Carlisle Cathedral

Monday 26 January 2015, and we had had a drive to the Cumbrian coast. We returned to Carlisle and parked near the Cathedral. We like the city, have visited the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery – website, and some good bookshops. For some reason we have not been into the Cathedral for many years. Their cafe was shut, but we had a good explore of the Cathedral. My photos are not brilliant as it was quite dark. Let me start by quoting Pevsner (my lovely wife bought me the Cumbria and Durham Pevsners for Christmas – I’m sure my readers know about the Pevnser Architectural Guides – – has anyone used the app?).


“’Like a great wild country church’ is how three army officers found [Carlisle Cathedral] in 1646, ‘neither beautify’d nor adorn’d one white.’ The greater part of the Norman nave was largely demolished shortly after. This was the church’s lowest point. Today, though plenteously beautified and adorned, it is still not much more than half a cathedral.”


We got a nice welcome as we entered. Would I mind paying £1 for a photo permit? Of course not – like an idiot I didn’t buy a guidebook at this point, and the shop was shut by the time we left. Fortunately the website is very good with an excellent page on “top things to see and do”. Let’s see how many of them we missed! (But why isn’t “Come to a service” one of the “top things”?).

The building sits on Roman remains and a Viking cemetery, and the Augustinian priory was founded in 1122 by Henry I, who elevated it to a Cathedral in 1133. Pevsner says “to stabilize the newly established border with Scotland, and to ward off the Bishop of Glasgow”. I love the idea of warding off a Bishop … .

A new quire was started in 1220 – I stick to the convention that a quire is where a choir sings – and finished seventy years later. We forget that the people who started buildings never saw them finished. A couple of years later a fire removed the roof, the East window was ready by 1340, the roof was on by 1355, and in 1380 the Norman crossing tower fell. There are times when we feel our buildings are taking too much time and energy – I bet they thought the same! And so it went on.


At the Reformation in 1540 the prior, 23 canons and 4 chantry priests surrendered, and the following year the buildings were granted to a new Dean and Chapter – I wonder if any of the 23 were on the Chapter? The city was under siege in 1644 when many of the Cathedral buildings (and most of the nave) were cannibalized for the city’s defence. Carlisle was a Royalist city, and was under siege by an alliance of the Parliamentarians and the Scots. More of the nave was demolished in 1652. There was a 1765 restoration, another in the 1850s, another in the 1870s, and from 1947 Stephen Dykes Bower created the Regimental chapel in the Nave and St Wilfrid’s chapel in the North Transept. Dykes Bower was responsible for the crossing and quire in Bury St Edmunds.

It does seem off coming into the Cathedral and realising how little Nave there is, and we automatically turned right into the Quire. It is a lovely ceiling – based on a medieval design it was designed by Owen Jones (1809–1874). It was last repainted in 1970.



The entrance is off centre and under the organ. The pillars apparently have interesting carvings of the Labours of the Months – missed them! Missed the Green Men too.


What I didn’t miss was the rather lovely misericords, dating from 1400 to 1419. I didn’t photo all of them.


This is the Salkeld Screen which bears the initials of Lancelot Salkeld, Dean of Carlisle, who became Dean in 1541, and the arms of Henry VIII, who died in 1547. It is rather lovely, but the light was in the wrong place. Nor was I able to get a decent photo of the East window, but this Baptism one is fine. Amazing statue and angel too.











The Brougham Triptych was made in Antwerp in about 1520, and bears the trademark of the Antwerp Guild of Woodcarvers. It may have been in a church in Cologne before it was bought in the 1840’s by Baron Brougham and Vaux to decorate St Wilfred’s Chapel, Brougham, from which it derives its name. Technically it is not a triptych because it lacks the two doors making the wings, one either side. It is however a fine example of a style of altar piece made in Northern Europe from 1380 to 1550. It portrays Christ’s passion, and also includes infancy and resurrection themes. I would love to get closer and have a better look.


I was going to pop down to the Treasury and have a closer look, but one of the Vergers insisted that Julie should go down on the wheelchair lift. They had an amazing selection of beautiful things down there – silver from across the Diocese, including this 1618 steeple cup from Ambleside. This soldier was also from the Brougham triptych. A wonderful Green Man too.


We went into town for coffee then came back for a lovely Choral Evensong. I like Carlisle. A good day. By the end of Evensong the day was over, and the Cathedral looked lovely.



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