Carlisle Cathedral, founded by Henry I and completed in 1102, was first a church for the city, then, in 1123, the designated church for the Augustinian order of the Priory of St Mary. It was officially made a cathedral in 1133, the only Augustinian priory church to be so designated. The cathedral has a long and tumultuous history.
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In 1292 a fire destroyed much of the cathedral, and border warfare with Scotland delayed its rebuilding. In 1297 the cathedral was the place where Robert the Bruce swore allegiance to King Edward I and England. In 1380 the cathedral tower fell on the north transept.
Between 1400-1420 the tower was rebuilt along with new choir stalls. Another extensive building program took place in the later half of the 15th century. Part of the complex (not open to theCarlisle Cathedral ceiling by Barbara Ballardpublic) is the 15th century Prior's Tower (Deanery) with its painted 16th century heraldic ceiling.
The tower was used as offices, storerooms, meeting rooms, and a bedroom for the prior. With architectural styles changing over the years during the building and rebuilding of the cathedral, a hodgepodge of styles shows up, especially in the eastern part of the cathedral.
In 1540 the Priory was dissolved, and the cathedral was refounded. Although the red sandstone building was fortunate enough to survive Henry VIII's destructive tendencies, Cromwell in 1641 pulled down much of the west end to build barracks. The chapter house and treasury were turned into a magazine for the garrison.
In 1645, Scottish troops destroyed parts of the nave (at 200 ft, it is the shortest cathedral nave in England), chapter house, dormitory, cloisters, and part of the deanery.
Carlisle city was responsible for its upkeep, but they refused to pay for any repairs. In 1745, the Duke of Cumberland used the cathedral as a garrison, and Jacobite prisoners were held in the nave. In 1853-57, much restoration work was completed on the cathedral. In 1999, a peal of ten bells was hung in the cathedral.
In the nave (actually the choir of the medieval church) the stained glass and tracery of the east window (43 feet high and 30 feet wide) is particularly notable. The upper glass dates to the 14th century, while the lower nine lights are 19th century replacements. It is considered to be one of the finest decorated windows in England. A 16th century carved Flemish altarpiece, the Brougham Triptych, is located in St.Wilfrid's Chapel.
The aisles are graced with medieval paintings, and the choir contains a 14th century barrel vaulted ceiling, painted blue with stars adorning it. Misericords decorate the 15th century oak choir stalls. The carved Salkeld screen-named after its donator, the first dean of the cathedral-is dated c1541. It is an example of early English Renaissance decoration. The Treasury contains a collection of cathedral silver and other treasures.
Tel. 01228 535 169
“Christianity In Cumbria” exhibition in the Cathedral Treasury.
Guided tours available.
Website: Carlisle Cathedral