Chester Cathedral

A place of worship for over 1000 years. Parts of the Norman church begun in 1092 can still be seen in the present building, which reflects all the Gothic architectural styles. Discover the finest Quire stalls in Britain, with intricately carved ‘misericords’; the famous Cobweb Picture; and a facsimile of Handel’s Messiah first rehearsed here. Beautiful monastic cloisters and garden.

Chester Cathedral is an incredible experience, and the best part is it’s free! The architecture is absolutely stunning, with intricate details that leave you in awe. The serene atmosphere inside offers a peaceful retreat from the bustling city. The staff and volunteers are friendly and knowledgeable, enhancing the visit with interesting historical insights. Don’t miss the beautiful gardens and the tower tour for panoramic views of Chester. A must-visit for anyone in the area! There is also a cafe on site with toilets.

I enjoyed this tour so much more than expected. It's great to see the city of Chester from the top of the cathedral but I really enjoyed listening to the historical legends, the quirks of the architecture, and the stories of the bells. Our guide was knowledgeable and humorous. Would definitely recommend booking the Chester Cathedral at Height tour!

This is an outstanding cathedral in a beautiful Roman city. We visited whilst on an overnight stop in Chester, the cloisters are in excellent repair considering the age and the cloister garden has an amazing water feature with a statue of Jesus and the the Woman of Samaria. The cathedral is very much in use as a place of worship as well as a magnificent building with some outstanding architecture. The cafe in the thirteenth century monks’ dining hall is clean with a good range of fresh food and hot drinks.

The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary at Chester is a living symbol of continuous progress, combined with constancy of purpose. For the worship and service of God have been offered on its site for over one thousand years; yet, over the centuries, no less than three different buildings have sheltered these primary tasks.

The story of Chester Cathedral can be traced back to the time of the Saxon Minster, which in 907 housed the remains of St Werburgh. During the period from 1092 to 1540 the Benedictine Abbey of St Werburgh flourished on the same ground. The story continues with the foundation of a Cathedral for Chester Diocese by Henry VIII in 1541, and on to our own day. As a result, the present building contains materials belonging to every Christian century since the tenth.

Today we can celebrate this theme, reflected in the vows taken by the Benedictine Monks themselves, of stability and openness to change. For Chester Cathedral is a remarkable building, both historically and architecturally. But it is much more than just a repository of the past. It is a living church, encompassing many activities within its active and diverse ministry. The Cathedral joins together in our own generation a community of people, who put prayer at the centre of their lives, and are also ready to share their faith in Christ with others: through daily worship, preaching and education, as well as through caring work in the city and beyond. It also embraces all those, whatever their nationality or beliefs, who value the beauty of Chester Cathedral and wish to share its riches, whether architectural, historical or musical.

 

In the tenth century, as a protection from marauding Danes, the remains of St Werburgh were brought from Staffordshire to Chester. St Werburgh was a Mercian princess, who became a nun and subsequently an Abbess. She was noted for her holiness; and during her life, as after her death, miracles of healing were associated with her. So in 907 Werburgh’s Shrine at Chester, placed in an existing Saxon Church or Minster, became a place of pilgrimage. The Minster itself was served by canons who acted as parish priests, guarding the relics and conducting worship.
The first church on the site of Chester Cathedral gave way, in the eleventh century, to a second. Hugh, called Lupus (“the Wolf”), the first Norman Earl of Chester, decided to found a monastery in the City: possibly to compensate for his previously extravagant lifestyle! To assist him with this task, he invited his friend Anselm, Abbot of Bec (later Archbishop of Canterbury), to come to Chester from Normandy with some of his monks. In 1092, the Benedictine Abbey of St Werburgh came into being; and a second Norman church surrounded by monastic buildings – cloisters, refectory, kitchens, dormitory, bakery, brew house, infirmary, wine cellar – gradually took shape
The Norman Abbey buildings with their heavy, rugged architecture, had not been too long in existence when, about 1250, a third church – basically what we know today as Chester Cathedral – was started. By this time the monks of Chester had been influenced by the lighter, more elegant style of so-called Gothic architecture, with its characteristically pointed arches, which was becoming popular in Europe. So, with great imagination, they built yet again: putting up their medieval church over the Norman, and taking down the earlier construction from inside. Building the new Abbey and church was a slow process, extending over 250 years or so. 

During this period, the community of St Werburgh’s Abbey prospered and grew. The monks, who were committed to the vows of stability (staying in one house), obedience (to the Abbot and to each other) and openness to the future, prayed and studied and worked: in the kale-yard, the hospital and the school room. They were also hospitable: entertaining guests from a wide area, including those traveling to and from Ireland, through what was then the port of Chester.

The third church building had not long been completed when, in 1540, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and St Werburgh’s ceased to exist. It was a mark of the King’s high opinion of the Abbey that he gave it back. So, in the following year 1541, the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary came into being as the seat of the Bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Chester (formerly part of Lichfield). At that moment Thomas Clark, the last Abbot became the first Dean. This moving fact testifies to the obvious message of Chester Cathedral: continuity and change.

In subsequent years, the Cathedral seems to have been neglected; and it was not until the later part of the nineteenth century that a major restoration – masterminded by Sir Gilbert Scott – took place. His additions to the building’s exterior continue to be controversial; but there is no doubt that his work on the interior, including the Quire, rescued the Cathedral from virtual disintegration, and so enhanced its appearance that it can be admired and enjoyed today as a place of worship and beauty.
When Frank Bennett was Dean (1920-37), the Cathedral’s doors were opened to tourists and pilgrims, and not just to worshippers. Under Dean Addleshaw in 1975 a Bell Tower was introduced to the Cathedral grounds: the first to be built away from a Cathedral since the Renaissance. In more recent years new stained glass, better heating, brilliant fabrics and sculptures have been added.


Prayer and worship form the heart-beat of Chester Cathedral’s life today, as they did in the Saxon, Norman and Medieval periods. The Benedictine monks of Chester were committed to the so-called opus Dei, “the work of God”. This involved attendance at seven offices, each day, beginning with Matins just after midnight, running through to Compline in the evening.

 

Today the discipline of prayer continues, with regular daily services of Holy Communion, and Matins and Evensong.
 In addition, many people find peace and solace by coming into the Cathedral, and by using one of the Chapels for private prayer and contemplation. Others find support by talking over their problems with resident clergy or one of the duty Chaplains.

Chester Cathedral continues as a place of spiritual pilgrimage for parishes from within the Diocese, for which the Cathedral is the Mother Church, and for people from this country and overseas. We seek to welcome everyone and to share with them the good news of God’s love and life in Christ. That is why our welcomers, guides, chaplains, vergers and bedesmen exercise an important ministry of welcome. However brief the stay, something of the Christian gospel can always be shared with visitors by the manner in which they are received, as well as by what is seen.


Each year, the Cathedral welcomes one million visitors through its open doors, which represents 20% of the tourists visiting Chester. They come from all over the world; and, like the Benedictine monks before us, we try to be warmly hospitable to them. But the Cathedral must also look outwards. Standing at the heart of Chester, the Cathedral building is an unmistakable reminder to the society around us of spiritual and eternal values. So we seek to maintain a caring interest in the problems and opportunities of the City. Through The Dean’s Breakfast, which brings together 150 key people in Chester, and by means of the Dean’s involvement with various charities, this caring attitude is given practical expression.
The Cathedral exercises a prominent civic role. Relations with the Town Hall are especially close, and the Lord Mayor’s Civic Service takes place each year in the Cathedral. Organisations and groups throughout the City, County and Diocese also come to us for special services.

We need, however, to look beyond the beautiful walls of Chester to the wider landscape. For we are part of a world church, and of a shrinking globe. So Chester Cathedral has established ecumenical connections with Catholic and Protestant churches in Southern France, while the twinning between Chester and the town of Sens, near Paris, will allow further European links to be established. For our ninth centenary in 1992, associations were also put in place between our Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral New Zealand, St Stephen’s Cathedral Akoko, Nigeria and St Barnabas’ Cathedral Honiara, Melanesia.