In 865, the "Great Heathen Army" arrived, and, ollowing its successful campaigns against East Anglia and Northumbria it advanced through Mercia, arriving in Nottingham in 867. Burgred then appealed to his step-brothers King Ethelred of Wessex and Alfred for assistance against them. The armies of Wessex and Mercia did no serious fighting as Burgred paid them off. In 874 the march of the Vikings from Lindsey to Repton drove Burgred from his kingdom after they sacked Tamworth, the Mercian capital. He died in Rome about 874.
It is difficult to say when the shrine was constructed. The legend as preserved in the writings of two monks of Chester: Ranulph Higden's Polychronicon, of the mid 14th century and Henry Bradshaw's life of St. Werburgh, of the early 16th. have the body of St. Werburgh, daughter of Wulfhere, king of Mercia (657-74), carried to Chester in 874 from its resting place at Hanbury in Staffordshire by nuns fleeing from the Danes; the shrine was received into the mother church of Chester, dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul and founded 'soon after Lucius and afore Kynge Arthure'. The saint's remains, which were at Chester before the end of the 10th century, may have been acquired with Hanbury and its church, which belonged to St. Werburgh of Chester in 1066 but had been lost to Henry de Ferrers by 1086. Of the possible founders Æthelflaed, who, with her husband Ethelred, "restored" the city in 907, is the most likely, although there is no definite evidence of the existence of a church of canons dedicated to St. Werburgh at Chester before 958: in that year Edgar the Pacific, granted to the familia of St. Werburgh 17 hides of land in Hoseley (Flintshire). From stylistic considerations some have suggested that St. Werburgh's shrine were probably "completed" in the time of Abbot Thomas Birchills (1291-1323).
Several of the figures on the shrine are associated with Kent (there is a village in Kent named Hoo St Werburgh - so called from the dedication of the church). The "Kentish Royal Legend" is a diverse group of Medieval texts which describe a wide circle of members of the royal family of Kent from the 7th to 8th centuries AD (after which time Kent was directly ruled from Mercia for a while). Key elements include the descendents of Æthelberht of Kent over the next four generations; the establishment of various monasteries (most notably Minster-in-Thanet) and the lives of a number of Anglo-Saxon saints (including Werburgh) and the subsequent travels of their relics. Although it is described as a legend, and contains a number of implausible episodes, it is placed in a well attested historical context. What appesrs to be happening with the shrine is that the information in the "Kentish Royal Legend" is being combined with that of Mercian history and its list of rulers.
During the Middle Ages, the badge of a basket of geese was adopted as proof of having made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St Werburgh. Perhaps as well as sticking their heads in the alcoves the pilgrims could also hear an exposition of the history of the Mercians. However that may have had to be sanitised - in the early years of Coenwulf's reign he had to deal with a revolt in Kent, which had been under Offa's control. Eadberht Præn returned from exile in Francia to claim the Kentish throne, and Coenwulf was forced to wait for papal support before he could intervene. When Pope Leo agreed to anathematize Eadberht, Coenwulf invaded and retook the kingdom; according to one version Eadberht was taken prisoner, was blinded, and had his hands cut off (but Roger of Wendover states that he was set free by Coenwulf at some point as an act of clemency).
The figures, starting at the south-west corner and going clockwise, can somewhat tentatively be identified as follows:
- 1 Rex Crieda - Creoda son of Cynewald, grandson of Cnebba, great-grandson of Icel; a fourth-generation descendant of the first Angles in England, sources record him as having been the first ruler (584 - 593) of the Kingdom of Mercia.
- 2 Rex Penda - Penda - St Werbergh's grandfather and a pagan king of Mercia. He died in 655. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives his descent back to Woden as follows: "Penda was Pybba's offspring, Pybba was Cryda's offspring, Cryda Cynewald's offspring, Cynewald Cnebba's offspring, Cnebba Icel's offspring, Icel Eomer's offspring, Eomer Angeltheow's offspring, Angeltheow Offa's offspring, Offa Wermund's offspring, Wermund Wihtlaeg's offspring, Wihtlaeg Woden's offspring"
- 3 Rex Wolpherus - Wulfhere - St. Werbergh's father. King of Mercia from the end of the 650s until 675. He was the first Christian king of all of Mercia, although nothing is known of his conversion.
- 4 Rex Ceolredus - Ceolred of Mercia husband of the other St. Werburga (of Mercia) and King of Mercia. Ceolred had none of the Christian piety of his predecessors: his life was riotous and dissolute and he lost the respect and affection of his subjects. Said to have provided the original shrine for the bones of his cousin, St. Werburga of Chester. In AD 716, he was seized with madness and excruciating pains as he sat at a feast; he died shortly afterwards, blaspheming Christ and also the heathen gods. He may have been poisoned.
- FIGURE MISSING
- 5 ----------- (unidentified)
- 6 Rex Offa - Offa of Offa's Dyke, king of Mercia from 757 until his death in July 796.
- 7 Rex Egfertus - possibly Ecgfrith son of Offa who ruled for 141 days in the year 796.
- 8 ----------- (unidentified)
- 9 St. Kenelmus - Cynehelm an Anglo-Saxon saint, venerated throughout medieval England, and mentioned in the Canterbury Tales (the Nun's Priest's Tale. He was the son of Coenwulf (King of Mercia from December 796 to 821) and is believed to have died around 811.
- 10 St. Milburga - possibly Milburga of Wenlock (d.715) a daughter of Merewalh, King of the Mercian sub-kingdom of Magonsaete, and Saint Ermenburga. Saint Mildrith and Saint Mildgytha were sisters to Milburga. She is reputed to have had a mysterious power over birds.
- 11 Rex Beorna - possibly Beornred briefly King of Mercia in 757, following the murder of Æthelbald. However, he was defeated by Offa and fled.
- 12 Rex Colwlphus - is mentioned in one chronicle as being the successor of Cenelm. However this could also be Ceolwulf I of Mercia.
- 13 ----------- (unidentified)
- 14 St ------lda - possibly Werburgh's mother Saint Eormenhild, daughter of Ercombert, King of Kent, and his wife Saint Sexburga.
- 15 ---------us (unidentified)
- 16 Rex ------dus - possibly Æthelred I of Mercia - Werbergh's uncle. In 704, Æthelred abdicated to become a monk and abbot at Bardney, leaving the kingship to his nephew Coenred (like Coenred he carries a staff).
- 17 St -------rga - possibly Saint Saint Ermenburga, wife of Merewalh and mother of Mildred. She was the daughter of King Æthelberht of Kent.
- 18 ---------us - possibly Cœnred - brother of St. Werburgh. In 709 Coenred abdicated and went on pilgrimage to Rome, where he later died. The figure carries a staff, suggesting his journey and/or entry into a monastery.
- 19 ----------- (unidentified)
- 20 Baldredus - possibly Baldred of Kent: king of Kent, until 825, when he was expelled by Æthelwulf, son of King Egbert of Wessex.
- 21 Merwaldus - Merewalh a sub-king of the Wreocensæte. The name Merewalh signifies "Famous Foreigner" or "Celebrated Welshman". He converted to Christianity in about 660, founding Leominster Priory. He is believed to be Werbergh's uncle.
- 22 Rex Wiglaff - Wiglaf of Mercia: king of Mercia from 827 to 829 and again from 830 until his death.
- 23 Rex Bertwulph - Beorhtwulf: King of the Mercians from 839 or 840 to 852.
- 24 Rex Burghredus - Burgred king of Mercia (852 - 874). In 868 he appealed to Ethelred of Wessex and his brother, Alfred the Great, for assistance against the Danes. In 874 the Danes drove Burgred from his kingdom. Burgred retired to Rome and died there. He was buried, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, "in the church of Sancta Maria, in the school of the English nation" in Rome.
- 25 ----------- (unidentified)
(POSSIBLY TWO FIGURES MISSING?)
- 26 St -------- - believed to be Æðelþryð. The common version of her name was St. Awdrey, which is the origin of the word tawdry. Her admirers bought modestly concealing lace goods at an annual fair held in her name in Ely. As years passed, this lacework came to be seen as old-fashioned or cheap and poor quality goods.
- 27 ---------- (unidentified)
- 28 ---------- (unidentified)
- 29 Rex Ethelbertus - possibly Æthelberht of Kent (c. 560 – 24 February 616) king of Kent from about 580 or 590 until his death. Bede lists Aethelberht as the third king to hold imperium over other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. He was the first English king to convert to Christianity.
- 30 St Mildreda - Mildrith - (floruit 694–716) daughter of King Merewalh and Ermenburga.
It has been suggested that the figures originally numbered 40.
The rulers of Mercia in the correct order are given below with the statues numbered accordingly. There is a rough sequence but many of the figures are not in the "correct" order.
- (2) Penda c.626-655 (killed in battle)
- Eowa c.635-642 (killed in battle)
- Peada c.653-656 (murdered)
- (3) Wulfhere 658-675
- (16) Æthelred I 675-704 (retired to monastery)
- (18) Cœnred 704-709 (retired to monastery)
- (4) Ceolred 709-716 (poisoned - or went mad)
- Ceolwald 716 (may not have existed)
- Æthelbald 716-757 (murdered)
- (11) Beornred 757 (possibly burnt to death in 769 in Northumbria)
- (6) Offa 757-796
- (7) Ecgfrith July-December 796 (died "suddenly")
- (12) Cœnwulf 796-821 (died at Basingwerk near Holywell)
- (9) Cynehelm c.798-812 (murdered)
- Ceolwulf I 821-823 (deposed by Beornwulf)
- Beornwulf 823-826 (killed in battle)
- Ludeca 826-827 (killed in battle)
- (22) Wiglaf (1st reign) 827-829 (deposed)
- (Ecgberht of Wessex 829-830)
- (22) Wiglaf (2nd reign) 830-839
- Wigmund c.839-c.840
- Wigstan 840 (murdered)
- Ælfflæd (Queen) 840
- (23) Beorhtwulf 840-852
- (24) Burgred 852-874 (fled to Rome)
Sources and Links
The monks and their writings
Anselm of Bec (born c.1033 - died 21 April, 1109); Robert of Chester, around 1150; translated "Liber algebrae et almucabala" Al-Khwārizmī's book about algebra:(latin version with partial translation); Lucian his Of the Praise of Chester was written around 1195; (anyone have an on-line source for this?); Ranulf Higden (c. 1280 - c. 1363) - the text of the Polychronicon with notes and translations; Henry Bradshaw (c. 1450 - 1513); The Life of Saint Werburge of Chester - translation and commentary Annales Cestriensis the chronicle of Chester Abbey;
Official Web Site: chestercathedral.com (also see: forthcoming events);
- Doc Brown on the Cathedral;
A very good description of Chester Cathedral on Wikipedia; The Chester Virtual Stroll's Cathedral pages are frequently updated with new and interesting details; Chester cathedral on the Chester Tourist site. Very many clear photos of the details of the cathedral. Chester cathedral at Time Travel Britain; Visit Chester the video guide Visit Chester_the video guide; The webpage of the Cathedral Choir; Chester cathedral Nave Choir; The cathedral on Chester 360; Photos of the cathedral on Flickr; Photos on Tabblo; Details of the organ at the National Pipe Organ Register; Listed Building details.
Other Sources (see Chester Books for more)
Charles Hiatt: The cathedral church of Chester : a description of the fabric and a brief history of the episcopal see (1905). Detailed, but dated; John Derby (1898) Chester cathedral; Father Rudolph: The Monks of Old Chester (1907) : not a very useful source, but included for historical interest; Rupert Morris: Chester (1895); Elizabeth Baldwin: dramatic records of the city of Chester and the county of Cheshire, England up to and including 1642; Elizabeth Baldwin: dramatic records of the city of Chester and the county of Cheshire, 1642-5; Edward Harrison (1916) Watercolours - including several of the cathedral; Rimmer Howson (1872): Chester as it was; The Chester Plays (1892); British History online as regards the Benedictine Abbey in Chester - very detailed; British History online as regards the Cathedral in Chester - very detailed;