Lichfield Cathedral

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Lichfield Cathedral
Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Chad
Lichfield Cathedral 2010-10-13.jpg
The West Front of Lichfield Cathedral
Staffordshire UK location map.svg
Red pog.svg
Lichfield Cathedral
Shown within Staffordshire
52°41′08″N1°49′50″W / 52.6855°N 1.8305°W / 52.6855; -1.8305 Coordinates: 52°41′08″N1°49′50″W / 52.6855°N 1.8305°W / 52.6855; -1.8305
LocationLichfield, Staffordshire
Denomination Church of England
Previous denomination Roman Catholic
Tradition High church
Functional statusCathedral
Style Gothic
Years builtc.1195–1340
Length113 m (371 ft)
Nave width21 m (69 ft)
Width across transepts50 m (160 ft)
Height76.8 m (252 ft) (central spire)
Number of towers 3
Number of spires 3
Spire height76.8 m (252 ft) (crossing), 60.5 m (198 ft) (western)
Province Canterbury
Diocese Lichfield (since 787–1075, c.1200–)
Bishop(s) Michael Ipgrave
Dean Adrian Dorber
Precentor Andrew Stead
Canon Chancellor Gregory Platten
Canon(s) Jan McFarlane (Custos)
Canon Treasurer vacant
Director of music Ben Lamb
Organist(s) Martyn Rawles

Lichfield Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England, one of only three cathedrals in the United Kingdom with three spires (together with Truro Cathedral and St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh), and the only medieval one of the three. It is the cathedral of the Diocese of Lichfield, which covers Staffordshire, much of Shropshire, and parts of the Black Country and West Midlands. It is the seat of the Bishop of Lichfield, currently Michael Ipgrave, who was appointed in 2016. It is a Grade I listed building. [1]



The cathedral is dedicated to St Chad and Saint Mary. Its internal length is 113 m (371 ft), and the breadth of the nave is 21 m (69 ft). The central spire is 77 m (253 ft) high and the western spires are about 58 m (190 ft). The stone is sandstone and came from a quarry on the south side of Lichfield. The walls of the nave lean outwards slightly, due to the weight of stone used in the ceiling vaulting; some 200–300 tons of which was removed during renovation work to prevent the walls leaning further. [2]

Lichfield suffered severe damage during the English Civil War in which all of the stained glass was destroyed. In spite of this the windows of the Lady Chapel contain some of the finest medieval Flemish painted glass in existence. Dating from the 1530s it came from the Abbey of Herkenrode in Belgium, in 1801, having been purchased by Brooke Boothby when that abbey was dissolved during the Napoleonic Wars. It was sold on to the cathedral for the same price. There are also some fine windows by Betton and Evans (1819), and many fine late 19th century windows, particularly those by Charles Eamer Kempe. [2]

The Lichfield Gospels, also known as the Book of Chad, are the gospels of Matthew and Mark, and the early part of Luke, written mainly in Latin with some text in early Welsh and dating from around 730. There were originally two volumes but one went missing around the time of the English Civil War. It is closely related in style to the Lindisfarne Gospels. [3] The manuscript is on display in the Chapter House from Easter to Christmas.

The Cathedral Close is one of the most complete in the country and includes a medieval courtyard which once housed the men of the choir. The three spires are often referred to as the "Ladies of the Vale".

History of the cathedral

Early history and elevation to Archbishopric

When Chad was made Bishop of Mercia in 669, he moved his see from Repton to Lichfield, possibly because this was already a holy site, as the scene of martyrdoms during the Roman period. The first cathedral to be built on the present site was in 700, when Bishop Headda built a new church to house the bones of St Chad, which had become a sacred shrine to many pilgrims when he died in 672. Offa, King of Mercia, seemed to resent his own bishops paying allegiance to the Archbishop of Canterbury in Kent who, whilst under Offa's control, was not of his own kingdom of Mercia. Offa therefore created his own archbishopric in Lichfield, who presided over all the bishops from the Humber to the Thames. All this began in 786, with the consent of Pope Adrian. The Pope's official representatives were received warmly by Offa and were present at the Council of Chelsea (787), often called 'the contentious synod', where it was proposed that the Archbishopric of Canterbury be restricted in order to make way for Offa's new archbishop. It was vehemently opposed, but Offa and the papal representatives defeated Archbishop Jaenbert, installing Higbert as the new Archbishop of Lichfield. Pope Adrian sent Higbert the pallium, denoting his support for this move. In gratitude, Offa promised to send an annual shipment of gold to the pope for alms and supplying the lights in St. Peter's church in Rome. However, The Archbishopric of Lichfield lasted for only 16 years, ending soon after Offa's death, when it was restored to Archbishop Aethelheard of Canterbury. [4]

Starting in 1085 and continuing through the twelfth century the original wooden Saxon church was replaced by a Norman cathedral made from stone, and this was in turn replaced by the present Gothic cathedral begun in 1195. It was completed by the building of the Lady Chapel in the 1330s. The Choir dates from 1200, the Transepts from 1220 to 1240 and the Nave was started in 1260. The octagonal Chapter House, which was completed in 1249 and is one of the most beautiful parts of the cathedral with some charming stone carvings, houses an exhibition of the cathedral's greatest treasure, the Lichfield Gospels, an 8th-century illuminated manuscript. [4]

Devastation of the English Civil War

There were three great sieges of Lichfield during the period 1643–1646 as the cathedral close was surrounded by a ditch and defensive walls, which made it a natural fortress. The cathedral authorities with a certain following were for Charles I, but the townsfolk generally sided with Parliament, and this led to the fortification of the close in 1643. Robert Greville, 2nd Baron Brooke, led an assault against it, but was killed by a deflected bullet from John Dyott (known as 'dumb' because he was a deaf mute) who along with his brother Richard Dyott had taken up a position on the battlements of the central cathedral spire on 2 March 1643.[ citation needed ] Brooke's deputy John Gell, took over the siege. [5] The Royalist garrison surrendered to Gell two days later. [4]

In April of the same year (1643) Prince Rupert led an Royalist expeditionary force from Oxford to recapture Lichfield. [5] The siege started on 8 April. During the second assault Rupert's engineers detonated what is thought to be the first explosive mine to be used in England to breach the defences. Unable to defend the Close, Colonel Russell, the parliamentary commander of the garrison, surrendered on terms to Rupert on 21 April. [6]

The cathedral suffered extensive damage: the central spire was demolished, the roofs ruined and all the stained glass smashed. Bishop Hacket began the restoration of the cathedral in the 1660s, aided by substantial funds donated by the restored monarch, but it was not until the 19th century that the damage caused by the Civil War was fully repaired. Up until the 19th century, on top of an ornamented gable, between the two spires, stood a colossal figure of Charles II, by William Wilson. Today it stands just outside the south doors. [4]

Victorian restoration

Although the 18th century was a golden age for the City of Lichfield, it was a period of decay for the cathedral. The 15th-century library, on the north side of the nave, was pulled down and the books moved to their present location above the Chapter House. Most of the statues on the west front were removed and the stonework covered with Roman cement. At the end of the century James Wyatt organised some major structural work, removing the High Altar to make one worship area of Choir and Lady Chapel and adding a massive stone screen at the entrance to the Choir. [2] Francis Eginton painted the east window and was commissioned by the chapter to do other work in the cathedral.

The ornate west front was extensively renovated in the Victorian era by George Gilbert Scott. [4] It includes a remarkable number of ornate carved figures of kings, queens and saints, working with original materials where possible and creating fine new imitations and additions when the originals were not available. Between 1877 and 1884 the empty niches on the west front were given new statues, most carved by Robert Bridgeman of Lichfield: the statue of Queen Victoria on the north side of the central window was carved by her daughter, Princess Louise. [2]

Wyatt's choir-screen had utilised medieval stone-work which Scott in turn used to create the clergy's seats in the sanctuary. The new metal screen by Francis Skidmore and John Birnie Philip to designs by Scott himself is a triumph of High Victorian art, as are the fine Mintons tiles in the choir, inspired by the medieval ones found in the Choir foundations and still seen in the Library. [4]

Lichfield Angel

The Lichfield Angel carving Lichfield Angel 2011-06008.jpg
The Lichfield Angel carving

In February 2003, an eighth-century sculpted panel of the Archangel Gabriel was discovered under the nave of the cathedral. The 600mm tall panel is carved from limestone, and originally was part of a stone chest, which is thought to have contained the relics of St Chad. The panel was broken into three parts but was still otherwise intact and had traces of red pigment from the period. The pigments on the Lichfield Angel correspond closely to those of the Lichfield Gospels which have been dated to around 730AD. The Angel was first unveiled to the public in 2006, when visitor numbers to the cathedral trebled. After being taken to Birmingham for eighteen months for examination, it is now exhibited in the cathedral. [7]

COVID-19 pandemic

On Friday 15 January 2021, while closed to services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lichfield Cathedral became the first place of worship in England to accommodate the vaccination programme in the United Kingdom. [8] [9]

Shrine of St Chad

On the 7 and 8 November 2022 a new shrine to St Chad was consecrated and a relic of the saint was translated from St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, at two separate services. [10]

Dean and chapter

As of 7 December 2020: [11]

The additional role of Vice Dean has been vacant since Anthony Moore's resignation in 2017.

Lay Chapter


Lichfield Cathedral Organ Lichfield Cathedral Organ, Staffordshire, UK - Diliff.jpg
Lichfield Cathedral Organ


Notable organists of Lichfield Cathedral include the 17th-century composer Michael East, and the musical educator and choral conductor William Henry Harris who conducted at the coronations of both Elizabeth II and George VI

Priest Vicars Choral

Lay Vicars Choral and Choristers

The Choir has eight Lay Vicars Choral on staff and in 2021 reduced the full time equivalents from 9 to 6. In the front rows Lichfield has 18 boy Choristers and up to 18 girl Choristers. [14]


See also


  1. Historic England. "Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Chad (1298431)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 13 June 2021.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Lichfield: The cathedral Pages 47–57 A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990". British History Online.
  3. Hawkes, Ross (9 July 2010). "American experts help record Lichfield Cathedral's St Chad Gospels". Archived from the original on 11 October 2019. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Lichfield Cathedral: Our history". Lichfield Cathedral. Archived from the original on 22 February 2017. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  5. 1 2 Willis-Bund 1905, pp. 83–84.
  6. Willis-Bund 1905, pp. 80–90.
  7. Wilcox, Peter (2011). The Gold, the Angel and the Gospel Book. Lichfield Cathedral. pp. 16–17. ISBN   978-0-9558887-7-9.
  8. "Covid-19: Lichfield Cathedral turned into vaccination centre". BBC News. 15 January 2021. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  9. Morris, Steven (16 January 2021). "Covid vaccine jabs accompanied by organ music at Salisbury Cathedral". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 January 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. "The Reinstatement of the Shrine of St Chad". Lichfield Cathedral. 10 November 2022. Retrieved 30 November 2022.
  11. "Who's Who". 7 December 2020. Archived from the original on 2 January 2020. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  12. @BpJanMc (3 April 2020). "Thanks to modern technology I am now officially commissioned as Canon Custos @LichfieldCath and Assistant Bishop…" (Tweet) via Twitter.
  13. "Collationa and Installation of Canon Chancellor and Canon Custos | Welcoming Revd Dr Gregory Platten and art Revd Jan McFarlane to Lichfield Cathedral | By Lichfield Cathedral | Facebook".
  14. "Lichfield Cathedral Choir Web Site". Archived from the original on 14 June 2006. Retrieved 20 April 2006.
  15. "The Relics of St Chad". St Chad's Cathedral. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  16. "Lord Anglesey's burial – See p. 35". Archived from the original on 10 September 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016.

General references

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