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History of the Cathedral

Cathedral Architecture
Cathedral Internal Image of the Collapsed Spire
Cathedral Internal Image of the Collapsed Spire

The building of the new cathedral, in the centre of the Roman former town, began in around 1076 under Bishop Stigand who had been the last Bishop of Selsey.  Construction continued into the twelfth century, and by 1108 Bishop Ralph Luffa was able to dedicate the building. Following a fire in 1114, Bishop Luffa restored the building and extended it westwards. A further fire in 1187 completely destroyed the timber roof and caused extensive damage to the arcade stonework. 

Restoration included the introduction of stone vaulting, supported on the inside by stone shafts from floor to ceiling and the addition of Purbeck marble shafts at ground and clerestory level: externally, flying buttresses were added. At this time, the retro-choir was completely restyled, squaring off the previously apsidal east end, and introducing the use of pointed arches into the triforium and clerestory. Also in the retro-choir, composite columns of Purbeck marble were substituted for the Norman stone piers.   

During the thirteenth century, chapels were added to the nave aisles forming an unusual architectural feature, and making Chichester one of the widest English cathedrals. One of the most important events in the cathedral's history took place in 1262 when Bishop Richard, who had died only nine years earlier a was canonized by Pope Urban lV. This event was followed in 1276 by the translation of his body from its original burial place in the chapel of St Thomas and St Edmund, to a shrine in the retro-choir, which became an important centre for pilgrimage right up to the Reformation. The fourteenth century saw the completion of the extension of the Lady Chapel containing windows in the 'decorated' style. In 1315, Bishop John Langton completely rebuilt the south wall of the south transept creating a large seven light window with elaborate tracery around a curvilinear triangle. The Canon's vestry was also built around this time, and the Song School was added immediately overhead, about one hundred years later.  

During the fifteenth century, important features were added to the cathedral which greatly altered its external appearance: the cloisters, enclosing the south transept; the detached bell-tower, the only one of its kind remaining in England and, which today houses a peel of eight bells; and the spire, so greatly admired by Pesvner - the 'spire and countryside form an equation or a symbol experienced by millions of people every year, which cannot be given a value purely in terms of landscape or architecture'. Bishop Robert Sherburne was an important influence on Chichester in the early years of the sixteenth century. He introduced measures to improve the effectiveness of the clergy and the ability of the choir to perform the daily offices. He also carried out extensive building work in the Close and adorned the cathedral with the paintings of Lambert Barnard.  

The Reformation brought considerable destruction to the cathedral. Brasses were removed from memorials and many stone figures and carvings defaced. The shrine of St Richard was totally destroyed and it was probably at this time that Chichester lost its medieval stained glass. Further damage to the cathedral and its contents, notably the library, took place at the hands of Parliamentary troops when they took possession of the city at the end of 1642. Following what must be described as many years of neglect, the restoration of the cathedral was started in earnest by Dean George Chandler during the 1840s. His successor, Dean Walter Farquar Hook, had to deal with a major set back to the restoration programme when the spire collapsed in 1861: the spire we see today is Sir George Gilbert Scott's restoration. During the past thirty years, a great deal has been done to ensure that the structure of the cathedral is in good order. The interior stonework has recently been thoroughly cleaned, the ceilings restored and their beauty enhanced by the installation of up-lighting, a gift by the Friends of the cathedral. However, important restoration work remains to be carried out.

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