Manchester Cathedral

Manchester Cathedral is a medieval church on Victoria Street in central Manchester and is the seat of the Bishop of Manchester. The cathedral’s official name is The Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George in Manchester.

Although extensively refaced, restored and extended in the Victorian period, and then again following severe bomb damage in the 20th century, the main body of the Cathedral largely derives from the wardenship of James Stanley (warden 1485–1506), and is in the Perpendicular Gothic style. Stanley was also primarily responsible for commissioning the spectacular late medieval wooden furnishings, including the pulpitum, the choir stalls, and the nave roof supported by angels with gilded instruments. It is one of the Grade I listed buildings in Manchester. Since 2005 the Dean of the Cathedral has been the Very Reverend Rogers Morgan Govender.

A church dedicated to St Mary is recorded in the Domesday Survey, although the only surviving evidence from this period is a small carving of an angel with a scroll, preserved in the Cathedral nave; the Old English inscription on the stone translates as “into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”. 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”.

Construction of the predecessor church started in 1215 within the confines of the Baron’s Court beside the manor house on the site of Manchester Castle. The occupying lords of the manor were the Grelley family, and their coat of arms is still associated with the cathedral to this day. The Grelley family acted as stewards of the church, building and endowing the first chancery, the St. Nicholas Chancery.

In 1311, for lack of Grelley heirs, the estate passed by marriage to the de la Warre family. The 14th century west tower and eastern Lady Chapel of this building were to be incorporated into the current structure (although little or no fabric of that date is still visible). In 1349 the St. Nicholas Chancery was endowed by the de Trafford family. The involvement of the de la Warre family was furthered in 1382 when Thomas de la Warre, later to be appointed Baron of Manchester, became rector of the parish church.

In 1421, Thomas de la Warre obtained a licence from King Henry V and from Pope Martin V to establish a collegiate foundation in Manchester, appropriating the parish church for the purpose. The college was established in 1422 by royal charter, with a warden, eight fellows, four singing clerks and eight choristers, an exceptionally large foundation charged with the duty of praying for the souls of those killed in the king’s campaigns in France. The priests of the college were housed in collegiate buildings to the north of the church, built on the site of the former manor house. The buildings survive as Chetham’s Hospital school and library, founded in 1653 in accordance with the will of Humphrey Chetham, and converted by his executors. They retain the fifteenth century hall and cloister. The spectacular seventeenth century library is the oldest surviving public library in Britain and among its readers was Karl Marx. Chetham’s school was refounded in 1969 as Chetham’s School of Music, which rapidly attained international prestige as Britain’s leading music academy for pre-university students. The boys and girls of the Cathedral Choir are now drawn from among its students.

John Huntingdon served as the first warden from 1422 to 1458, during which he rebuilt the eastern arm of the parish church to provide a collegiate choir. Traditionally the third warden, Ralph Langley (1465–1481), is credited with rebuilding the nave. However, both nave and choir were substantially reconstructed again by James Stanley a few years later, when he raised the present clerestory and provided the richly decorated timber roofs and choir stalls. James’s stepmother was Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII and through their alliance with the new Tudor dynasty the Stanley’s acquired fabulous wealth, as well as access to architects and craftsmen working on royal commissions. On stylistic grounds, the arcades and clerestory of Manchester Cathedral are attributed to John Wastell, who was also the architect for the completion of Kings College Chapel. The choir stalls were carved by the workshop of William Brownflet of Ripon; and are the finest of a series by those woodcarvers, which also includes the surviving stalls at Ripon Cathedral, Beverly Minster, and Bridlington Priory. The carving of the misericord seats is exceptionally fine.

The early 16th century also saw the construction of an almost complete sequence of chantry chapels for local guilds along both north and south sides of the church; in effect creating a double aisle around the parochial nave, which is consequently much wider than it is long. Indeed Manchester is commonly claimed to have the widest nave of any cathedral in England. James Stanley is also responsible for the embellishment of the nave roof with supporters in the form of fourteen life-size angel minstrels, each playing a different late medieval instrument; and for the endowment of his own chantry chapel (now destroyed) at 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 then refounded by his sister Mary. Its future continued uncertain when Elizabeth I succeeded in 1559, but was eventually assured when Elizabeth granted a new charter in 1578, allowing a warden, four fellows, two chaplains, four singing men and four choristers. Consequently, along with Southwell Minster, Manchester was one of only two medieval collegiate foundations where daily choral worship was maintained after the Reformation; although these two were joined by Ripon when that collegiate foundation was restored in 1607. The most famous of the post-medieval wardens of Manchester was John Dee, magus and astrologer for Elizabeth I; who was warden from 1595 to 1608, and who occupied the wardens’ lodgings now incorporated into Chetham’s Library.

Under the Cathedrals Act of 1840, the Warden and Fellows of the collegiate church of Manchester were translated into Dean and Canons, in preparation for becoming the cathedral of a new diocese of Manchester-–which was effected in 1847. By then both external and internal stonework were in a very poor state, partly due to the poor weathering qualities of the original Binney sandstone, but also due to an ill advised attempt to lighten the interior by coating all internal surfaces of the nave with Roman Cement. All 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. The west tower was heightened in 1868 by J. P. Holden, who also replaced all its external stonework. Consequently the cathedral gives the overall impression of a 19th-century structure.

During the Manchester Blitz of 1940, a German bomb severely damaged the cathedral, completely demolishing both the medieval Lady Chapel and James Stanley’s chantry chapel, and blowing out all the Victorian stained glass. It took nearly twenty years to repair all of the destruction, in the course of which the Guy Chapel was rebuilt to the designs of Hubert Worthington

The building was again damaged by an IRA bomb 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. It was the setting for a marriage at the start of the 2006 episode of Cracker.

The Cathedral has thirty 16th-century misericords, considered to be amongst the finest in Europe. It is worth noting that the misericords have a stylistic similarity to those at Ripon Cathedral and Beverley Minster – and although Manchester’s post date-these, they were probably carved by the same school at Ripon. One of the most notable is N-08, which is the earliest known mention of backgammon in the UK.

All the Victorian stained glass in the cathedral was destroyed during the second world war – and until the late 1960s, only two windows had been replaced, notably the Fire Window by Margaret Traherne (1966). The Dean and Chapter commissioned Anthony Hollaway to prepare a scheme for reglazing the cathedral, with particular 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.

There are 10 bells in the cathedral tower hung for change ringing, which were cast in 1925 by Gillett & Johnston. The tenor (largest) bell has a mass of 1.3 tonnes and is tuned to the key of D. The bells are rung for church service on a Sunday morning and for special occasions, the latest being for a visit by HM the Queen for The Royal Maundy. One of the recipients of the Maundy Money was the tower Captain, Roland Eccles, for 35 years of service to ringing and to the Cathedral community.

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