The Early years and Construction of Peterborough Cathedral

The West Front of Peterborough Cathedral


The Nave and South Transept, as seen from the Cloisters
The Nave and South Transept, as seen from the site of the Cloisters

Peterborough Cathedral (full name Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew) is a mostly Norman cathedral built in the 12th century, with Anglo Saxon roots.

It is located in the heart of the city of Peterborough, approximately 85 miles from London on the A1, or is reachable by train from Kings Cross, London.

It is on the main line North to Edinburgh from London.

Foundation of the Monastery – Pre 12th Century

The Nave of Peterborough Cathedral
The Nave of Peterborough Cathedral

Religious worship dates back some 1360 years to the Anglo Saxon monastery of Medeshamstede, named for the nearby meadows of the River Nen.

It was founded around 655 AD by a well connected Monk named Saxulf, later Bishop of Mercia in the reign of King Peada, King of Mersia.

The Hedda Stone is on display in the current cathedral, it is one of the few surviving carvings from the first church on the site.

Saxulf’s monastery carried on until around 870 when it was destroyed by the Danes. They ruthlessly decimated the monastery, killing all but one of the monks and the fire that resulted burned for 15 days obliterating everything.

For nearly a century, the monastery laid in ruins until Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester set about it’s restoration. He founded a Benedictine Abbey around 966, dedicated to St. Peter.

The Choir, towards the High Altar
The Choir, towards the High Altar

12th – 14th Century

Looking towards the West from the site of the Cloisters
Looking towards the West from the site of the Cloisters

The Norman conquest met opposition at Peterborough from Hereward the Wake, a local hero who rebelled against the Normans.

The resistance resulted in a huge fire being set, with all of the buildings associated with the Abbey destroyed, but the Abbey Church was unaffected.

However in 1116 there was a second devastating fire that resulted in wide destruction of the monastery.

The ceiling of the Nave, complete by 1250

The current church construction began in March, 1118 by Abbot John de Sais.

Building work began with the construction of the Choir, followed by the Nave between 1118 and 1155.

The magnificent early English Gothic West Front which was completed by 1230. It is unique in England, with it’s 3 glorious arches.

The cathedral was consecrated in 1238 by the Bishop of Lincoln Robert Grosseteste.

The ceiling of the Nave was completed between 1230 and 1250 and is the only one in Britain of this age. It has been repainted twice in it’s life, but still retains the style of the original painting.

The West Front, complete by 1230
How often can you gaze upon a 765 year old ceiling?

The Lady Chapel was completed by 1286, and the cathedral was almost the same as it is today by 1375 when the Tower and Galilee Porch were completed, the Porch being added to support the Early Gothic English West Front.

The room within the Porch is used as a library.

During the rule of the Abbot Adam de Boothby, the Abbey hosted the royal family on up to 6 occasions, at great cost.

King Edward III, along his mother, sisters and Court spent Easter at the abbey in 1332, staying for a total of 10 days.

The North Transcept
The North Transept

This cost the Abbey ca. £487, a unbelievable ca. £218,000 in today’s money!

As of much of England, the Abbey was hit by the Black Death in 1349 – 1350 and it was affected terribly, with at least half of the Monks dying of the plague.

By the early 16th century, the building was complete with the East End the final part to be completed with it’s wonderful fan vaulted ceiling.

It designed by the Master Mason John Wastell who gave us the magnificient ceiling in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

‘New Building’, dating to 1508 with glorious fan vaulting

Next post – Tudor Connections at Peterborough Cathedral – Katharine of Aragon

If you are keen to see more photos of my visits to Peterborough Cathedral, please visit my flickr

Wikipedia – Peterborough Cathedral
Peterborough Cathedral website – The Abbey of Peterborough – Peterborough Cathedral – Peterborough Cathedral – Peterborough
National Archives Currency Converter

5 thoughts on “The Early years and Construction of Peterborough Cathedral

  1. I fell in love with this cathedral the minute I saw it. The three aisles were unique to me and the ceilings were fantastic. I was in search of the grave of Katherine of Aragon and prior grave of Mary Queen of Scots and was so pleased to see them. Very nice article Lady Julia. Looking forward to the Tudor connections.

    1. Thank you for the nice comment Susan! It is one of my favourite cathedrals, I love Norman architecture and clearly remember my first visit, made a beeline for Katherine as she is my fav wife of Henry 🙂

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