Manchester Cathedral

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Manchester Cathedral
Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George
Manchester Cathedral - - 1423509.jpg
Manchester Cathedral in July 2009
Greater Manchester UK location map 2.svg
Red pog.svg
Manchester Cathedral
Shown within Greater Manchester
Coordinates: 53°29′07″N2°14′41″W / 53.48528°N 2.24472°W / 53.48528; -2.24472
Denomination Church of England
Website Cathedral website
Style Gothic (Perpendicular)
Years built1421–1882
Tower height135ft
Diocese Manchester (since 1847)
Province York
Dean Rogers Govender
Subdean David Holgate (Theology & Mission)
Precentor Márcia Wall
Canon Pastor vacant
Archdeacon David Sharples, Archdeacon of Salford

Manchester Cathedral, formally the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George, [1] [lower-alpha 1] in Manchester, England, is the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Manchester, seat of the Bishop of Manchester and the city's parish church. It is on Victoria Street in Manchester city centre.

Manchester City and metropolitan borough in England

Manchester is a city and metropolitan borough in Greater Manchester, England. The city itself is the sixth-largest in the United Kingdom with a population of 545,500 as of 2017, but it lies within the United Kingdom's second-most populous built-up area, with a population of 2.55 million. It is fringed by the Cheshire Plain to the south, the Pennines to the north and east, and an arc of towns with which it forms a continuous conurbation. The local authority is Manchester City Council.

Mother church

Mother church or matrice is a term depicting the Christian Church as a mother in her functions of nourishing and protecting the believer. It may also refer to the primary church of a Christian denomination or diocese, i.e. Cathedral or a metropolitan church. The term has specific meanings within different Christian traditions.

Anglican Diocese of Manchester Church of England diocese in the Province of York, England

The Diocese of Manchester is a Church of England diocese in the Province of York, England. Based in the city of Manchester, the diocese covers much of the county of Greater Manchester and small areas of the counties of Lancashire and Cheshire.


The former parish church was rebuilt in the Perpendicular Gothic style in the years following the foundation of the collegiate body in 1421. Then at the end of the 15th century, James Stanley II (warden 1485–1506) was responsible for rebuilding the nave and collegiate choir with high clerestory windows; also commissioning the late-medieval wooden internal furnishings, including the pulpitum, choir stalls and the nave roof supported by angels with gilded instruments. The medieval church was extensively refaced, restored and extended in the Victorian period, and again following bomb damage in the 20th century. The collegiate church became the cathedral of the new Diocese of Manchester in 1847, and is one of fifteen Grade I listed buildings in Manchester.


The pulpitum is a common feature in medieval cathedral and monastic architecture in Europe. It is a massive screen, most often constructed of stone, or occasionally timber, that divides the choir from the nave and ambulatory. Typically the pulpitum is lavishly carved and decorated, and those of York Minster and Canterbury Cathedral preserve complete medieval sets of statues of the Kings of England.

Nave main body of a church

The nave is the central part of a church, stretching from the main entrance or rear wall, to the transepts, or in a church without transepts, to the chancel. When a church contains side aisles, as in a basilica-type building, the strict definition of the term "nave" is restricted to the central aisle. In a broader, more colloquial sense, the nave includes all areas available for the lay worshippers, including the side-aisles and transepts. Either way, the nave is distinct from the area reserved for the choir and clergy.



The origins of Manchester's first churches are obscure. The Angel Stone, a small carving of an angel with a scroll is preserved in the cathedral. It was discovered in the wall of the cathedral's south porch providing evidence of an earlier, possibly Anglo-Saxon, church. It has been dated to around 700 AD, however the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon sculpture dates the sculpture to the twelfth century [3] . Its Latin inscription translates as "into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit". [4] [3] The first church, possibly sited on or near the site of St Ann's Church, was destroyed by Danish invaders in 923 and a church dedicated to St Mary, built by King Edward the Elder, [5] possibly where St Mary's Gate joins Exchange Street, [6] was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. [5] The Domesday Book entry for Manchester reads "the Church of St Mary and the Church of St Michael hold one carucate of land in Manchester exempt from all customary dues except tax". [7] [lower-alpha 2]

Anglo-Saxon architecture architectural style

Anglo-Saxon architecture was a period in the history of architecture in England, and parts of Wales, from the mid-5th century until the Norman Conquest of 1066. Anglo-Saxon secular buildings in Britain were generally simple, constructed mainly using timber with thatch for roofing. No universally accepted example survives above ground.

St Anns Church, Manchester Church

St Ann's Church in Manchester, England was consecrated in 1712. Although named after St Anne, it also pays tribute to the patron of the church, Ann, Lady Bland. St Ann's Church is a Grade I listed building.

Edward the Elder English king, son of Alfred the Great

Edward the Elder was King of the Anglo-Saxons from 899 until his death. He was the elder son of Alfred the Great and his wife Ealhswith. When Edward succeeded to the throne, he had to defeat a challenge from his cousin Æthelwold, who had a strong claim to the throne as the son of Alfred's elder brother and predecessor, Æthelred.

Parish church

Construction of the predecessor parish church between the Rivers Irk and Irwell and an ancient watercourse crossed by the Hanging Bridge started in 1215 within the confines of the Baron's Court beside the manor house on the site of Manchester Castle. [9] The lords of the manor were the Grelleys whose coat of arms is still associated with the cathedral. The Grelleys acted as stewards, building and endowing the first chancery, the St Nicholas Chancery. In 1311, the Grelley estate passed by marriage to the de la Warres. In 1349 the St Nicholas Chancery was endowed by the de Traffords. In 1382 Thomas de la Warre, became its rector. [10]

Parish church church which acts as the religious centre of a parish

A parish church in Christianity is the church which acts as the religious centre of a parish. In many parts of the world, especially in rural areas, the parish church may play a significant role in community activities, often allowing its premises to be used for non-religious community events. The church building reflects this status, and there is considerable variety in the size and style of parish churches. Many villages in Europe have churches that date back to the Middle Ages, but all periods of architecture are represented.

River Irk river in the United Kingdom

The River Irk is a river in North West England that flows through the northern suburbs and towns of Greater Manchester.

River Irwell river in Lancashire, United Kingdom

The River Irwell is a 39-mile (63 km) long river which flows through the Irwell Valley in North West England. Its source is at Irwell Springs on Deerplay Moor, approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of Bacup. It forms the boundary between Manchester and Salford and empties into the River Mersey near Irlam.

The church had a six-bay aisled nave and six-bay chancel with aisles and a west tower in the perpendicular style of the late-medieval period. [9]

Bay (architecture) space defined by the vertical piers, in a building

In architecture, a bay is the space between architectural elements, or a recess or compartment. Bay comes from Old French baee, meaning an opening or hole.

Aisle architectural element

An aisle is, in general (common), a space for walking with rows of seats on both sides or with rows of seats on one side and a wall on the other. Aisles can be seen in airplanes, certain types of buildings, such as churches, cathedrals, synagogues, meeting halls, parliaments and legislatures, courtrooms, theatres, and in certain types of passenger vehicles. Their floors may be flat or, as in theatres, stepped upwards from a stage.

Chancel space around the altar of a traditional Christian church

In church architecture, the chancel is the space around the altar, including the choir and the sanctuary, at the liturgical east end of a traditional Christian church building. It may terminate in an apse. It is generally the area used by the clergy and choir during worship, while the congregation is in the nave. Direct access may be provided by a priest's door, usually on the south side of the church. This is one definition, sometimes called the "strict" one; in practice in churches where the eastern end contains other elements such as an ambulatory and side chapels, these are also often counted as part of the chancel, especially when discussing architecture. In smaller churches, where the altar is backed by the outside east wall and there is no distinct choir, the chancel and sanctuary may be the same area. In churches with a retroquire area behind the altar, this may only be included in the broader definition of chancel.

Collegiate church

Thomas de la Warre became Baron de la Warre in 1398. A priest for more than 50 years, he was granted a licence from King Henry V and Pope Martin V to establish a collegiate church in Manchester in 1421. The college was established by royal charter, with a warden, eight fellows, four singing clerks and eight choristers. The parish church was dedicated to St Mary and to that dedication were added St George, the patron saint of England, and St Denys, the patron saint of France, perhaps reflecting de la Warre's French heritage, [10] or Henry V's claim to the French throne. [9] The college of priests was housed in new buildings on the site of the former manor house that survive as Chetham's Library paid for by de la Warre. He appointed John Huntingdon as the college's first warden who, between 1422 and 1458, rebuilt the eastern arm of the parish church to provide the collegiate choir. Huntington's monumental brass (much restored) is laid on the chancel floor. Huntington is also commemorated in Victorian rebus, carvings of a man hunting and a man with a tun (barrel of ale), on either side of the arch accessing the Lady Chapel. [10] The church's 14th-century west tower and Lady Chapel were incorporated into the current structure although little or no fabric of that date is still visible, and the Lady Chapel was lost in 1940.

Henry V of England 15th-century King of England and Duke of Aquitaine

Henry V, also called Henry of Monmouth, was King of England from 1413 until his early death in 1422. He was the second English monarch of the House of Lancaster. Despite his relatively short reign, Henry's outstanding military successes in the Hundred Years' War against France, most notably in his famous victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, made England one of the strongest military powers in Europe. Immortalised in the plays of Shakespeare, Henry is known and celebrated as one of the great warrior kings of medieval England.

Pope Martin V pope

Pope Martin V, born OttoColonna, was Pope from 11 November 1417 to his death in 1431. His election effectively ended the Western Schism (1378–1417).

Collegiate church church where the daily office of worship is maintained by a college of canons

In Christianity, a collegiate church is a church where the daily office of worship is maintained by a college of canons: a non-monastic or "secular" community of clergy, organised as a self-governing corporate body, which may be presided over by a dean or provost. In its governance and religious observance a collegiate church is similar to a cathedral, although a collegiate church is not the seat of a bishop and has no diocesan responsibilities. Collegiate churches were often supported by extensive lands held by the church, or by tithe income from appropriated benefices. They commonly provide distinct spaces for congregational worship and for the choir offices of their clerical community.

The nave roof supported by angel minstrels viewed from the west door Manchester Cathedral ceiling.jpg
The nave roof supported by angel minstrels viewed from the west door
The choir stalls Manchester Cathedral 045.JPG
The choir stalls
collegiate chancel, designed by John Wastell Manchester Cathedral Choir.jpg
collegiate chancel, designed by John Wastell

Traditionally the third warden, Ralph Langley (1465–1481), is credited with rebuilding the nave but the nave and choir were substantially reconstructed again by James Stanley II (1485-1506) a few years later, when he raised the clerestory and provided the richly decorated timber roofs and choir stalls. James's stepmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort was mother of Henry VII and through their alliance with the Tudor dynasty the Stanleys acquired both fabulous wealth and access to architects and craftsmen working on royal commissions. On stylistic grounds, the chancel arcades and clerestory of the cathedral are attributed to John Wastell, the architect for the completion of Kings College Chapel. The choir stalls, carved at the workshop of William Brownflet of Ripon, are the finest of a series which includes the surviving stalls at Ripon Cathedral, Beverley Minster and Bridlington Priory. The carving of the misericord seats is exceptionally fine. [10] James Stanley was responsible for the embellishment of the nave roof with supports in the form of fourteen life-size angel minstrels; and for the endowment of his own chantry chapel (now destroyed) near the north-east corner, in which he was buried in 1515.

The college was dissolved in 1547 in the reign of Edward VI by the Chantries Act, but refounded by his sister Mary in 1553. Its future was uncertain when Elizabeth I succeeded in 1559, but was assured when she granted a new charter in 1578, allowing a warden, four fellows, two chaplains, four singing men and four choristers. The dedication of the college (but not the church) was changed to the college of Christ. [2] Manchester and Southwell Minster were the only two medieval collegiate foundations where daily choral worship was maintained after the Reformation until they were joined by Ripon when its collegiate foundation was restored in 1607. John Dee, magus and astrologer for Elizabeth I was warden from 1595 to 1608 and occupied the wardens' lodgings now incorporated into Chetham's Library. The present charter, the fourth, was granted by Charles I preserving the dedication of the college to Christ. [2]

Chantry chapels

In the early 16th century an almost complete sequence of chantry chapels was constructed along the north and south sides of the church creating a double aisle around the parochial nave, which is consequently much wider than it is long. Manchester is commonly claimed to have the widest nave of any cathedral in England. On the south side, the oldest of the chantry chapels, the St Nicholas Chapel, was rebuilt by the de Traffords in 1470. St George's Chapel was endowed by William Galley in 1503 and Richard Beswick endowed the Jesus Chapel in 1506. On the north side, William Radcliffe of Ordsall Hall endowed the Holy Trinity Chapel in the northwest corner in 1498. Huntington left money and land for the St James' Chapel which was built in 1507. The largest of the chantries, the St John the Baptist Chapel, was begun by James Stanley the Bishop of Ely in 1513. The attached funerary chapel for James Stanley, the Ely Chapel, was destroyed by bombing in 1940. [11] The brass from atop Stanley's tombchest was rescued from the wreckage, and remounted vertically against the rebuilt north wall of the Regiment Chapel.

The western chapels are no longer demarcated, as the screens that divided them have been removed giving the appearance of double aisles on either side of the nave. [11]

Batch Marriages

Until 1850, the Collegiate Church remained the parish church for whole of Manchester (this is the ancient parish, including almost the whole area of the modern City of Manchester excepting Wythenshawe), an area which in 1821 had a population of 187,031. [12] Within this vast parish there were considerable numbers of chapels of ease and proprietary chapels for parochial worship - as well as other chapels for dissenters and Roman Catholics. Nevertheless, the Wardens and fellows of the Collegiate church maintained their legal right to a fee of 3s. 6d. for all marriages conducted within their parish; so, unless a couple were able and willing to pay two sets of marriage fees, the only place in Manchester where a marriage might legally be contracted was the collegiate church. In practice, this religious duty fell on the pastoral chaplain employed by the Warden and fellows; who from 1790 to 1821 was the eccentric figure of the Revd. Joshua 'Jotty' Brookes. In 1821 a total of 1,924 marriages were solemnized in the collegiate church; commonly in batches of a score or more. The couples to be married were most often desperately poor but Brookes was no respecter of status, so all were subjected to his 'production line' methods. Commonly, the groom and friends would decamp to a nearby ale-house while the bride kept place in the queue; but if there was one groom too few when a group of couples were lined up in front of the altar, Brookes notoriously would countenance no delay, but would continue the marriage with any passer-by (or even one of the other grooms) as a proxy stand-in. Brookes is commonly reckoned to have conducted more marriages, funerals and christenings than any English clergyman before or since. [13]

As the population of Manchester increased further; so the numbers of christenings, weddings and funerals celebrated in the collegiate church also grew. In 1838, there were 5,164 christenings, 1,457 funerals, and 2,615 weddings.


Manchester Cathedral in 1903 Manchester Cathedral, 1903.jpg
Manchester Cathedral in 1903
A view of the nave inside Manchester Cathedral since 2016, showing the Stoller organ over the pulpitum Manchester Cathedral Nave.jpg
A view of the nave inside Manchester Cathedral since 2016, showing the Stoller organ over the pulpitum
a misericord carving, depicting a hunter gutting a stag Manchester Cathedral 052.JPG
a misericord carving, depicting a hunter gutting a stag

Under the Cathedrals Act 1840, the warden and fellows of the collegiate church were translated into a dean and canons in preparation for becoming the cathedral of the new Manchester Diocese which came into effect in 1847. Initial proposals for a new cathedral to be built to the designs of R.C. Carpenter on Piccadilly Gardens were not proceeded with. The building was extensively renovated in 1882. [2]

During the Manchester Blitz in 1940, a German bomb exploded a few yards from the north-east corner, severely damaging the cathedral roofs and demolishing the medieval lady chapel and James Stanley's chantry chapel. All stained-glass windows were blown out, the organ-case over the pulpitum was destroyed, and the medieval choir stalls toppled inwards so as to meet one another. It took almost 20 years to complete the repairs, in the course of which the Lady Chapel was rebuilt to the designs of Hubert Worthington and the St John the Baptist Chapel was refitted as the regiment chapel for the Manchester Regiment. The cathedral was again damaged in the IRA bombing in June 1996.

The cathedral houses extensive parish and historical archives, dating back to 1421. In 2003, a project began to provide an exhaustive catalogue of the archive's contents to the public. The cathedral was granted Grade I listed building status in January 1952. [14] Grade I structures are considered to be "buildings of exceptional interest". [15]


The cathedral is constructed of three types of stone. The walls and internal piers were originally constructed in a dark purple-brown Collyhurst sandstone formed in the Early Permian period. This is now visible only in the tower arch of the nave, in the interior of the Jesus Chapel and in the chancel; as in the early 19th century all the surfaces of the nave and aisles were scored to be encased in Roman Cement. This damaged the structure so severely that most internal and external stonework had to be replaced in the later 19th century restorations in buff-grey Fletcher Bank Grit from Ramsbottom. The nave floors have, since the 1960s, been relaid in limestone from the Peak District which contains crinoid fossils. [4]


By the 1840s the external and internal stonework was in a poor state, partly due to the poor weathering qualities of the Collyhurst sandstone, but also because of an ill-advised attempt to lighten the interior by coating the internal surfaces of the nave with Roman cement by John Palmer. The external stonework was replaced between 1850 and 1870 in a restoration by J. S. Crowther, who also replaced the internal stonework of the nave walls and arcades with exact reproductions of the originals. The west tower was heightened in 1868 by J.P. Holden, who also replaced its external stonework. Basil Champneys added the vestry, canons' library and western porches in 1898; while Percy Worthington provided further accommodation to the South-east , originally as a choir school, but subsequently converted to offices. [16] Consequently, the cathedral gives the impression of being a 19th-century structure.

To accommodate upgrading work on the cathedral's heating system, in 2013 a temporary wooden cathedral was built on Victoria Street to allow worship to take place. [17]


Angel minstrels

The nave roof brackets are supported by fourteen angel sculptures, each playing a different late medieval instrument, believed to be the gift of James Stanley II.

South side (from the east):

Portative organ, harp, psaltery (plucked), dulcimer (played with hammers), lute, fithele, hurdy-gurdy

North side (from the east):

clavicymbal, trumpet, shawm, scots pipes (mouth-blown), irish pipes (bellows-blown), recorder, tabor

It is supposed that, in the 19th century restoration of the nave, the clavicymbal and organ were inadvertently transposed; as otherwise the south side has stringed instruments, and the north side mostly wind instruments. Only the organ presents an instrument that would commonly have been heard in church in the early 16th century; the other instruments would have been more typically used to accompany secular songs and dances. All these instruments, however, might well have been heard accompanying mystery play performances in the street, and in popular religious processions.


The cathedral has thirty 16th-century misericords, considered to be among the finest in Europe. They are similar in style to those at Ripon Cathedral and Beverley Minster. Although Manchester's are of a later date, they were probably carved by the same school at Ripon. One of the most notable is N-08, the earliest known depiction of backgammon in the UK.

Stained glass

St Mary Window, Tony Hollaway (1980) Manchester Cathedral 036.JPG
St Mary Window, Tony Hollaway (1980)
Detail of modern stained glass in the cathedral; the St Denys window Manchester Cathedral Stained Glass.JPG
Detail of modern stained glass in the cathedral; the St Denys window

All the Victorian stained glass was destroyed during the Manchester Blitz in 1940. Until the late 1960s, only two windows had been replaced, notably the Fire Window by Margaret Traherne (1966). The dean and chapter commissioned Tony Hollaway to prepare a scheme for reglazing the cathedral, with priority to the five western windows: St George (1973), St Denys (1976), St Mary (1980), The Creation (1991) and The Apocalypse (1995). To commemorate the restoration of the cathedral following an IRA bomb in 1996, the Healing Window by Linda Walton was installed in 2004.


The ten bells in the cathedral tower hung for change ringing were cast by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon in 1925. The tenor (largest) bell weighs 1.3 tonnes and is tuned to the key of D. The bells are rung for church service on Sunday mornings and on special occasions including a visit by Elizabeth II to distribute the Royal Maundy.One of the recipients was the tower captain, Roland Eccles, for 35 years of service to ringing and the cathedral community.

Dean and chapter

As of 2 February 2019: [18]

In literature

Letitia Elizabeth Landon's poem Collegiate Church, Manchester is from Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1833.

Visitor centre

The visitor centre by the cathedral's south porch costing £3 million was opened by Elizabeth II. It has a shop and an exhibition room. [21] The main attraction is the 15th-century Hanging Bridge, [22] a scheduled monument, [23] that was once the main approach to the church but was buried for more than 100 years. [22]



details of the former Hill organ installed in 1871

Details of the former Harrison organ installed in 1952

Current Tickell 'Stoller' organ installed in 2016 over the pulpitum screen, from the National Pipe Organ Register

In the course of the 19th century restorations of the interior, the Cathedral was provided with an organ mounted over the medieval pulpitum in an elaborate case designed by George Gilbert Scott. This instrument was destroyed in the Christmas Blitz of 1940, and was replaced in 1952 with an organ built into the north and south choir aisles. In 2016, this organ was itself replaced by an entirely new instrument, once again mounted over the pulpitum, and funded from the Stoller foundation. The new organ case and letterings were designed by Stephen Raw.


Organist and Master of the Choristers Christopher Stokes


The 1421 foundation statutes of the collegiate church provided for an endowed choir of lay clerks and singing boys; and these endowments were renewed when the college was refounded after the Reformation. However, although from the 17th century, there were two grammar schools close by - Manchester Grammar School and Chetham's Hospital School - there was, until the 20th century no provision for a choir school; dedicated choir school premises only being constructed by Percy Worthington in 1934. This school did not resume following war damage; so in 1969, when Chetham's School was refounded as a dedicated school of music, scholarships were established to enable boys aged 8-13 to serve the cathedral choir. These scholarships were subsequently modified in the 1970s, so as to support both girls' and boys' voices; the first statutory choir in the Church of England to make this change. There are now places for 20 choristers and 9 lay clerks.

See also

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  1. The college governing the cathedral is titled the College of Christ in Manchester founded by King Charles. [2]
  2. It is thought St Michael's Church was on the site of St Michael and All Angels' Church in Ashton-under-Lyne. [8]


  1. Manchester Cathedral,, retrieved 30 December 2014
  2. 1 2 3 4 Scott 1915, p. 35
  3. 1 2 Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture , retrieved 9 February 2019
  4. 1 2 Shanks 2010, p. 2
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