Lichfield Cathedral has a splendid setting and a fascinating history.
Its three spires are unique amongst medieval cathedrals and are often referred
to as 'the Ladies of the Vale'.
The church's history begins in the 7th century when Bishop
Chad moved the seat of his diocese to Lichfield. Although only Bishop for
three years, Chad converted many to Christianity and after his death he
remained a popular figure inspiring many miracles.
From 700 his body was interred in a Saxon cathedral which lies beneath the present building. In the latter years of the 11th century a Norman building began to replace the Saxon one and a few pieces of the Norman stonework are still visible in Consistory Court.
At about the same time Bishop de Clinton fortified the Close and
laid out the City to cater for the pilgrims visiting the shrine of St Chad. Within a century, however, work began on the Gothic cathedral, which we see today. The Choir dates from 1200, the Transepts from 1220 to 1240 and the Nave was started in 1260.
Through the next hundred years, additions were made, including the Vestibule which leads from the north Choir Aisle to the Chapter House and contains a unique medieval pedilavium where, following the example of Jesus at the Last Supper, feet were washed on Maundy Thursday.
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.
In 1285 the nave was rebuilt and then the Lady Chapel, completed in 1330, was built to contain the shrine of St Chad. Today it contains the 16th century Herckenrode glass.
During the English Civil War in the 1640's the destruction was intense as the Cathedral was at the centre of some of the fiercest
fighting of the war.
At the end of three bitter sieges the church had been
devastated by war damage, troop garrisons, and vandalism. After the Restoration
of Charles II, Bishop Hacket and his prebendaries began a long process
of restoring the Cathedral to its former glory.
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 Alter to make one worship area of Chior and Lady Chapel and adding a massive stone screen
at the entrance to the Choir.
In the early years of the 19th century the Cathedral acquired two of its most famous treasures. In 1803 Sir Brooke
Boothby bought the magnificent Flemish stained glass from Herckenrode Abbey
which was placed in the windows of the Lady Chapel. Then in 1820 at the
request of Ellen Jane Robinson, Francis Chantry sculpted his monument to
her dead daughters known as ‘The Sleeping Children'.
It was only 60 years after Wyatt's work that Sir Gilbert
Scott was commissioned to undertake his own programme of restoration. This
was carried out with great sensitivity, working with original materials
where possible and creating fine new imitations and additions when the
originals were not available. 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 Minton tiles in the choir, inspired by the medieval ones found in the Choir foundations and still seen in the Library.
Fresh restoration work continued throughout
the 20th century. In 1957 extensive work was carried out on the roofing
and spires, a process which began again in 1987 with a ten year programme
of repair and cleaning. Facilities for visitors in the Close have been
improved by a Visitors' Study Centre, a tea room and a bookshop. Today
concerts and major artistic events are often held in the Cathedral, especially
in July when the annual International Lichfield Festival is held. Visitors for twelve hundred years have been coming to the Cathedral and visitors will continue
to be attracted.
Cathedral Web Site
Lichfield Cathedral Map