Lichfield Cathedral

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Lichfield Cathedral is situated in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England.

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About Lichfield Cathedral

The cathedral internal length is 370 ft., and the breadth of the nave 68 ft., the central spire is 77m (252') high and the western spires about 58m (190') high.

The stone is sandstone and came from a quarry on the south side of Lichfield. The walls of the nave lean outwards slightly, this was caused by the weight of stone used in the ceiling vaulting, some 2-300 tons of which was removed during renovation work to prevent the walls leaning further.

The windows of the Lady Chapel contain some of the finest medieval Flemish painted glass in existence. It came from the Abbey of Herckenrode (now in Belgium) in 1801 having been purchased by Brooke Boothby when that abbey was dissolved during the Napoleonic Wars. It was then sold on to the cathedral for the same price. It dates from the 1530s. There are also some fine windows by Betton and Evans (1819), and many fine late 19th century windows, particularly those by Charles Eamer Kempe. Lichfield is the only medieval English cathedral with three spires. It is also noted for its longitudinal 'kink' near to the point of the organ. The kink is one and a half degrees and its existence has a number of explanations, all speculative.The Lichfield Gospels are the gospels of Matthew and Mark, and the early part of Luke, written in Latin and dating from around 730. There were originally two volumes but one went missing around the time of the Civil War. It is closely related in style to the Lindisfarne Gospels. The manuscript is on display in the Chapter House from Easter to Christmas. The Close is one of the most complete in the country and includes a medieval courtyard which once housed the men of the choir.The three spires are often referred to as 'the Ladies of the Vale'.

Early History

The present building was started in 1195, and completed by the building of the Lady Chapel in the 1330s. It replaced a Norman building begun in 1085 which had replaced one, or possibly two, Saxon buildings from the seventh century. The original Cathedral (this is the third building on the site) was dedicated on Christmas Day in the year AD 700 to house the remains of St Chad, Bishop of the Mercians, who died in 672. Chad moved the centre of his See to Lichfield from Repton, possibly because this was already a holy site, as the scene of martyrdoms during the Roman period. Starting in 1085 and continuing through the 12th century this Saxon church was replaced by a Norman cathedral, and this in turn by the Gothic Cathedral begun in 1195. 1300 years ago it stood at the centre of the Kingdom of Mercia. The Choir dates from 1200, the Transepts from 1220 to 1240 and the Nave was started in 1260. 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.

The English Civil War

There were three sieges of Lichfield during the period 1643-46 as the cathedral was surrounded by a ditch and defensive walls, and made a natural fortress. The cathedral authorities with a certain following were for the king, but the townsfolk generally sided with the parliament, and this led to the fortification of the close in 1643. Lord Brooke,led an assault against it, but was killed by a deflected bullet by John Dyott (Known as 'dumb' because he was a deaf mute) who along with his brother Richard Dyott had taken up a position on the battlements of the central cathedral spire on March 2, 1643. His deputy Sir John Gell took over the siege. Although the Royalist garrison surrendered to Gell two days later. The close yielded and was retaken by Prince Rupert in this year on 20 April Rupert's engineers detonated the first mine to be used in England to breach the defences. Unable to defend the breach, the Parliamentarians surrendered to Rupert the following day. The cathedral suffered extensive damage: the central spire was demolished, the roofs ruined and all the stained glass smashed. It was not until the 19th century that the damage caused by the Civil War was fully repaired. Today, on top of the ornamented gable, between the two spires, stands a colossal figure of Charles II, by Sir William Wilson.

Modern History

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. The ornate west front was extensively renovated in the Victorian era by Sir George Gilbert Scott. 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.

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