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Lichfield Cathedral

Coordinates: 52°41′08″N 1°49′50″W / 52.6855°N 1.8305°W / 52.6855; -1.8305
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Lichfield Cathedral
Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary and St Chad
The West Front of Lichfield Cathedral
Lichfield Cathedral is located in Staffordshire
Lichfield Cathedral
Lichfield Cathedral
Shown within Staffordshire
52°41′08″N 1°49′50″W / 52.6855°N 1.8305°W / 52.6855; -1.8305
LocationLichfield, Staffordshire
DenominationChurch of England
Previous denominationRoman Catholic
TraditionHigh church
Functional statusCathedral
Previous cathedralsEarly Anglo-Saxon and a second cathedral of undetermined date.
Years builtearly 13th century–1330
Length113 m (371 ft)
Nave width21 m (69 ft)
Width across transepts50 m (160 ft)
Height76.8 m (252 ft) (central spire)
Number of towers3
Number of spires3
Spire height76.8 m (252 ft) (crossing), 60.5 m (198 ft) (western)
DioceseLichfield (since 669 - 6th diocese)
Bishop(s)Michael Ipgrave
DeanJan McFarlane Dean Designate
PrecentorAndrew Stead
Canon ChancellorGregory Platten
Director of musicBen Lamb
Organist(s)Martyn Rawles

Lichfield Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England, one of only three cathedrals in the United Kingdom with three spires (together with Truro Cathedral and St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh), and the only medieval one of the three. It was the only cathedral moated and fortified. It is the cathedral of the Diocese of Lichfield, which covers Staffordshire, much of Shropshire, and parts of the Black Country and West Midlands. It is the seat of the Bishop of Lichfield, currently Michael Ipgrave, who was appointed in 2016. It is a Grade I listed building.[1]


The cathedral is dedicated to St Chad and St Mary. Its internal length is 113 m (371 ft), and the breadth of the nave is 21 m (69 ft). The central spire is 77 m (253 ft) high and the western spires are about 58 m (190 ft) with the southern spire a little taller than the northern one. The stone is Mercian red sandstone and came from quarries close to Lichfield. The walls of the nave lean outwards slightly, due to the weight of stone used in the ceiling vaulting; some 200–300 tons of which was removed during renovation work in 1788 to prevent the walls leaning further.[2]

Lichfield suffered severe damage during the English Civil War, in which all of the stained glass was destroyed. In spite of this the windows of the Lady Chapel contain some of the finest medieval Flemish painted glass in existence. Dating from the 1530s, it came from the Abbey of Herkenrode in Belgium, in 1801. It had been purchased by Brooke Boothby after the abbey was annexed in 1795 by the advance of the French Revolutionary Army. There are also some fine windows by Betton and Evans (1819), and many fine late 19th century windows, particularly those by Charles Eamer Kempe.[2]

The Lichfield Gospels, also known as the St Chad's Gospels, dated 720–740, are the gospels of Matthew and Mark, and the early part of Luke, written in Latin with some marginalia in early Welsh. It has similarities to the Lindisfarne Gospels.[3] The manuscript is on display in the Chapter House.

The Cathedral 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".

History of the cathedral[edit]

Early history and elevation to Archbishopric[edit]

The cathedral's Choir, built around 1200

Bede stated that Chad established his See at Lichfield; and the first cathedral would presumably have been on this site in 669.[4] When he died in 672, his grave site, near the church of St Mary, became a sacred shrine for many pilgrims.[5] In 2003, excavations under the east end of the nave revealed a grave cut into the sandstone bedrock which has been attributed to Chad. It was within the foundation of a tower-like building seven metres square.[6]

In 787, Offa, King of Mercia, created his own archbishopric in Lichfield, and this archbishop then presided over all the bishops from the Humber to the Thames. This was with the consent of Pope Adrian and agreed at the Council of Chelsea, 787, often called the "contentious synod". Higbert, or Hygeberht was installed as the new Archbishop of Lichfield. In gratitude, Offa promised to send an annual shipment of gold to the pope for alms and supplying the lights in St. Peter's church in Rome. However, the Archbishopric of Lichfield lasted for only 14 years, ending soon after Offa's death, when it was restored to Archbishop Aethelheard of Canterbury.[7]

In 1854, a foundation, 1.5 metres wide and 1.7 metres high, was found under the choir and presbytery floor. This basilica-shaped foundation was recognised as the second cathedral.[8] The Victorians assumed this was a Norman cathedral, but its shape, dimensions and material (much concrete hard mortar) suggest otherwise. It has yet to be carbon-dated and a case has been made that the church was built by Offa for his archbishopric.[9] The date for construction of the present Gothic cathedral is unclear since all fabric accounts were destroyed in the Civil War sieges and early texts are ambiguous. The general opinion is that the cathedral was begun in the early 13th century. It was completed by the building of the Lady Chapel in the 1330s. The Choir dates from 1200, the Transepts from 1220 to 1240 and the Nave was started around 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 treasures, the Lichfield Gospels, an 8th-century illuminated manuscript and the Lichfield Angel stonework.[7]

Devastation of the English Civil War[edit]

There were three great sieges of Lichfield during the period 1643–1646 as the cathedral close was surrounded by a moat and defensive walls, which made it a natural fortress. Clergy followed Charles I, but the townsfolk generally sided with Parliament. Robert Greville, 2nd Baron Brooke, led an assault against it, but was killed by a musket shot said to be from 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 on 2 March 1643.[10] Brooke's deputy John Gell, took over the siege and the garrison surrendered to Gell two days later.

In April of the same year (1643) Prince Rupert led an Royalist expeditionary force from Oxford to recapture Lichfield. The siege started on 8 April. During the second assault Rupert's engineers detonated what is thought to be the first explosive mine to be used in England to breach the defences. Unable to defend the Close, Colonel Russell, the parliamentary commander of the garrison, surrendered on terms to Rupert on 21 April.[11]

The cathedral suffered extensive damage: the central spire was demolished, the roofs ruined and all the stained glass smashed. Bishop Hacket began the restoration of the cathedral in the 1660s, aided by substantial funds donated by the restored monarch, but it was not until the 19th century that the damage caused by the Civil War was fully repaired. Until the 19th century, on top of an ornamented gable, between the two spires, stood a figure of Charles II, by William Wilson. Today it stands just outside the south doors.[7]

Victorian restoration[edit]

Although the 18th century was a golden age for the City of Lichfield, it was a period of alteration for the cathedral. The 15th-century library, on the north side of the nave, was pulled down in 1798 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 Altar to make one long worship area of Choir, Presbytery and Lady Chapel and adding a massive stone screen with glass to the roof at the entrance to the Choir.[2] Francis Eginton painted the east window and was commissioned by the chapter to do other work in the cathedral.

The ornate west front was extensively renovated in the Victorian era by George Gilbert Scott.[7] It includes a remarkable number of ornate carved figures of kings, queens and saints, working with original materials where possible and creating fine new imitations and additions when the originals were not available. Between 1877 and 1884 the empty niches on the west front were given new statues, most carved by Robert Bridgeman of Lichfield: the statue of Queen Victoria on the north side of the central window was carved by her daughter, Princess Louise.[2]

Wyatt's choir-screen had utilised medieval stone-work which Scott in turn used to create sedilia with 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 metalwork art, as are the fine Minton's tiles in the choir, inspired by the medieval ones found in the Choir foundations and some still seen in the Library.[7]

Lichfield Angel[edit]

The Lichfield Angel carving

In February 2003, an eighth-century sculpted panel of the Archangel Gabriel was discovered under the nave of the cathedral in and near the grave of Chad. The 600mm tall panel is carved from limestone from quarry at Ancaster, Lincolnshire. It was part of a stone chest, which is thought to have contained the relics of St Chad. The panel was broken into three parts but was still otherwise intact and had traces of red, black, yellow and white pigment from the period. The pigments on the Lichfield Angel correspond closely to those of the Lichfield Gospels which have been dated between 720 and 740. The Angel was first unveiled to the public in 2006, when visitor numbers to the cathedral trebled. After being taken to Birmingham for eighteen months for examination, it is now exhibited in the cathedral.[12]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

On Friday 15 January 2021, while closed to services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lichfield Cathedral became the first place of worship in England to accommodate the vaccination programme in the United Kingdom.[13][14]

Shrine of St Chad[edit]

On the 7 and 8 November 2022 a new shrine to St Chad was consecrated and a relic of the saint was translated from St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, at two separate services.[15]

Dean and chapter[edit]

As of 7 December 2020:[16]

  • Dean Designate: Jan McFarlane (Canon Residentiary and honorary assistant bishop since 3 April 2020) [17]
  • Canon Precentor: Andrew Stead (Canon since September 2013; Precentor since Easter 2017; previously Treasurer and school chaplain)
  • Canon Custos: Jan McFarlane
  • Canon Chancellor: Gregory Platten (since 5 July 2020 collation)[18][better source needed]
  • Canon Treasurer: vacant

The additional role of Vice Dean has been vacant since Anthony Moore's resignation in 2017.

Lay Chapter[edit]

  • Bryan Ramsell
  • Anne Parkhill
  • Margaret Harding
  • Peter Durrant


Lichfield Cathedral Organ


Notable organists of Lichfield Cathedral include the 17th-century composer Michael East, and the musical educator and choral conductor William Henry Harris who conducted at the coronations of both George VI and Elizabeth II.

Priest Vicars Choral[edit]

  • The Precentor's Vicar: Vacant
  • The Dean's Vicar: Vacant
  • The Chancellor's Vicar: Vacant
  • The Treasurer's Vicar: Vacant

Lay Vicars Choral and Choristers[edit]

The Choir has six Lay Vicars Choral on staff and in 2021 reduced the full time equivalents from 9 to 6. In the front rows Lichfield has 18 boy Choristers and up to 18 girl Choristers.[19]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Historic England. "Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Chad (1298431)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 13 June 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d "Lichfield: The cathedral Pages 47–57 A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990". British History Online.
  3. ^ Hawkes, Ross (9 July 2010). "American experts help record Lichfield Cathedral's St Chad Gospels". Archived from the original on 11 October 2019. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  4. ^ Bede (1 January 1896), Plummer, Charles (ed.), "Historia Ecclesiastica: The Ecclesiastical History", Venerabilis Baedae: Historiam Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum, Vol. 1, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/oseo/instance.00265387, ISBN 978-0-19-885956-7, retrieved 16 May 2024 Book 4 Chapter 3.
  5. ^ Thomas Harwood (1806). The History and Antiquities of the Church and City of Lichfield:: Containing Its Ancient and Present State, Civil and Ecclesiastical; Collected from Various Public Records, and Other Authentic Evidences, Page 177, Issue 390. London: Cadell and Davies. pp. 6–7.
  6. ^ Rodwell, Warwick (2006). "The forgotten cathedral". Current Archaeology. 205: 11.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Lichfield Cathedral: Our history". Lichfield Cathedral. Archived from the original on 22 February 2017. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  8. ^ Willis, Robert (1861). "On foundations of early buildings recently discovered in Lichfield Cathedral". The Archaeological Journal. 18: 1–24. doi:10.1080/00665983.1861.10851173.
  9. ^ Sharp, Robert (September 2022). "Why the second cathedral must be Anglo-Saxon (Englisc)". lichfield-history.blogspot.com. Archived from the original on 17 May 2024. Retrieved 17 May 2024.
  10. ^ Clayton, Howard (1987). Loyal and ancient city. The Civil War in Lichfield. Lichfield: H.Clayton. p. 22. ISBN 0950356328.
  11. ^ Willis-Bund 1905, pp. 80–90.
  12. ^ Wilcox, Peter (2011). The Gold, the Angel and the Gospel Book. Lichfield Cathedral. pp. 16–17. ISBN 978-0-9558887-7-9.
  13. ^ "Covid-19: Lichfield Cathedral turned into vaccination centre". BBC News. 15 January 2021. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  14. ^ Morris, Steven (16 January 2021). "Covid vaccine jabs accompanied by organ music at Salisbury Cathedral". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  15. ^ "The Reinstatement of the Shrine of St Chad". Lichfield Cathedral. 10 November 2022. Retrieved 30 November 2022.
  16. ^ "Who's Who". Lichfield-cathedral.org. 7 December 2020. Archived from the original on 2 January 2020. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  17. ^ @BpJanMc (3 April 2020). "Thanks to modern technology I am now officially commissioned as Canon Custos @LichfieldCath and Assistant Bishop…" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  18. ^ "Collationa and Installation of Canon Chancellor and Canon Custos | Welcoming Revd Dr Gregory Platten and art Revd Jan McFarlane to Lichfield Cathedral | By Lichfield Cathedral | Facebook". www.facebook.com.
  19. ^ "Lichfield Cathedral Choir Web Site". Archived from the original on 14 June 2006. Retrieved 20 April 2006.
  20. ^ "The Relics of St Chad". St Chad's Cathedral. Retrieved 27 April 2022.
  21. ^ "Lord Anglesey's burial – See p. 35". Archived from the original on 10 September 2016. Retrieved 17 August 2016.

General references[edit]

External links[edit]