A History of Chichester Cathedral


The Nave of Chichester Cathedral, looking West
The Nave of Chichester Cathedral, looking West

Chichester Cathedral (formally known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity) embraces nearly 1000 years of history and is located in the formally Roman town of Chichester, West Sussex.

Located just off the A27, the cathedral is in the center of the town, close to the Chichester Cross, which marks the intersection of the original Roman streets.

It is also reachable from London by train, direct from London Victoria station, duration ca. 1.5 hours.

Chichester Cathedral from St. Richard's walk
Chichester Cathedral from St. Richard’s walk

The architecture of Chichester is varied, there are clear reminders of the Norman cathedral with Romanesque arches, which sit alongside later Gothic work.

There are different Gothic styles from the late 12th century through to the 15th century that can be spotted.

7th – 12th Century

Originally, the seat of the Bishop of Chichester was located 10 miles away in the town of Selsey, and was Saxon in origin, founded in 681 by St. Wilfrid.

The West Front of Chichester Cathedral
The West Front of Chichester Cathedral

There is little known about this period, but we do know that in 1075, a council made the decision to move the See to Chichester which was more populous.

According to the chronicler William of Malmesbury, there had already existed an ancient minster on the Chichester site dedicated to St. Peter.

The present cathedral was begun in 1076 by the first Norman Bishop Stigand, and was consecrated by Bishop Ralph Luffa in 1108.

The Quire at Chichester, looking West

It is to he that we owe the majority of the current building.

The cathedral was extended westwards in 1114 after a fire, and in 1187, a second fire tore through the town of Chichester and heavily damaged the cathedral.

The roof of the Nave had been made of wood, and the fire resulted in a reconstruction project, and to the current stone vault that we see today.

The cathedral was reconsecrated in 1199.

13th – 15th Century

By the 13th century, the central tower and eastern end were complete, including the Lady chapel.

Side Aisle of Chichester Cathedral
Side Aisle of Chichester Cathedral

The 13th century also saw the completion of additional chapels on either side of the Nave which formed double aisles, common in French cathedrals. This meant that Chichester became one of the widest cathedrals in England.

In 1262, Richard de la Wyche who was the Bishop of Chichester between 1245 – 1253 was canonised by Pope Urban IV.

Romanesque arches at the West End
Romanesque arches at the West End

His body was translated to a shrine in the Retro Choir in 1276 by the Archbishop Kilwardby in the presence of King Edward I.

This lead to the shrine becoming a popular place of pilgrimage.

The Lady Chapel was extended in the 14th Century, and the south wall of the south transept was redesigned to include the 7 windows we see today.

The 14th century also saw construction of the spire, and it was repaired by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century,

An entrance into the Cloisters, Chichester
An entrance into the Cloisters, Chichester

Unfortunately it collapsed in 1861, but was immediately rebuilt by George Gilbert Scott. It rises a total height of 269 feet.

The Cloisters were added in the 15th century, along with an external bell tower.

An Arundel Tomb

The Arundel tomb
The Arundel tomb

In the North side ailse of the Nave lies the tomb of Richard FitzAlan, the 10th Earl of Arundel.

His effigy lies next to that of his second wife’s – Eleanor of Lancaster.

Arundel Tomb
Arundel Tomb

Richard was a key figure in 14th century England and was one of the trusted advisers of Edward the Black Prince, son of King Edward III. He fought in the Scottish wars (during the Second Wars of Scottish Independence) and in France (during the Hundred Years’ War)

In 1337, he was made joint commander of the English army in the North.

It is a touching memorial as husband and wife are depicted holding hands which is quite unusual. It is also the subject of a poem by Philip Larkin, An Arundel Tomb

16th Century to present

The High Altar, Chichester
The High Altar, Chichester

The reformation of the church under King Henry VIII affected the cathedral greatly, with many monuments and carvings defaced. The shrine of St. Richard was destroyed, and it is thought this is when the cathedral lost it’s medieval stained glass.

The 17th century saw the civil war and the cathedral suffered further under Parliamentary troops.

Thankfully, after centuries of neglect, a restoration was begun by Dean George Chandler in the 1840s.

In closing

Chichester is a wonderful place to see many different centuries of influence on cathedral architecture. I was also impressed by the Roman history, and you can see a Roman mosaic under the floor of the cathedral through a glass window. There is a lot of art in the cathedral as well, and Norman carvings remain.

If you would like to see more photo’s from my visit to Chichester, please visit my flickr
Chichester Cathedral from the North West
Chichester Cathedral from the North West
Chichester Cathedral Website
British History – History of Chichester Cathedral
Wikipedia – Chichester Cathedral
Find a Grave – Richard FitzAlan
Sacred Destinations.com – Chichester Cathedral

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