There are some very fine Cathedral churches in the country and they all have a story to tell,
some of them a bit unusual.
The Fiddling Archbishop
York Minster is one of our finest churches and has a great many treasures, not least its amazing medieval stained glass. The huge east window alone is the size of a tennis court.
A devastating fire at York Minster took hold in the early hours of the morning of 9 July 1984 Some attributed the cause of the blaze to divine retribution - or even a UFO. Yorkshire Fire Brigade concluded it was more likely to have been a lightning strike. However it was sparked, the fire caused massive damage to the 13th century cathedral, destroying the roof of the South Transept and shattering the famous rose window into thousands of pieces. It took four years to complete the repairs - which included bosses in the South Transept vaulting designed by winners of a competition run by the BBC children's programme, Blue Peter.
There was immediately a veiled reference to ‘Divine Retribution’ due to the fact that the fire broke out soon after the controversial ordination of Dr David Jenkins as Bishop of Durham Cathedral. Dr Jenkins, a former professor of theology at Leeds had said on television that he doubted that God would have arranged a Virgin birth or that Jesus would have walked on water. He also stated, amongst other things, that people could consider themselves to be Christians even if they did not consider Jesus to be more than a divinely inspired human.
The Fiddling Archbishop
There is an effigy in the crypt of York Minster of an Archbishop holding a fiddle. It is Archbishop Blackburne (1658-1743), who is supposed to have had a very exciting career as a young man. Horace Walpole wrote of him, ‘The jolly old Archbishop of
had all the manners of a man of quality,
though he had been a buccaneer, and was a clergyman, though he retained nothing
of his first profession except his seraglio’
(Harem). We are told that he
was originally called Ruggins and as a young man he ran away from York with a stolen
fiddle, playing his way to Cambridge . He became a pirate in the London West
Indies and after many adventures entered the church. When he became Archbishop of York his
conscience pricked him and he returned the stolen fiddle to its owner in a fine
The Frith Stool
BEVERLEY in The East Riding of Yorkshire is a lovely old market town which is the county town of the East Riding and is notable for its very fine Minster founded by John of Beverley in the 7th century. This lovely Minster contains many treasures, not least very fine canopy over the Percy Shrine.
Of particular interest to those seeking the unusual is the Frith Stool or Sanctuary Seat which still stands at the side of the altar and is one of very few of such left in the country. It is a simple stone chair which is more than 1000 years old and was used by the officer investigating pleas for sanctuary. Beverley was granted the right to sanctuary by King Althelstan in 938 and lasted for 600 years before being abolished by King Henry V111. Penalties for most crimes were extremely severe in those times and fugitives could escape to places like Beverley to claim the right of sanctuary which meant that they could live in the town provided they gave up their property to the Crown and swore to become a servant of the church.
The Frith Stool
Whitby Abbey at Whitby in North Yorkshire was founded by St Hilda, a Saxon princess in AD 656. She taught the observance of righteousness, mercy, purity and other virtues, but especially of peace and charity. Legend has it that St. Hilda drove a plague of snakes off the end of the nearby cliff and these turned to stone. The stone like fossils still found on the shore kn own as ammonites are, in fact, called hildoceras after St. Hilda. Many years ago snakes heads were carved onto the ammonites and sold as souvenirs. Three ammonites are on the plaque of Whitby Town.
This picture of the cliff down which St Hilda drove the snakes has the outline of a face
- some say it is in fact St Hilda.
King Oswy of Northumbria chose Whitby Abbey to hold the The Synod of Whitby in AD 664 to calculate the date of Easter in line with the customs of Rome.
The Abbey fell into disuse at the Dissolution of the Monasteries and shells fired by the German navy in WWI further damaged the west front of the abbey church.
A humble young cattle herdsman at the Abbey called Caedman, at the time of Hilda, was to become the earliest known English poet. He was totally ignorant of the art of song but one night in the course of a dream he learned to compose a song that was to live for all time. He became a monk at the Abbey and became an inspirational English poet. Arthur Mee wrote : 'It was the beginning of lietrature which became the glory of the world'. A fine Cerltic cross in his memory stands on the cliff edge not far from the Abbey. It depicts Caedman with his harp and St Hilda treading on the snakes.
The Caedman Cross
A tiny stone seat sits forlornly on the footpath in Stakesby Road being all that remains of a unique wishing cross chair which was once used by children to make a wish come true. The cross survives as the chair base only but its position is original and was a marker for the boundary of Whitby Abbey. English Heritage has now recognised that there is a strong local tradition that the wish of a child sitting in the chair will come true and that it must be preserved.
The Wishing Chair
The Dun Cow
A fine sculpture of a cow to be seen on the river bank reminds us of Durham and Durham
Cathedral origins and the legend of the Dun Cow.
The Dun Cow
Statue of St Cuthbert at Lindesfarne Priory
Wooden tableau at Durham of monks carrying St Cuthbert's coffin.
Pavement tablet in Durham Market Place.
St Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne (
Holy Island), died in
687 and was buried in Lindisfarne Priory.
In 875, in danger from Danish raiders, the Lindisfarne Congregation left
the island and began their ‘wanderings’ through the north of England, taking
with them St Cuthbert’s body and other treasures including the Lindisfarne
Gospels. They eventually settled at Chester-le-Street in 882.
Some two hundred years later following further danger the congregation
resumed their wanderings and in 995 whilst near to Hetton to the east of , the coffin
transport came to a standstill and would not move any further. After intense meditation the monks prayers
were answered when St Cuthbert appeared in the vision of a monk called Eadmer
who told them to take the coffin to a place called Dun Holm. Dun Holm meant Durham ,
later called Duresme and finally Hill Island . The monks were then able to continue but
nobody seemed to know where Dun Holm was.
Luckily the monks heard a milkmaid asking another milkmaid if she had
seen her dun cow and was told that it had been seen grazing near Dun Holm. The monks followed the milkmaid in her
search for her cow and thus arrived at the appointed place on a promontory of a
peninsular in the River Wear. Here they
built a ‘White Church’ as a shrine for St Cuthbert’s relics, and so the
Cathedral and the City of Durham
was founded. Durham
A sculpture portraying the Dun Cow and the Milkmaids is set in the north-west turret of a gable on the north front of Durham Cathedral.
A very fine sanctuary knocker which can be seen on the main door to the Cathedral, reminds us that Durham was a sanctuary town. Penalties for most crimes were most severe in the middle ages and miscreants could escape to places like Durham to claim the right to sanctuary. If such offenders could reach the sanctuary knocker then they could claim the right to live in the town free from punishment provided they gave up their property to the Crown and swore to become a servant of the church. Apparently there was a small room over the door which was manned by two monks whose job it was to look out for Sanctuary seekers.
Sanctuary was abolished by King Henry V111. The unique knocker at Durham is a replica and the original is preserved inside the Cathedral.
The Boy Bishop
In former times the choir boys at Salisbury Cathedral in Wiltshire elected their own 'Boy Bishop' during the feast of St Stephen and he was afforded all the duties of a Bishop, except for Mass. If the Boy Bishop died in office he was buried with the same honours due to an adult prelate with mitre and cope. The story goes that in the 17th century the choristers would tickle their Bishop when he was sad. On one occasion they overdid it and tickled him to death! A recumbant statue, thought to be the Boy Bishop, can be seen in the cathedral near to the west doors. It should be said that a plaque records that it is thought to be the Boy Bishop but it may be that the statue covered the heart of Bishop Richard Poore (1217-1228) founder of the Cathedral whose body is buried at Tarrant Crawford in Dorset.
Wimborne Minster at the town of that name in Dorset is a most interesting church. There is no clock on either of the two towers but a 'Quarter Jack' in the shape of a colourful Grenadier strikes every quarter of the hour on the west tower. There is also an unusual three faced sundial in the churchyard. Inside the church is an astrological clock, a Saxon chest and a Chained Library. King Alfred the Great's brother, King Ethelred is buried in the church and is commemorated by a brass. An unusual custom is maintained here when the Verger keeps any dozing members of the congregation awake during the sermon with his 'wand' or staff of office.
Anthony Ettricke was an eminent barrister in Wimborne Minster in the 17th century. It is said that as he grew older, he became ‘humerous, phlegmatic and credulous.’ Because he fell out with the inhabitants of the town, Ettricke made a solemn vow that he ‘would never be buried within the church or without it, neither below the ground nor above it.’ However, he lived to regret his vow but managed to obtain permission to make a recess in the wall of the Minster for his coffin. He was convinced that he would die in 1693 and had this date inscribed on a colourful black coffin, but in fact he died in 1703. His coffin can still be seen in its recess in Wimborne Minster and the change of date is clear for all to see.
The most magnificent tomb in Wimborne Minster is the colourful Elizabethan monument of Sir Edmund Uvedale who died in 1606. His widow 'in doleful duty erected this monument.’ On the tomb the reclining knight is probably a good likeness of Sir Edmund. However, the figure has two left feet! which may be an error of restoration.
The Minster Church of All Saints at Dewsbury in West Yorksire dates back to the 13th century and is now a Grade 11 listed building. The Black Tom bell at the Minster was donated by Sir Thomas de Soothill in penance for murdering a servant in a fit of rage. Every Christmas Eve the bell is rung, one toll for each year since the birth of Jesus Christ. Known as 'The Devil's Knell', the tradition dates back to the 15th century.
The Saxon crypt
In circa AD672 St Wilfred and his monks built a stone church at Ripon in North Yorkshire and they constructed the crypt how they imagined Christ's tomb might have been. Saxon churches were normally wooden built but Wilfred had been to Rome and had seen how the churches there were built from stone. The lovely Cathedral has replaced Wilfred's church but somehow the amazing crypt has survived and is amongst the oldest Christian sites in the country. Situated beneath the central tower, this small stone cell measures just 11 feet long, 8 feet wide, with a barrel roof just 9 feet high, a rare survivor.
The Lincoln Imp
The well known ‘Lincoln Imp’ is the symbol of the City of Lincoln in Lincolnshire.
According to legend two imps were sent by Satan to do evil work on earth. They ended up at Lincoln Cathedral where they smashed tables and chairs and tripped up the Bishop. When an angel intervened, one of the imps threw rocks whilst the other one submitted. The angel then turned the first imp into stone, but gave the second one the chance to escape. It fled to Grimsby and caused further mayhem at St James Church there. The angel reappeared and thrashed its backside before turning it into stone like his friend at Lincoln. The stone imps can be seen at both churches.David P Howard and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
I am grateful to Julian and David for the use of their Geograph photographs.
Coventry has had three cathedrals. Only a few ruins remain of the first which was a monastic building. The second was St Michael's now a bombed ruin, and the third is the new St Michael's.
St Michael's Cathedral was bombed almost to destruction in 1940 and the ruins are Grade 1 listed. Only the tower, spire, the outer wall survived.
The spire at 90 m (295 ft) is the tallest structure in the city. It is also the third tallest cathedral spire in England, after Salisbury and Norwich cathedrals.
The new Cathedral, designed by Basil Spence is also a Grade 1 listed building. Spence, who was later knighted for this work, insisted that the old Cathedral should be kept in ruins as a garden of remembrance. The new building was constructed alongside with the two effectively forming once church.