Chichester Cathedral, West Sussex

For over 900 years, worship has taken place at the great Norman cathedral in Chichester. However, the beginnings of this religious house date back to 681 when an exiled Bishop of York was granted land to build a cathedral in Selsey, some 10 miles away. After the Norman Conquest, the see was removed to the old Roman town where a church already existed, and work commenced on the present cathedral in 1091, incorporating the church of St Peter in Chichester.

Chichester Cathedral became renowned as a place of pilgrimage following the canonisation of Richard of Wych (St Richard of Chichester) in the middle of the 13th century. A suitable shrine was erected in 1276 in the retro-quire, and this attracted thousands of pilgrims. Today, St Richard is remembered by a familiar prayer dedicated to his Christianity, and although his shrine was destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII, an altar placed at the original site still attracts many visitors.

Chichester Cathedral, in common with many of the medieval cathedrals, has suffered disaster, despoliation and some destruction over the troubled centuries. Even as early as 1114 - only 23 years after building started - a fire severely hindered the work, and a further fire in 1187 destroyed the wooden roof and much of the east end. During the 17th century, the north west tower collapsed, and much internal destruction was caused by the Parliamentarians, in the aftermath of the Civil War. Although these events were terrible and, in many instances, caused irreparable damage, the more positive outcome has seen some splendid rebuilding and restoration programmes using a variety of styles and materials of the different periods.

A few of the wonderful features worth a second look are the cloisters, the detached bell tower, and the famous landmark spire (rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century, and restored again in the 19th century by Sir George Gilbert Scott after it fell). Inside, there are so many treasures to explore, it is impossible to detail them all, but something I particularly enjoyed were the Romanesque carved panels, dating from c1125, depicting Biblical scenes, and the fragment of Roman mosaic floor to be seen in the south quire aisle.

Apart from the vast collection of early carvings, statues, pictures and other artefacts, Chichester Cathedral also houses many modern features in the form of tapestries, paintings, sculptures and stained glass. An interesting contrast that obviously appeals to the general public but, I have to say, not to me personally. Nonetheless, it is a delightful cathedral which has tried to embrace both the past and the present, in the face of our ever-changing society.


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