As my pc still isn’t allowing me to download my most recent photos from the camera I can’t post either of the two latest Monday walks so this week I’m featuring a wander round Blackburn Cathedral which I visited back in July during my hunt for some of the town’s street art. Although I’ve been to Blackburn several times as an adult I hadn’t been in the cathedral since I was in my teens and still at school so this visit was almost a completely new experience.
Blackburn Cathedral, formerly the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, is one of England’s newest cathedrals yet one of the country’s oldest places of worship, and is today the end result of many transformations and a magnificent example of modern architecture. Situated right in the town centre the earliest documentary evidence of a church in that location is recorded in the Domesday Book compiled in 1086. The architectural history of the old church is known with certainty from the 14th century when it was rebuilt in the decorated style during the reign of King Edward lll, but time eventually took its toll on the old building and in 1818 it was decided to demolish it and build a new church.
Designed by architect John Palmer in the early Gothic Revival style the new church was essentially a Georgian building and was consecrated in 1826. In 1926 the Diocese of Blackburn was created and St. Mary’s parish church was elevated to cathedral status, then in the early 1930s fundraising was started to enable the building to be enlarged in keeping with its newfound importance. Work began in 1938 with the original church forming the nave of the much larger building, then after being interrupted by WW2 the work was resumed and continued through the 1950s and into the early 1960s, though with changes to the original ‘modern gothic’ design.
In 1961 architect Lawrence King joined the project and designed the distinctive lantern tower which consists of 56 different panes of coloured glass and a slender aluminium spire. The tower was completed in 1967 and the cathedral itself in 1977, and what had been built over the last almost 40 years was finally consecrated as Blackburn Cathedral that same year. In more recent years there’s been a couple of upgrades to the building ; the original 1960s lantern tower had been constucted in concrete but in 1998 it underwent restoration and was rebuilt in natural stone, then in 2000/2001 the east end roofs and parapets were rebuilt to blend them into the existing structures. Also at the same time a new piece of art was commissioned for the building’s exterior, The Healing of The Nations, a sculpture by artist Mark Jalland. A huge abstract steel and copper circular piece, it contains thousands of interwoven fibre optics which create many changing light patterns at night.
The sculptor Josephina de Vasconcellos was commissioned by the Blackburn Diocesan Mothers’ Union to sculpt a statue as a memorial to their secretary, Helen Dex. It depicts Mary as an earthly mother bathing Jesus, her baby, who appears anxious to get out of the bath. Viewed from the front Mary’s expression is that of happy mother, while viewed from the left it’s one of adoration, but viewed from the right it’s an expression of sorrow.
The ornately-carved pulpit was one of the first gifts of ‘new furniture’ to mark the transition of the building from Blackburn Parish Church to Blackburn Cathedral. The rich pre-war design with six carved figures was completed in 1940 and was a memorial to Dr. J T T Ramsay, a local doctor who was also a former Mayor and Alderman of the Borough. The figures and their emblems are St. Peter, St. James, St. John, the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Andrew and St. John the Baptist. On the underside of the pulpit roof is a monogram comprising of the first three letters, in Greek, of the name Jesus and near the top of the back panel is a small cross, a gift from the Lutheran Diocese of Braunschweig (Brunswick) in Germany, with which the Diocese of Blackburn is linked.
Two years before the consecration of the new church in 1826 a plan for an organ in the west gallery was submitted by John Gray and Frederick Davison ; built by JW Walker the organ was opened in 1828 with a concert which included works by Handel played by newly appointed organist Joseph John Harris. Over the years the organ went through several rebuilds and restorations ; sitting on four platforms high above the ground the last rebuild was in 2001/2002 by Wood of Huddersfield – comprehensive details of the organ(s) can be foundhere.
In 2013 a 14-year plan was finally put into practise to regenerate the Cathedral Precinct and the surrounding area, now known as the Cathedral Quarter, and work was completed in 2016. The old Boulevard bus station outside the train station was relocated to a modern site adjacent to the indoor shopping mall a few hundred yards away and the Boulevard itself was refurbished to create a smaller interchange with a new hotel, office block, Starbucks coffee shop and a restaurant and bar, and a new Eastern Precinct was created for the cathedral itself. This houses a library, refectory, meeting rooms and offices, ten residences for clergy and lay staff and has a very attractive pedestrian area and gardens fronting the main road.
The cathedral itself has so much of interest that it would be impossible to write about everything here. There was really only one thing I didn’t like about the place – the huge monstrosity on the outside of the building which calls itself a ‘work of art’. It’s ugly, looks completely out of place and totally ruins the overall look of what is otherwise a beautiful building – whoever approved it to be put there really should have gone to Specsavers. Other than that I’d really enjoyed my wander round the cathedral and having found more information since my visit it’s a place I’ll certainly go back to another time.