Peterborough Cathedral

Peterborough Cathedral

Infobox UK cathedral
building_name =Peterborough Cathedral
infobox_width =

image_size =300px
caption =Peterborough Cathedral
map_type =
map_size =
map_caption =
location =
full_name =Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew
geo =
latitude =
longitude =
county =Cambridgeshire
country =England
ecclesiastical =yes
denomination =Church of England
province =Canterbury
diocese =Peterborough
bishop =
dean =
organist =
website = [ www.peterborough-]
building =yes
architect =
architecture_style =Romanesque/Gothic
became_cathedral =1542
number_of_cathedrals =
year_built =1118-1237
year_consecrated =
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length =
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length_choir =
width_transepts =
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tower_quantity =3
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Peterborough Cathedral, or the Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew, is the seat of the Bishop of Peterborough, is dedicated to Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Andrew whose statues look down from the three high gables of the famous "West Front". Founded in the Saxon period, the architecture is mainly Norman following a rebuilding in the 12th century. With Durham and Ely Cathedrals, it is one of the most important 12th century buildings in England to have remained largely intact, despite extensions and restoration.

Peterborough Cathedral is known for its imposing Early English Gothic West Front (facade) which, with its three enormous arches, is without architectural precedent and with no direct successor. The appearance is slightly asymmetrical, as one of the two towers that rise from behind the facade was never completed, but this is only visible from a distance, while the effect of the West Front upon entering the Cathedral Close is overwhelming.


Anglo-Saxon origins

The original church, known simply as "Medeshamstede", was founded in the reign of the Anglo-Saxon King Peada of the Middle Angles in about 655 AD, as one of the first centres of Christianity in central England. cite book
last = Sweeting
first = W.D
authorlink =
coauthors =
editor = Bell, E
others =
title = The Cathedral Church of Peterborough: A Description of its Fabric and a Brief History of the Episcopal See
origdate =
origyear = 1898
origmonth = February
url =
format =
accessdate = 2007-04-23
accessyear =
accessmonth =
edition = Project Gutenberg facsimile of the 1926 reprint of the 2nd Edition
series = Bell's Cathedrals
date = 2004-10-05
year =
month =
publisher = G. Bell and Sons
location = London
language =
isbn =
oclc =
doi =
id =
pages =
chapter = Chapter 1. History of the Cathedral Church of St Peter
chapterurl =
quote =
] The monastic settlement with which the church was associated lasted at least until 870, when it was supposedly destroyed by Vikings.

In the mid 10th century monastic revival (in which churches at Ely and Ramsey were also refounded) a Benedictine Abbey was created and endowed in 966 principally by Athelwold, Bishop of Winchester, from what remained of the earlier church, with "a basilica [church] there furbished with suitable structures of halls, and enriched with surrounding lands" and more extensive buildings which saw the aisle built out to the west with a second tower added. The original central tower was however retained. [cite book
last = Biddick
first = Kathleen
authorlink =
coauthors =
editor =
others =
title = The Other Economy: Pastoral Husbandry on a Medieval Estate
origdate =
origyear =
origmonth =
url =
format =
accessdate = 2007-04-25
accessyear =
accessmonth =
edition =
series =
date =
year = 1989
month =
publisher = University of California Press
location =
language =
isbn = 0520063880
oclc =
doi =
id =
pages = p13
chapter = 1 — Consumption and Pastoral Resources on the Early Medieval Estate
chapterurl =
quote = He restored Peterborough Abbey to its former royal splendor and dedicated "a basilica there furbished with suitable structures of halls, and enriched with surrounding lands."
] It was dedicated to St Peter, and came to be called a burgh, hence the town surrounding the abbey was eventually named Peter-burgh. The community was further revived in 972 by Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury.

This newer church had as its major focal point a substantial western tower with a "Rhenish Helm" and was largely constructed of ashlar. [For an example of the "Rhenish helm", see e.g. [ St. Mary's, Sompting.] [] Retrieved on July 24 2008.] Only a small section of the foundations of the Saxon church remain beneath the south transept but there are several significant artefacts including Saxon carvings such as the 'Hedda Stone', from the earlier building. [ For further reading on the Anglo-Saxon history of Peterborough Abbey, see Peterson, C.M., 'Studies in the Early History of Peterborough Abbey c.650-1066', unpublished Birmingham University PhD thesis, 1995: besides at Birmingham University, a printed copy of this is in the Library at Peterborough Cathedral, and Cambridgeshire Libraries has a microfilm copy.]

In 2008, Anglo-Saxon grave markers were reported to have been found by workmen repairing a wall in the cathedral precincts. The grave markers are said to date to the 11th century, and probably belonged to "townsfolk". [ [ Anglo-Saxon graves found at Peterborough Cathedral.] Retrieved on May 15 2008.]

Norman and Medieval Architectural Evolution

Although damaged during the struggle between the Norman invaders and local folk-hero, Hereward the Wake, it was repaired, and continued to thrive until destroyed by an accidental fire in 1116.

This event necessitated the building of a new church in the Norman style, begun by Abbot John de Sais in 1118. By 1193 the building was completed to the western end of the Nave, including the central tower and the decorated wooden ceiling of the nave. The ceiling, completed between 1230 and 1250, still survives. It is unique in Britain and one of only four such ceilings in the whole of Europe [ The others are at Zillis, Switzerland, Hildesheim in Germany and Dädesjö, Sweden. The longest of these is less than half the length of Peterborough's ceiling.] It has been over-painted twice, once in 1745, then in 1834, but still retains the character and style of the original. (The painted nave ceiling of Ely Cathedral, by contrast, is entirely a Victorian creation.)

The church was largely built of Barnack limestone from quarries on its own land, and it was paid annually for access to these quarries by the builders of Ely Cathedral and Ramsey Abbey in thousands of eels (eg 4,000 each year for Ramsey). [cite web
url =
title = Abbots of Ramsey
accessdate = 2007-01-23
accessmonthday =
accessyear =
author =
last = Beeke
first = Clive
authorlink =
coauthors =
date =
year = 2006
month =
format =
work = Ramsey Abbey website
publisher = Clive Beeke
pages =
language =
archiveurl =
archivedate =
quote = Edward [the Confessor] also became a party to an agreement between the Abbot of Ramsey and Abbot of Burgh (Peterborough) in regard to the exchange of lands; to bounds and limits of King's-delf; also the right to Ramsey Abbey to dig stone both 'squared and broken' at the quarries of Barnack. For this privilege the Abbey had to give the Monks of Peterborough 'four thousand eels yearly in Lent'
] Cathedral historians believe that part of the placing of the church in the location it is in is due to the easy ability to transfer quarried stones by river and then to the existing site allowing it to grow without being relocated.

Then, in completing the Western transept and adding the Great West Front Portico in 1237, the medieval masons switched over to the new Gothic style. Apart from changes to the windows, the insertion of a porch to support the free-standing pillars of the portico and the addition of a ‘new’ building at the east end around the beginning of the 16th century, the structure of the building remains essentially as it was on completion almost 800 years ago. The completed building was consecrated in 1238 by Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, within whose diocese it then fell.

The Great West Front is the defining image of Peterborough Cathedral that is unrivalled in medieval architecture due to the trio of arches it displays. The cluster of spires behind it including what is an unprecedented four towers evolved through more practical reasons. This has been caused by retaining of the earlier Norman front towers which when the gothic front was added were now obsolete. Rather than demolish them and rebuild new stretches of wall where these older towers stood they were retained and had cornices and other gothic decor added whilst another two towers were then built in front of them to create a continuous frontage.

The Norman tower was rebuilt in the Decorated Gothic style in about 1350-1380 (its main beams and roof bosses survive) with two tiers of Romanesque windows combined into a single set of Gothic windows with the turreted cap and pinnacles removed and replaced by battlements. Between 1496 and 1508 the Presbytery roof was replaced and the 'New Building', a rectangular building built around the end of the Norman eastern apse, with Perpendicular fan vaulting (probably designed by John Wastell, the architect of King's College Chapel, Cambridge and the Bell Harry Tower at Canterbury Cathedral), was added.

Monastic Life

We have a detailed record in the contents of the Abbey's reliquaries from the mid-12th century monk Hugh Candidus, they included; two pieces of swaddling clothes which wrapped the baby Jesus, pieces of Jesus' manger, a part of the five loaves which fed the 5,000, a piece of the raiment of St Mary, a piece of Aaron's rod, and relics of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew - to whom the church is dedicated. [cite book
last = Brooke
first = Rosalind
authorlink =
coauthors = Brooke, Christopher
title = Popular Religion in the Middle Ages; Western Europe 1000-1300
origdate = 1984
url =
format =
accessdate =
accessyear =
accessmonth =
edition =
date =
year =
month =
publisher = Thames and Hudson
location =
language =
isbn = 0500250871
oclc =
doi =
id =
pages = pp19-21
chapter = Chapter 2
chapterurl =
quote =

Most famous however was the supposed arm of St Oswald (which disappeared from its chapel, probably during the Reformation, despite a watch-tower having been built for monks to guard its reliquary) and various contact relics of Thomas Becket, brought from Canterbury in a special reliquary by its Prior Benedict (who had witnessed Becket's assassination) when he was 'promoted' to Abbot of Peterborough.

All of these created an aura of great importance around what is today Peterborough Cathedral making it at the zenith of its wealth just before the reformation, the sixth largest monastery in England in terms of income with 120 monks at it and departments including an Almoner, an Infirmarian, a Sacristan and a Cellarer.


In 1541, following Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the relics were lost but the church survived by not being sold off and instead being selected as the cathedral of the new Diocese of Peterborough. This may have been related to the fact that Henry's former queen, Katherine of Aragon, had been buried there in 1536. Her grave can still be seen, and is nowadays honoured by visitors and often decorated with flowers and pomegranates (her symbol). It carries the legend "Katharine Queen of England", a title she was denied at the time of her death.

In 1587, the body of Mary Queen of Scots was also buried here after her execution at nearby Fotheringhay Castle, but was later removed to Westminster Abbey on the orders of her son, King James I of England.

Civil War to present

The cathedral was vandalised during the English Civil War in 1643 by Parliamentarian troops. As was common at the time, almost all the stained glass and the medieval choir stalls were destroyed, and the high altar and reredos were demolished, as were the cloisters and Lady Chapel. All the monuments and memorials of the Cathedral were damaged or destroyed also.

Some of the damage was repaired during the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1883, extensive restoration work began, with the interior pillars, the choir and the west front being completely rebuilt under the supervision of John Loughborough Pearson, and new hand-carved choir stalls, cathedra (bishop's throne) and choir pulpit and the marble pavement and high altar being added. A stepped level of battlements was removed from the central tower reducing its height slightly.

In the early evening of 22 November 2001 the cathedral was hit by a fire started deliberately amongst plastic chairs stored in the North Choir Aisle. [cite web
url =
title = CATHEDRAL FIRE: Candle theory on cathedral arson
accessdate = 2007-01-23
date = 2006-11-27
format = Newspaper
work = Peterborough Evening Telegraph
publisher = Johnston Press Digital Publishing
] Fortunately the fire was spotted by one of the vergers allowing a swift response by emergency services. [cite web
url =
title = FIRE: 'I watched the beautiful building go up in smoke'
accessdate = 2007-01-23
date = 2006-11-23
format =
work = Peterborough Evening Telegraph
publisher = Johnston Press Digital Publishing
] The timing was particularly unfortunate as a complete restoration of the painted wooden ceiling was nearing completion. [cite web
url =
title = FIRE: Devestating blow to appeal work (sic)
accessdate = 2007-01-23
date = 2006-11-23
format =
work = Peterborough Evening Telegraph
publisher = Johnston Press Digital Publishing
] The oily smoke given off by the plastic chairs was particularly damaging, coating much of the building with a sticky black layer. The seat of the fire was close to the organ and the combination of direct damage from the fire, and the water used to extinguish necessitated a full-scale rebuild of the instrument, putting it out of action for several years.

An extensive programme of repairs to the west front began in July 2006 and will cost in excess of half a million pounds. This work is concentrated around the statues located in niches which have been so badly affected by years of pollution and weathering that in some cases they have only stayed intact thanks to iron bars inserted through them from the head to the body. Progress is visible via a [ live webcam] and will be completed around the end of 2007. unclear


Organ and Organists


[ Details of the organ from the National Pipe Organ Register]


* 1540 Richard Storey
* 1569 John Tyesdale
* 1574 Richard Tiller
* 1584 John Mudd
* 1631 Thomas Mudd
* 1632 David Standish
* 1643 "Vacant"
* 1661 David Standish
* 1677 William Standish
* 1691 Roger Standish
* 1714 James Hawkins
* 1750 George Wright
* 1773 Garter Sharp
* 1777 James Rogers
* 1784 Richard Langdon
* 1785 John Calah
* 1799 Samuel Spofforth
* 1808 Thomas Knight
* 1812 Edmund Larkin
* 1836 John Speechley
* 1870 Haydn Keeton
* 1921 Richard Coleman
* 1944 Charles Francis
* 1946 Douglas Hopkins
* 1953 Stanley Vann
* 1977 Christopher Gower
* 2004 Andrew Reid


Further reading

*"Peterborough Cathedral, 2001- 2006 : from devastation to restoration", (2006), ISBN 1903470558
*"Peterborough Abbey", (2001), ISBN 0712347100

See also

*List of cathedrals in the United Kingdom
*List of bishops of Peterborough
*List of deans of Peterborough
*List of abbots of Peterborough
*Peterborough Chronicle
*The King's School, Peterborough
*Architecture of the medieval cathedrals of England
*English Gothic architecture
*Romanesque architecture
*Church of England

External links

* [ Peterborough Cathedral] The cathedral's website (with link to the live webcam)
* [ The Cathedral Church of Peterborough] , by W.D. Sweeting, at Project Gutenberg

* [ Peterborough Cathedral - The Complete Geometry 1100-1500]

* [ Pictures of Peterborough]

* [*/Peterborough/1.html Bill Thayer's site]
* [ Peterborough Cathedral on]
* [ Adrian Fletcher’s Paradoxplace Peterborough Cathedral Pages – Photos]
* [ Flickr images tagged Peterborough Cathedral]

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