Blackburn Cathedral

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Blackburn Cathedral
Cathedral Church of
St Mary the Virgin with St Paul
Blackburn Cathedral from the northwest 2.jpg
The Cathedral from the west
Location map United Kingdom Blackburn central.svg
Red pog.svg
Blackburn Cathedral
Shown within Blackburn town centre
53°44′50″N2°28′53″W / 53.7473°N 2.4813°W / 53.7473; -2.4813 Coordinates: 53°44′50″N2°28′53″W / 53.7473°N 2.4813°W / 53.7473; -2.4813
LocationBlackburn, Lancashire
CountryUnited Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Consecrated 1977
  • John Palmer
  • W.A. Forsyth
  • Laurence King
Style Gothic Revival
Years built1820–1967
Province York
Diocese Blackburn (since 1926)
Bishop(s) Julian Henderson
Dean Peter Howell-Jones
Canon Missioner [Rowena Pailing (Vice Dean)
Director of music John Robinson
Organist(s) John Hosking (Organist in Residence)
Listed Building – Grade II*
Official nameCathedral Church of St Mary the Virgin
Designated28 November 1951
Reference no. 1239147

Blackburn Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral Church of Blackburn Saint Mary the Virgin with St Paul, is an Anglican (Church of England) cathedral situated in the heart of Blackburn town centre, in Lancashire, England. The cathedral site has been home to a church for over a thousand years and the first stone church was built there in Norman times.



With the creation of the Diocese of Blackburn in 1926 (taken from the Diocese of Manchester), the impressive parish church of St Mary the Virgin was raised to cathedral status. The church, which was built in 1826 and designed by architect John Palmer, now forms the cathedral's nave. It replaced the parish church that was demolished in 1819–1820. [1]

In the early 1930s, fundraising began to enlarge the cathedral so that the building complemented its newfound importance. By 1938, enough money had been raised and work began on enlarging the new cathedral. Although work was interrupted by the war, it was resumed afterwards and continued through the 1950s and into the early 1960s. After the death of architect W.A. Forsyth in 1950, architect Laurence King joined the project and designed the distinctive lantern tower. The lantern tower, which consists of 56 different panes of coloured glass, with a modernist slender aluminium spire, was completed in 1967.

The cathedral was finally completed in 1977 and what had been built over the past decades was finally consecrated as Blackburn Cathedral that year. [2]

The north transept contains eight misericords dating from the 15th century. It is not known at what time they arrived at the cathedral, but they are believed to have originated at Whalley Abbey. This could mean that they were removed to a builder's yard after the Dissolution, but with the cathedral not being built until the 19th century, this allows for the possibility that they had lain unused for some 300 years.

On 17 April 2014, the cathedral hosted the Royal Maundy service. In keeping with tradition, Elizabeth II handed out Maundy money to 88 men and 88 women. It was the Queen's first visit to the cathedral. [3]

Dean and chapter

The exterior, with the rebuilt lantern tower and distinctive aluminium spire Blackburn Cathedral 2.jpg
The exterior, with the rebuilt lantern tower and distinctive aluminium spire

As of 30 November 2020: [4]


The organist and director of music is John Robinson [7] and the organist in residence is John Hosking. [8]


The cathedral has seven choirs — Cathedral Choir of Boys and Men, Girls, Children's, Lantern Voices, YPC (Young Peoples' Choir), Renaissance Singers (Formally the Bach Choir) and Cathedral Consort (alternate Thursday Evensongs). On Sundays the Parish Communion is sung by the YPC and the Eucharist and Evensong by the Cathedral Choir.


A scheme for an organ in the west gallery was submitted by John Gray and partner Frederick Davison, two years before the consecration of the new church. The organ was opened on 28 February 1828 with a concert which included works by Handel - extracts from his Messiah and Israel in Egypt and his Occasional Overture played by the new organist Joseph John Harris. [9] Blackburn Cathedral has a world-class organ, built by JW Walker and rebuilt by Wood of Huddersfield. This is not only showcased to great effect through its use as an inspirational liturgical instrument, but also through the many recordings that have been made and in the regular lunchtime concerts and organ meditations that have taken place throughout the year. [10]


Since 2019 the organist and director of music has been John Robinson. Previous organists have included Henry Smart, Richard Henry Coleman, Charles Hylton Stewart, Herman Brearley, Thomas Lucas Duerden, John Bertalot, David Anthony Cooper, Gordon Stewart and Richard Tanner. The organist in residence (since 2022) is John Hosking.


The first mention of bells in the old parish church was in 1552 when the vicar and churchwardens purchased five bells from the Royal Commissioners for £26-12-1. A new peal of six bells was cast in 1737 from the metal of the existing bells and it was this ring of six that was moved over to the west tower of the new church in 1832. Four bells were added during 1851–52 to form a ring of ten.

In 1949, while extension work was being carried out in the cathedral, the current ring of ten bells was installed. All ten bells were cast by John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough. The tenor bell weighs 25-1-14 (1,289 kg) is tuned to D and has a diameter of 52 inches (1.32 metres). [11]

Recent developments

In 1998 the lantern tower underwent restoration, being rebuilt in natural stone. The original 1960s tower had been constructed in concrete. The windows were also replaced.

Further work was carried out in 2000–01 to re-build the east end roofs and parapets and blend them into the existing structures. Upon completion of this work, the cathedral was finally deemed to be finished after over 70 years of construction.

As well as this rebuilding, a new piece of art was commissioned for the exterior of the building. The sculpture by Mark Jalland, The Healing of The Nations, measuring 35 by 26 feet (10.7 m × 7.9 m), is an abstract steel and copper circular piece containing thousands of interwoven fibre optics that create ever-changing patterns of light at night. It is deemed by many to be one of the most innovative pieces of modern sculpture at any English cathedral.

In 2009 the flagpole on the tower was renewed and topped with an ornate bishop's mitre finial, painted and gilded in gold leaf by Mark Bridges of Sussex and bearing the Lancashire Rose emblem. [12]

The cathedral still forms an important part of the community. It is open to visitors and has a gift shop and café as well as hosting numerous events. In February 2011, the cathedral exhibited the Quaker Tapestry from Kendal. [13]

In 2021, the crypt of Blackburn Cathedral was used as a major public vaccination centre against COVID-19. [14]

See also

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  1. Hartley, Gordon (29 January 2019). "Tracing the history of long-lost market cross". Lancashire Telegraph. p. 22.
  2. "Blackburn Cathedral | Scala". Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  3. "Maundy Thursday: Queen hands out money at Blackburn Cathedral - BBC News". BBC News. 17 April 2014. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  4. Blackburn Cathedral — Who's Who (Accessed 30 November 2020)
  5. [ dead link ]
  6. "Clergy Moves and News". Diocese of Blackburn. 27 September 2022. Archived from the original on 28 September 2022. Retrieved 28 September 2022.
  7. "Director of Music". Archived from the original on 9 July 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  8. "Shaun Turnbull". Archived from the original on 8 July 2015. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  9. John Bertalot and Richard Tanner. "The Organs of Blackburn Cathedral" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 February 2014. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  10. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 March 2017. Retrieved 11 March 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. Central Council Publications. Retrieved 25 December 2022.
  12. "New ornate mitre tops off tower at Blackburn Cathedral" at
  13. "Quaker Tapestry Exhibition at". Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  14. "Home | Lancashire Evening Post".

Further reading

Canon Chris Chivers. Blackburn Cathedral. Scala Arts Publishers. ISBN   978-1-85759-645-8.