Month: February 2023
Manchester Cathedral – a church rich in history
At the end of one of my wanderings around the city centre a while ago I had some time to spare before the next train home so as the cathedral had long been on my list of places to visit I called in to have a look round. Not far from Victoria Station and tucked away behind a triangle of bars, eateries and a couple of pubs the building isn’t exactly obvious so even on a busy Saturday afternoon there was only a handful of fellow visitors in there.
The origins of Manchester’s first churches are a little obscure but the Domesday survey in 1086 stated that the parish church of St. Mary existed on the site of the present cathedral. The land was owned by the Greslet family, Barons of Manchester, and the church was built beside their manor house which is now Chetham’s School of Music. Around 1215 the Greslets extended the church before the estate passed by marriage to the de la Warre family in 1311, then around 1350 the church was extended again, becoming the same length as the present cathedral though it was much narrower.
At the end of the 14th century Thomas de la Warre became both Rector of the church and 5th Baron of Manchester. A priest for more than 50 years, in 1421 he was granted a licence from King Henry V and Pope Martin V to establish a collegiate church dedicated to St. Mary, St. George and St. Denys, with a warden, eight fellows, four singing clerks and eight choristers. When he died in 1426 he left £3,000 for the benefit of the collegiate buildings and most of this was used to convert the Baron’s Hall into a house-of-residence for the fellows of the College to live in.
During the years which followed various parts of the church were rebuilt and extended, including the reconstruction of the nave and choir stalls, with the choir stalls themselves and their misericord seats being carved at the workshop of William Brownflet of Ripon between 1500 and 1506. The college was dissolved in 1547 under the Dissolution of Colleges Act which came into force that year then ten years later it was re-established as a Roman Catholic foundation by Mary I. In 1578 it was re-founded again by Elizabeth I as the protestant College of Christ with a warden, four fellows, two chaplains, four singing men and four choristers.
Fast forward to 1840 and under the Cathedrals Act of that year the warden and fellows of the collegiate church were promoted to Dean and Canons in preparation for the church becoming the cathedral of the new Manchester Diocese which came into effect in 1847. Initial proposals for a new cathedral to be built on Piccadilly Gardens didn’t proceed and a period of major restoration and building work was started on the church the same year. In 1864 the original tower, which had fallen into disrepair, was demolished and replaced with a new tower – identical to the old one but six feet taller it was formally opened in 1868.
In 1897, to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the Victoria Porch was built below the tower and adorned with a sculpture of the Queen carved by her daughter, Princess Louise. In the years between 1898 and 1936 more building work was undertaken which included a new West End and porch and extensions to provide a library, refectory and choir school. In 1925 ten bells, to be hung in the cathedral tower for change ringing, were cast by bellfounders Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, with the tenor (largest) bell weighing 1.3 tonnes. In 1936 the Derby Chapel, previously the St. John the Baptist Chapel dating from 1513, was refitted as the Regimental Chapel for the Manchester Regiment.
On December 22nd 1940, during the Manchester Blitz, a German bomb exploded a few yards from the north-east corner of the cathedral, severely damaging the roof and demolishing the medieval Lady Chapel and the chantry chapel. All the Victorian stained glass windows were blown out, the medieval choir stalls toppled inwards so as to meet one another and the organ case over the pulpitum was destroyed. It took almost 20 years to complete all the repairs to the building during which stop-gap measures were taken to repair the organ re-using the old pipework, and the Lady Chapel was rebuilt to the designs of architect Hubert Worthington.
In 1966, Margaret Traherne’s ‘Fire Window’ was installed to commemorate Manchester’s part in the two world wars and also as a symbol of renewal and reconciliation. This was followed over a period of almost 30 years by five new windows on the western side of the Nave : St George in 1972, St Denys in 1976, St Mary in 1980, The Creation in 1991 and The Revelation in 1995.
In 1996 the cathedral again suffered damage when the IRA bomb exploded on nearby Corporation Street. Restoration work followed and the Healing Window by Linda Walton was installed above the east door in 2004 to mark the completion of this work. In 2016 the Hope Window, designed by Alan Davis, was installed on the other side of the east wall, representing the journey towards new life. The donors also intended it to be a symbol of the strong bond which exists between City and Cathedral.
Further work in recent years has included new heating, lighting and flooring together with a splendid new organ sponsored by the Stoller Charitable Trust and built at Tickell’s workshop in Northampton for a total cost of around £2.6m. Installation began in July 2016 with the medieval screen between the Nave and the Quire being strengthened to support the four main divisions of the organ. The 4,800-plus pipes range from 6 inches to 32 feet high with the pipe shades designed by text artist Stephen Raw – those facing the Quire were gilded by hand using wafer-thin 23.5 carat gold leaf and the cut out lettering was taken from the words of the liturgy in Latin. After a long period of tuning the organ was officially handed over to the Dean of Manchester on April 3rd 2017 and was played for the first time on Easter Sunday that year.
In May 2021 the cathedral reached its 600th anniversary of becoming a Collegiate Church and in July that year was visited by Elizabeth ll, then a special Anniversary Service, delayed by a year due to the Covid pandemic, was finally held on May 5th 2022 in the presence of the Lord Archbishop of York.