Chester Cathedral is a Church of England cathedral and the mother church of the Diocese of Chester. It is located in the city of Chester, Cheshire, England. The cathedral (formerly the abbey church of a Benedictine monastery, dedicated to Saint Werburgh) is dedicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since 1541 it has been the seat of the Bishop of Chester.
The cathedral is a Grade I listed building, and part of a heritage site that also includes the former monastic buildings to the north, which are also listed Grade I. The cathedral, typical of English cathedrals in having been modified many times, dates from between 1093 and the early 16th century, although the site itself may have been used for Christian worship since Roman times. All the major styles of English medieval architecture, from Norman to Perpendicular, are represented in the present building.
The cathedral and former monastic buildings were extensively restored during the 19th century (amidst some controversy), and a free-standing bell-tower was added in the 20th century. The buildings are a major tourist attraction in Chester. In addition to holding services for Christian worship, the cathedral is used as a venue for concerts and exhibitions.
he city of Chester was an important Roman stronghold. There may have been a Christian basilica on the site of the present cathedral in the late Roman era, while Chester was controlled by Legio XX Valeria Victrix. Legend holds that the basilica was dedicated to St Paul and Saint Peter. This is supported by evidence that in Saxon times the dedication of an early chapel on this site was changed from Saint Peter to Saint Werburgh.
During the Dark Ages Barloc of Norbury, a Catholic Celtic saint and hermit, was venerated at Chester Cathedral with a feast day on 10 September. He is known to history mainly through the hagiography of the Secgan Manuscript; he also occurs in a litany in the Tanner of the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
In the 10th century, St Werburgh's remains were brought to Chester, and 907 AD her shrine was placed in the church. It is thought that Æthelfleda turned the church into a college of secular canons, and that it was given a charter by King Edgar in 968. The collegiate church, as it was then, was restored in 1057 by Leofric, Earl of Mercia and Lady Godiva. This church was razed to the ground around 1090, with the secular canons evicted, and no known trace of it remains.
Although little trace of the 10th-century church has been discovered, save possibly some Saxon masonry found during a 1997 excavation of the nave, there is much evidence of the monastery of 1093. This work in the Norman style may be seen in the northwest tower, the north transept and in remaining parts of the monastic buildings. The abbey church, beginning with the Lady Chapel at the eastern end, was extensively rebuilt in Gothic style during the 13th and 14th centuries. At the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, the cloister, the central tower, a new south transept, the large west window and a new entrance porch to the south had just been built in the Perpendicular style, and the southwest tower of the façade had been begun. The west front was given a Tudor entrance, but the tower was never completed.
In 1636 the space beneath the south west tower became a bishop's consistory court. It was furnished as such at that time, and is now a unique survival in England, hearing its last case, that of an attempted suicide of a priest, in the 1930s. Until 1881, the south transept, which is unusually large, also took on a separate function as an independent ecclesiastical entity: the parish church of St Oswald. Although the 17th century saw additions to the furnishings and fittings, there was no further building work for several centuries. By the 19th century, the building was badly in need of restoration. The present homogeneous appearance that the cathedral presents from many exterior angles is largely the work of Victorian restorers, particularly George Gilbert Scott.