Chelmsford Cathedral is one of the youngest cathedrals in England, and stands at the heart of the newest city. Originally a parish church, the first recorded service dates back to 1223, and the earliest stonework discovered here is from Norman times.
In the 15th Century, the church was rebuilt to include the tower, parapets and magnificent South porch. Due to feuding during the War of the Roses between the the Yorkist Bouchiers and the Lancastrian de Veres who were funding the rebuilding, it took nearly a century to complete.
However, as you look at the exterior of the Cathedral from the South side, not all of what you see dates back to medieval times. In 1800 workmen digging to open a vault, undermined the building and the whole roof, north and south aisles collapsed. So the central area, paler in colour than the medieval west end, is made of Coade stone. Coade stone was often called artificial stone but is in fact a high quality and extremely weatherproof stone. It has also been used in St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
On the north side of the Cathedral, the vestry block whilst looking medieval with its flint wall exterior, is in fact twentieth century. The attention given to matching the exterior makes it difficult to tell the age of the building by sight alone. Another twentieth century addition which is perhaps easier to spot is the carving of St Peter. St Peter faces Bradwell, where St Cedd originally landed in the seventh century having left Lindisfarne on a mission to bring Christianity to the East Coast and founded the chapel which still stands today. How can we tell that this is a modern carving? St Peter holds a Yale key.
St Cedd’s Chapel.
St Cedd’s Chapel, on the other side of the West Tower, is used daily for worship and prayer.
Above the altar and to the left is the Christus mother and child by the English sculptor Peter Eugene Ball. In the centre is a statue of Christ. To the right is the icon of Christ.
Standing in the nave (central area of the Cathedral) fifty years ago would have felt very different. It would have been very dark with fixed pews and dark walls. By the 1950s it was felt that it was no longer fit for purpose and since then a series of changes have been made. Underfloor heating was installed in the 1980s and the walls were whitewashed. Chairs replaced pews which allow the space to be used for a variety of events; concerts, education days, talks and formal dinners all take place in the nave and this contributes to the Cathedral’s mission to be a public space as well as a place of worship. In fact rather than being a modern idea, had you been standing in the nave in medieval times, apart from a bench around the perimeter for those who couldn’t stand, the nave was a clear space; people stood for services and it doubled as a village hall for the local community.
Above the Chancel arch is the sculpture of Christ in Glory be Peter Eugene Ball.
The ceiling was coloured and guilded in 1961.
Unusually for a cathedral of this size, there are two organs and they are linked together so that they can be played at the same time. The organ at the West End, installed in 1994 was the first to be built from scratch for an English Cathedral in more than 40 years. It took 18 months to build and install having to be built off site and then dismantled and reassembled in the Cathedral. A gallery to house the organ under the tower had to be constructed although it is known, from engravings uncovered when the roof collapsed, that there had been a gallery there originally. Built by the firm MP Mander, the organ case was built specifically to fit within the arch of the West tower. The organ case in the Chancel was designed and painted to match the chancel ceiling and gives an idea of what the Cathedral would have looked like in medieval times.
Many of the windows remain clear, which contributes to the light and airy space in the building but there are several stained glass windows. On the south side of the building, near the altar, one window tells the story of the Good Samaritan and two others contain scenes from Jesus ministry: the wedding at Cana and the Last Supper.
The Chancel at the east end of the building was built in the first half of the 15th century. Looking up, the roof trusses bear the arms of the Chelmsford Diocese. Other coats of arms seen in the Chancel are those of the Borough of Chelmsford, the County of Essex, the Bourchier and de Vere families who financed the building of the Church in the 15th century and the arms of the Mildmay family and Westminster Abbey.
The present east window was a gift from Archdeacon St John Mildmay in 1878. The glass in the top depicts the Virgin Mary and eleven disciples. The other eight panels trace the life and ministry of Jesus.
The colourful patchwork hanging beneath the East window consists of 1,520 pieces and was created by Beryl Dean a well-known artist in the 1960s.
The Bishop’s Chair is a contemporary piece in stone by John Skelton. The statue to the right is of the first Bishop. A timely reminder to all future Bishops perhaps to see the first Bishop keeping an eye on them!
The South Porch and Exterior
A stone staircase leads to the upper storey of the south porch. Previously it has been home to the parish armour but now houses a renowned library containing medieval theological books and beautifully decorted manuscripts. The collection was presented to the church by Dr John Knightbridge who died in 1677. US forces were stationed in Essex between 1942 and 1945 and the window is a memorial to that friendship.
The tower spire was rebuilt in 1749 and the two metre weather vane, made from copper, depicts a dragon.
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