Chester is a charming city in the northwest of England. Filled with delightful architecture and a strong sense of history, Chester Cathedral is one of the city’s main attractions.
A proud medieval gem, there are many ways to enjoy the stunning religious site! Whether you admire the intricate and imposing facades, step inside to marvel at the beautiful interiors, soak up the views from the top of the soaring tower, take a tour to learn more about the cathedral, or relax in the former refectory (now used as a cafe), Chester Cathedral is a great place to visit when in Cheshire.
Chester Cathedral: A little bit of history
Majestic and attractive, Chester Cathedral dates back to the 1540s, although it is thought that there has been a place of worship on the same spot since the Roman occupation (40 AD to 410 AD) of the city that was then known as Deva.
In the 900s the remains of St Werburgh were placed in the church that once stood where Chester Cathedral is today, and a shrine to the revered saint was created. Born at the start of the 7th century AD, Werburgh was the daughter of a king. She became famous and well-respected for her kindness and unwavering dedication to trying to help other people. She also had a strong faith, and was believed to have been able to perform miracles. Her life of compassion, tolerance, and devotion led to her becoming a well-known Saxon saint.
The church was destroyed in the late 1000s, with a Benedictine abbey founded on the spot towards the end of the same century. In the 1530s the monastery was abandoned, and St Werburgh’s shrine defiled. The religious building was proclaimed as a Church of England cathedral just a few years later in 1541.
Although the cathedral underwent many alterations and additions over subsequent years, with much of what you can see today dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries, there are still remnants from the earlier constructions. Try and spot Norman-period architecture amongst the largely Gothic details.
Admire the impressive building from outside
Built mainly from local sandstone, sourced from the Cheshire Basin, the overall appearance of Chester Cathedral is one of grandeur. Stained-glass windows, a high tower, arches, turrets, and pinnacles are just a few features that you will observe.
Look closer though, at the finer details, and you will see many carvings too. There are detailed statues and grotesque gargoyles! Gargoyles are hideous figures overhanging the gutters. Although their practical purpose is as a water spout, they are designed so as to represent evil, thus showing the devoted how their lives will be if they turn away from their faith.
There are old gravestones scattered throughout the cathedral’s grounds, surrounded by lawns, flower beds, and trees. The grounds are peaceful, and the park benches are ideal if you want to sit for a while in reflection. Falconry displays often take place in the gardens. The price to watch one of the shows, and admire the powerful birds up close and personal, is 3 GBP (approximately 4.40 USD).
Enjoy the magnificent stained glass windows
Chester Cathedral displays some excellent examples of decorative and detailed stained glass. The large and colourful windows filter light into the building, bathing the edges in different shades and hues. The windows depict a variety of scenes, largely biblical in nature. You can also see those that remember brave soldiers who lost their lives during World War I.
Although the stained glass is quite modern when compared to the rest of the building, having been made mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries, it is still very eye-catching and won’t disappoint.
There is an even newer window in the refectory; it was installed in 2001. Vibrant and imaginative, it shows the Creation – how the world was created according to the Book of Genesis within the Holy Bible.
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Admire the abundance of art
From huge painted scenes on the walls to smaller pictures, carvings, statues, and sculptures, fans of religious art will be in seventh heaven in Chester Cathedral. See famous biblical tales painted with an incredibly high attention to detail, and be impressed by the high levels of skill used in the stonework.
The building itself is an architectural piece of art, with its many sweeping archways and striking features, and the addition of many pieces of artwork add even more visual appeal to the interiors.
Look at the ends of the wooden choir stalls and you will notice carvings of people, animals, flowers, and other objects. Cast your gaze downwards and you will see that the floor tiles are different throughout the cathedral, with the side chapels having different designs to the main part of the building. A large carved scene of the crucifixion, showing Christ on the cross, is austere and moving.
There are often seasonal displays that combine religious traditions with modern aspects. The Christmas and Easter displays are particularly thought-provoking and interesting.
Learn more on a tour of the cathedral
Whilst you can certainly enjoy the splendour of Chester Cathedral on your own, a free tour is a great way to learn more about the building’s history, uses, construction, and details. The knowledgeable and passionate guide will point out tiny aspects that you might not otherwise notice, such as a small metal mouse that embellishes part of the railings in front of the main altar.
Admission to the cathedral is free, although donations are gratefully received. The cathedral recommends a donation of 3 GBP (approximately 4.40 USD) per person. Short tours of the ground floor run regularly, and times are posted at the main entrance.
Other things to enjoy in Chester Cathedral
Take a more in-depth tour of Chester Cathedral, climbing up the tower to admire the views, seeing the inner parts of the cathedral from the upper balconies, and exploring areas that are usually off-limits to visitors. The Tower Tour costs 8 GBP (approximately 11.70 USD) per person, and lasts for around one hour.
The café, located in the old refectory, serves an array of light meals, snacks, and drinks. Pop in for a cup of tea and scone! The gift shop sells religious memorabilia, souvenirs, books, and more.
Visit Chester Cathedral and enjoy one of the city’s most famous attractions.
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