Architecture Religious Architecture

7 Creative new uses for cathedrals

Cathedrals hold a special place in the built environment.They are important for their scale and splendour as well as their significance as places of worship.

Cathedrals hold a special place in the built environment.They are important for their scale and splendour as well as their significance as places of worship.

They attract large congregations and, in some cases, even greater numbers of tourists.
Most cathedrals have been around for hundreds of years and many have an air of timelessness. Change is constant even in our oldest cathedrals.

Here we take a look at seven cathedrals that have recently undertaken some amazing projects to look after their heritage and to encourage more people to visit and enjoy them:

1. Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral c HE Archive DP189199
Winchester Cathedral ©  Historic England Archive DP189199

Parts of the Cathedral building are Norman, dating from 1093. It was remodelled from the 14th century (adding the soaring Gothic arches) to the 16th century. It is the burial place of many historical figures: from William Rufus, son of William the Conquerer, in 1100, to Jane Austen in 1817.

Winchester Cathedral is currently undertaking a huge amount of conservation and building work as part of a wider project, Kings and Scribes: the birth of a nation. This includes the conservation of historic material and stained glass, as well as treasures like the magnificent 12th century Winchester Bible. It will also create new exhibition and education space for visitors.

What’s on? The annual Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market is on until 22nd December – recognised as one of the best in Europe.

2. York Minster

York Minister
York Minster South Piazza © York Minster

This huge medieval cathedral was built over 250 years between 1220 and 1472, although there have been at least three other Minsters around the same site. Particularly famed for its stained glass, it contains 128 windows, including the Great East Window, the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the country.

York Minister
York Minster undercroft museum © York Minster

York Minster is in the final stages of conserving the Great East Window. This is part of the York Minster Revealed project, which has created several apprenticeships in traditional craft skills such as stone masonry and stained glass conservation. The Minster has also improved interpretation and redesigned the Undercroft Museum, making it fully accessible.

What’s on? Experience the cathedral’s Christmas trail until 7th January 2018, along with other Advent and Christmas events.

3. Sheffield Cathedral

Sheffield Cathedral new entrance_copyright Sheffield Cathedral
The new entrance at Sheffield Cathedral © Sheffield Cathedral

Sheffield Cathedral is the oldest building in the city still in daily use, and parts of it date from the 13th century. The Chancel and the Sanctuary were built in the 15th century, while the impressive hammerbeam roof in the Chancel is probably from the 16th century.

The project A place for all people has aimed to make the cathedral a more welcoming place for all visitors, and to engage with a wide audience. It has included developing a new fully accessible entrance and improving both the accessibility of the external public space and movement within the cathedral through a series of ramps and platform lifts.

What’s on? For details of Advent and Christmas concerts and activities, see here.

4. Gloucester Cathedral

Gloucester Cathedral external view
Gloucester Cathedral external view

There has been a monastery on or around the site of the present Cathedral for over 1,300 years. It is the site of the coronation of the nine year old Henry III in 1216, and the burial place of Edward II in 1327. The Cathedral building only narrowly escaped demolition under Oliver Cromwell.

Last year 150 solar panels were installed on Gloucester Cathedral roof while carrying out essential lead repairs. The solar panels generate about 25% of the energy used by the Cathedral. The Cathedral is also considering options to upgrade its lighting system, conserve heat and prevent draughts.

What’s on? There are many Advent and Christmas activities throughout December, from a Christmas trail to carols by candlelight.

5. Durham Cathedral

Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral ©  Historic England Archive DP034539

Originally built as a monastic cathedral for a community of Benedictine monks, Durham Cathedral boasts some of the most intact surviving monastic buildings in England. Today, it is part of a World Heritage Site and welcomes over 700,000 visitors a year.

Durham Cathedral has recently completed Open Treasure, a multi-million pound project which aimed to improve the visitor experience through new exhibitions, facilities and spaces. This included creating a new exhibition space within the medieval Monks’ Dormitory area, updating the café and shop, and making these areas fully accessible.

What’s on? For Advent events at Durham Cathedral, see here.

6. Rochester Cathedral

Rochester Cathedral crypt_copyright Clive Tanner
Rochester Cathedral crypt © Clive Tanner

The desire to make the most of its space and collections has led to Rochester Cathedral to renovate the library and Crypt to create more display space. This has allowed for the creation of a state of the art exhibition area. The centrepiece of the new exhibition is the Textus Roffensis, a document  from 1122 which sets out English laws dating back to 600. The beautiful Crypt is also now a much more flexible space and is available for private hire.

What’s on? The Cathedral hosts a variety of events, including a Christmas concert on 8th December.

7. Blackburn Cathedral

Blackburn Cathedral Court
Blackburn Cathedral Court

Blackburn Cathedral was formerly the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, becoming a cathedral in 1926, when the Diocese of Blackburn was created. Essentially a Georgian building, designed by John Palmer and consecrated in 1826, it stands on a site associated with early Christianity.

Blackburn Cathedral has completed a major development project that has improved the experience of visitors not just to the cathedral, but to this part of Blackburn more widely. The area round the cathedral is now home to offices, shops, leisure space and a hotel. The project has also created new living space for Cathedral staff and scholars, new staff offices, conference facilities and offices for hire, and a café.

What’s on? The Blackburn Cathedral Christmas Spectacular will take place on 9th December.


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