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Ripon History

Ripon Cathedral

Cathedral - East View
Cathedral - East View

Correctly known as the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St.Wilfrid, the present Cathedral is the fourth to have been built on this site. All that remains of the first church is the Saxon Crypt which was situated beneath the Altar of the church built in 672 by St. Wilfrid, the second Abbott of the monastery in the village of "Rhypum".

The first church was destroyed by fire c.860 AD, and there is no record of its appearance from which an impression could be drawn. What is known, however, is that it is likely to have been based on the basilicas of Rome, as St. Wilfrid is known to have visited and admired them. He used stonemasons brought from Italy and France to work on the church and to create its arched vaults.

The second church was built c.900 AD, but nothing structural appears to have survived since the Normans destroyed it in 1069, though the altar stone of the Chapel of the Resurrection dates from this period.

In 1080 AD, Thomas of Bayeux, the first Norman Archbishop of York, founded a new church on the site dedicated to St. Peter and St. Wilfrid. The remains of this church can still be seen in the 12th century south doorway and the Chapel of the Resurrection. It was from this church that the monks worshipped on Christmas day 1132 AD prior to founding Fountains Abbey only two days afterwards.

In the 12th Century, Archbishop Roger de Pont l'Eveque donated the huge sum of one thousand pounds to assist in the rebuilding of the church largely in its present style with a vaulted nave. The West Front was the work of Archbishop Walter de Grey, and was added c.1220 AD; its twin towers being surmounted by wooden spires. In 1286 AD, the east end of the choir was rebuilt to include the magnificent east window. Over 50 feet in height, it is supported by huge buttresses, and is one of the most impressive of its kind.

In 1450 AD, disaster struck once more, and the central tower collapsed during a violent storm. It was a turbulent period, and the church lay unused until 1485 when the nave was rebuilt along with the central tower. It was at this time when the misericords were fashioned by the Ripon Guild of Carvers.

Cathedral - South View
Cathedral - South View

Work on the church was brought to a halt by the dissolution of the college of the canons of Ripon by Henry VIII in 1547 AD. It was re-started in 1604 AD when James I issued the Charter of Restoration whereupon the church became a collegiate church with a Dean and six Cannons. It was not to be free from further problems. In 1660 AD the spire on the central tower fell through the tower's roof. This was never replaced, and the two spires on the west front were removed later.

The first new diocese to be created since the Reformation was that of Ripon in 1836. The church was initially a "Minster", being the church of a monastery, but with the new diocese came the title of "Cathedral" for the church, as it was the site of the Bishop's cathedral.

The Nave
The Nave

The Cathedral has been changed and improved in more recent times too. The Art Nouveau pulpit is of hammered metal and dates from 1910. A superb gilded reredos behind the high altar, designed by Sir Ninian Comper depicting Kings and Saints was erected in 1922 as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the First World War. The figures in the choir screen date from 1947 to replace those destroyed during the Dissolution, and Leslie Durbin created the metal screen of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in 1970.

It is important to remember that although the Cathedral has seen a long and somewhat chequered history, it is not simply a historical monument. It is a modern and thriving church for the people of Ripon and for the visitors to the City. In a similar manner to the use of the nave in the medieval period, where it was used as much as a social gathering point as part of a church, the Cathedral is still the focal point of the City to many of its inhabitants, with much community work being carried out from the church as well as the more often expected daily worship.

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