Norwich Cathedral

Norwich Cathedral is an English cathedral located in Norwich, Norfolk, dedicated to the Holy and Undivided Trinity. It is the cathedral church for the Church of England Diocese of Norwich and is one of the Norwich 12 heritage sites.

Norwich Cathedral
Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity
Norwich Cathedral from Cloisters, Norfolk, UK - Diliff.jpg
Spire and south transept viewed from the cloisters
Norwich Cathedral is located in Norwich
Norwich Cathedral
Norwich Cathedral
Shown within Norwich
Coordinates: 52°37′55″N 1°18′04″E / 52.631944°N 1.301111°E / 52.631944; 1.301111
LocationNorwich, Norfolk
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
Heritage designationGrade I listed building
Designated26 February 1954[1]
StyleNorman, Gothic
Years built1096–(1121-1145)
Length140 metres (460 ft)
Number of spires1
Spire height96 metres (315 ft)
DioceseNorwich (since 1094)
DeanJane Hedges
PrecentorAidan Platten
Canon(s)Peter Doll (Vice-Dean & Canon Librarian)
Keith James (CMD)
Canon MissionerAndy Bryant (Mission & Pastoral Care)
Director of musicAshley Grote
Organist(s)David Dunnett

The cathedral was begun in 1096 and constructed out of flint and mortar and faced with a cream-coloured Caen limestone. An Anglo-Saxon settlement and two churches were demolished to make room for the buildings. The cathedral was completed in 1145 with the Norman tower still seen today topped with a wooden spire covered with lead. Several episodes of damage necessitated rebuilding of the east end and spire but since the final erection of the stone spire in 1480 there have been few fundamental alterations to the fabric.

The large cloister has over 1,000 bosses including several hundred carved and ornately painted ones.

Norwich Cathedral has the second largest cloisters in England, only exceeded by those at Salisbury Cathedral. The cathedral close is one of the largest in England and one of the largest in Europe and has more people living within it than any other close. The cathedral spire, measuring at 315 ft (96 m), is the second-tallest in England despite being partly rebuilt after being struck by lightning in 1169, just 23 months after its completion, which led to the building being set on fire. Measuring 461 ft (141 m) long and, with the transepts, 177 ft (54 m) wide at completion, Norwich Cathedral was the largest building in East Anglia. There is no entry charge to visit the cathedral; visitors are instead asked to make a suggested voluntary donation to help cover the costs of running the cathedral each year.



In 672 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, divided the Kingdom of East Anglia into two dioceses: one covering Norfolk with its see at Elmham; the other covering Suffolk with its see at Dunwich. During much of the 9th century, because of the Danish incursions, there was no bishop at Elmham; in addition the see of Dunwich was extinguished and East Anglia became a single diocese once more. Following the Norman Conquest many sees were moved to more secure urban centres, that of Elmham being transferred to Thetford in 1072, and finally to Norwich in 1094.[2] The new cathedral incorporated a monastery of Benedictine monks.[3]

Norman periodEdit

The structure of the cathedral is primarily in the Norman style, having been constructed at the behest of Herbert de Losinga who had bought the bishopric for £1,900 before its transfer from Thetford.[3] Building started in 1096 and the cathedral was completed between 1121 and 1145. It was built from flint and mortar and faced with cream-coloured Caen limestone.[4] It still retains the greater part of its original stone structure. An Anglo-Saxon settlement and two churches were demolished to make room for the buildings and a canal cut to allow access for the boats bringing the stone and building materials which were taken up the River Wensum and unloaded at Pulls Ferry.[4]

The ground plan remains almost entirely as it was in Norman times, except for that of the easternmost chapel. The cathedral has an unusually long nave of fourteen bays. The transepts are without aisles and the east end terminates in an apse with an ambulatory. From the ambulatory there is access to two chapels of unusual shape, the plan of each being based on two intersecting circles.[5] This allows more correct orientation of the altars than in the more normal kind of radial chapel.

The crossing tower was the last piece of the Norman cathedral to be completed, in around 1140. It is boldly decorated with circles, lozenges and interlaced arcading.[5] The present spire was added in the late 15th century.[5]

Later Medieval periodEdit

The nave
Interior of the cloisters
Norwich Cloister with Honi soit qui mal y pense Motto on Wall

The cathedral was damaged after riots in 1272,[3] which resulted in the city paying heavy fines levied by Henry III,[4] Rebuilding was completed in 1278 and the cathedral was reconsecrated in the presence of Edward I on Advent Sunday of that year.[3]

A large two-storey cloister, the only such in England, with nearly 400 carved stone ceiling bosses was begun in 1297 and finally finished in 1430 after the Black Death had plagued the city. The system of building remained the same over this long period, though the details, in particlar the tracery of the openings facing the cloister garth, did change.[6]

The Norman spire was blown down in 1362. Its fall caused considerable damage to the east end, as a result of which the clerestory of the choir was rebuilt in the Perpendicular style.[3][5] In the 15th and early 16th centuries, the cathedral's flat timber ceilings were replaced with stone vaults: the nave was vaulted under Walter Hart (bishop, 1446–72), the choir and the Bauchun Chapel (on the easr side of the south transept) under James Goldwell (bishop, 1472–99) and the transepts after 1520.[7][8] The system of vaulting is of a tierceron vault with Lierne ribs forming patterns of lozenges and stars along the ridge. The vaulting was carried out in a spectacular manner with hundreds of ornately carved, painted and gilded bosses studding the liernes.[9]

Together with the cloister vaults, there are over 1,000 bosses in the cathdral. They are one of the world's greatest mediaeval sculptural treasures, and certainly a near miraculous survival of Tudor and Civil War period iconoclasm. They have been described as "undoubtedly the most important series in the country".[10] The earliest subjects are natural, mostly flowers and foliage. Then come figural representations such as green men, acrobats, mythical animals, hunting scenes and single bosses which show a story such as events from the lives of the saints. Then there are narratives which tell a story in a sequence of bosses. The nave vault shows the history of the world from the creation. Many of the later bosses revert to foliage or formal subjects such as coats of arms.[8] The bosses can be seen most clearly in the cloisters, where they are lower than those elsewhere. The east range has much foliage, and a sequence of the Passion of Jesus. The north range has the Resurrection and scenes of the Virgin Mary and saints. The south and west walk have the Apocalypse, as well as the Annunciation and Herod's Feast..[8] Catalogues of the cloister bosses have been published by M.R. James (1911),[11] with drawings of the bosses of the north walk, and by Hawkins (2020), with a complete set of colour photographs.[12]

Cathedral viewed from Norwich Castle to the southwest

In 1463 the spire was struck by lightning, causing a fire to rage through the nave which was so intense it turned some of the cream-coloured Caen limestone a pink colour.[4] In 1480 the bishop, James Goldwell, ordered the building of a new spire which is still in place today. It is of brick faced with stone, supported on brick squinches built into the Norman tower.[5] At 315 feet (96 m) high, the spire is the second tallest in England; only that of Salisbury Cathedral is taller at 404 feet (123 m).

The total length of the building is 461 feet (141 m). Along with Salisbury and Ely Cathedrals, Norwich lacks a ring of bells, which makes them the only three English cathedrals without them. One of the best views of the cathedral spire is from St James's Hill on Mousehold Heath.[citation needed]

17th centuryEdit

The cathedral from the west
The nave ceiling

The cathedral was partially in ruins when John Cosin was at Norwich School in the early 17th century and the former bishop was an absentee figure. In 1643 during the Civil War, an angry Puritan mob invaded the cathedral and destroyed all Roman Catholic symbols. The building, abandoned the following year, lay in ruins for two decades. Norwich bishop Joseph Hall provides a graphic description from his book Hard Measure:

It is tragical to relate the furious sacrilege committed under the authority of Linsey, Tofts the sheriff, and Greenwood: what clattering of glasses, what beating down of walls, what tearing down of monuments, what pulling down of seats, and wresting out of irons and brass from the windows and graves; what defacing of arms, what demolishing of curious stone-work, that had not any representation in the world but of the cost of the founder and skill of the mason; what piping on the destroyed organ-pipes; vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had been newly sawed down from over the greenyard pulpit, and the singing-books and service-books, were carried to the fire in the public market-place; a lewd wretch walking before the train in his cope trailing in the dirt, with a service-book in his hand, imitating in an impious scorn the tune, and usurping the words of the litany. The ordnance being discharged on the guild-day, the cathedral was filled with musketeers, drinking and tobacconing as freely as if it had turned ale-house.

The mob also fired their muskets. At least one musket ball remains lodged in the stonework.

Only at the Restoration in 1660 would the cathedral be restored.

19th and 20th centuriesEdit

The presbytery as viewed from the choir
The pulpitum

In about 1830 the south transept was remodelled by Anthony Salvin.[13] In 1930–32 a new Lady Chapel, designed by Charles Nicholson, was built at the east end, on the site of its 13th-century predecessor, which had been demolished during the late 16th century.[14]

Modern worksEdit

In 2004 the new refectory (winner, National Wood Awards 2004),[15] by Hopkins Architects and Buro Happold, opened on the site of the original refectory on the south side of the cloisters. Work on the new hostry, also by Hopkins Architects, started in April 2007 after the "Cathedral Inspiration for the Future Campaign" had reached its target of £10 million. It was opened by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on 4 May 2010. The new hostry has become the main entrance to the cathedral. Space has been provided within the hostry for temporary art exhibitions.

The organ was built by local builder Norman and Beard in 1899, but later damaged in a fire in 1938. The current organ is a rebuild of the destroyed organ and is currently the 3rd largest cathedral organ in Britain. A notable addition to the organ was in 1969 when six bells and a rotating star were added to the organ, known as a Cymbelstern.[16][17] In 2017 the dean, the Very Rev Dr Jane Hedges, revealed that the cathedral was planning to spend around £2 million on rebuilding the organ and supporting its existing choirs.[18]


In July 2019, a 17 metre high helter-skelter was constructed inside the cathedral, partly for the purpose of attracting more visitors and also giving people a better vantage point for viewing the roof bosses. Reaction to the installation of the slide was mixed, Gavin Ashenden, former chaplain to the Queen, described it as "poisoning the medicine" a church offered.[19] In August 2019, Jonathan Meyrick, the Bishop of Lynn, gave a sermon and sang Words by the Bee Gees from halfway down.[20]


Norwich Cathedral has a fine selection of 61 misericords, dating from three periods — 1480, 1515 and mid-19th century. The subject matter is varied; mythological, everyday subjects and portraits.

In St Luke's Chapel, behind the altar is a late 14th century painting, known as the Despenser Retable, named after the Bishop of Norwich, Henry le Despenser (1369–1406). During the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, Despenser's forces successfully contained the revolt in Norfolk and the painting was probably commissioned in thanksgiving. Several shields, in the border of the painting, are associated with others who led the attack on the peasants. The retable was re-discovered in 1847, having been reversed and used as a table top.[21]

The copper baptismal font, standing on a moveable base in the nave, was fashioned from bowls previously used for making chocolate in Rowntree's factory in Norwich, and was given to the cathedral after the factory closed in 1994.

Since 2013, the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey (NMGS) has recorded a large amount of medieval graffiti, including organ music inscribed on two four-line staves, on the interior stone surfaces of the cathedral.[22]


The precinct of the cathedral, the limit of the former monastery, is between Tombland (the Anglo-Saxon market place) and the River Wensum and the cathedral close, which runs from Tombland into the cathedral grounds, contains a number of buildings from the 15th through to the 19th century including the remains of an infirmary. The cathedral close is notable for being located within the city's defensive walls and its considerable size, unusual for an urban priory. At 85 acres (34 ha) in size it occupied in medieval times one tenth of the total area of the city[23] and includes Almary Green.

The grounds also house Norwich School, statues to the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Nelson, and the grave of Edith Cavell.


Erpingham Gate

There are two gates leading into the cathedral grounds, both on Tombland. The Ethelbert Gate takes its name from a Saxon church that stood nearby. The original gate was destroyed in the riot of 1272 and its replacement built in the early 14th century. It has two storeys, the upper originally a chapel dedicated to Saint Ethelbert and decorated with flushwork.[24] In 1420 Thomas Erpingham, benefactor to the city, had the gate which bears his name built, sited opposite the west door of the cathedral leading into the close.

Dean and ChapterEdit

As of 30 December 2020:[25]

  • DeanJane Hedges (since 21 June 2014 installation)
  • Canon Librarian & Vice-Dean — Peter Doll (canon since 14 March 2009 installation)[26]
  • Canon Precentor — Aidan Platten (since 24 September 2017 installation)[27]
  • Canon for Mission & Pastoral Care — Andy Bryant (since 29 March 2015 installation)[28]
  • Canon for Continuing Ministerial Development and Diocesan CMD Officer — Keith James (since 17 October 2015 installation)[29]


The Quire


Records of the organists at Norwich Cathedral are continuous from the appointment of Thomas Grewe in 1542. However, several earlier names are known, the earliest being that of Adam the Organist in 1313 while Thomas Wath and John Skarlette are recorded as having played the organ in the 15th century. Notable organists of Norwich Cathedral have included composers Thomas Morley, Heathcote Dicken Statham, Alfred R. Gaul and Arthur Henry Mann.


The cathedral's choir is directed by Ashley Grote as Master of the Music. The choir consists of boys, girls and men. The boys of the choir hold places for around sixteen boys aged from seven to thirteen years. The boys all attend Norwich School and its Lower School located in the cathedral close, with at least half of their fees being paid by the Norwich Cathedral Endowment Fund. With the men of the choir, the boys sing at five services a week and often more during special times of year such as Easter and Christmas. There are twelve men of the choir, six of them being choral scholars (usually music students from the University of East Anglia). The men of the choir sing with the boys' choir and fortnightly with the girls' choir at Tuesday evensong. The men also sing Thursday evensong by themselves.

The girls of the choir were introduced in 1995 to give girls the chance to contribute to the musical life of the cathedral. It has places for 24 girls, who are older than the boys, at the secondary age of 11 to 18 years. They are drawn from the local community and outside the city. They sing evensong once a week (alternately on their own and with the men of the cathedral choir) and at least one Sunday Eucharist a term. The girls sing more often during busy times of the year such as Easter and Christmas.

The choir sing at other churches around the diocese and further afield, release CDs and go on music tours (sometimes all together and at others separately) — locations have included the United States, Malta, Norway and the Netherlands.


The cathedral and other churches in the Diocese of Norwich were featured in the 1974 BBC documentary A Passion for Churches, presented by John Betjeman.[30] In 2012 Norwich Cathedral and the adjacent Bishop's Palace were featured in the BBC Four documentary The Medieval Mind: How to Build a Cathedral. The cathedral was used as a location for the 2013 film Jack the Giant Slayer.[31] More recently the cathedral has featured in the 2016 BBC Four documentary The Search for the Lost Manuscript: Julian of Norwich and in the 2017 feature film Tulip Fever.

The cathedral was also used as a location for the 1971 BBC Christmas ghost story The Stalls of Barchester, based on the story by M. R. James.[citation needed]



See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Historic England. "The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, The Close (1051330)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
  2. ^ "2: The Dioceses of England: An Outline History" (PDF). General Synod Dioceses Commission — Background and History. Church of England. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 June 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e Bumpus, T. Francis (1930). The Cathedrals of England and Wales. London: T. Werner Laurie. pp. 193–197.
  4. ^ a b c d "Timeline of Norwich Cathedral". Norwich Cathedral. Archived from the original on 29 May 2010. Retrieved 26 July 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e Wilson, Bill; Pevsner, Nikolaus (2007). Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Buildings of England (2nd ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. pp. 189–193. ISBN 978-0-300-09607-1.
  6. ^ Pevsner 1962, 226
  7. ^ Pevsner 1962, pp.216-219
  8. ^ a b c Rose, Martial; Hedgecoe, Julia (1997). Stories in Stone. The medieval roof carvings of Norwich Cathedral. New York: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-27937-3.
  9. ^ Pevsner 1962, pp.217
  10. ^ Cave, Charles John Philip (1948). Roof Bosses in Medieval Churches: An Aspect of Gothic Sculpture. CUP Archive. pp. 12–13. GGKEY:QEY40Z28LJ5.
  11. ^ James, Montague Rhodes (1911). The Sculptured Bosses in the Cloisters of Norwich Cathedral. Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society.
  12. ^ Hawkins, Robert James (2020). Questions of sculptural idiom in the later bosses from Norwich Cathedral cloister (c. 1411-1430) (PDF) (PhD). University of Cambridge. doi:10.17863/CAM.57362. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  13. ^ Historic England, "The Cathedral of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Norwich (1051330)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 1 October 2012
  14. ^ Pevsner 1962, pp.211 and 403.
  15. ^ "Norwich Cathedral Visitors' Centre". Wood Awards. Archived from the original on 2 July 2019. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  16. ^ "The Organ - Music - Worship - Norwich Cathedral". Archived from the original on 28 March 2019. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  17. ^ "The organ". Norwich Cathedral. Archived from the original on 16 October 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2019
  18. ^ Powell, Luke (11 April 2017). "Norwich Cathedral to spend £1.5m rebuilding organ as country's other religious buildings hit financial trouble". Eastern Daily Press. Archived from the original on 30 September 2017. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  19. ^ "Norwich Cathedral helter-skelter 'is a mistake'". BBC News. 9 August 2019. Archived from the original on 12 August 2019. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  20. ^ "Norwich Cathedral: Bishop delivers sermon from helter-skelter". BBC News. 18 August 2019. Archived from the original on 18 August 2019. Retrieved 19 August 2019. With video
  21. ^ "Art Treasures and Despenser Retable". Norwich Cathedral. Archived from the original on 30 May 2015. Retrieved 30 May 2015.
  22. ^ Days, Heritage Open. "Medieval graffiti at Norwich Cathedral - Heritage Open Days". Archived from the original on 23 November 2016. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  23. ^ Norman John Greville Pounds (2005). The Medieval City. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 91–92. ISBN 9780313324987.
  24. ^ Gilchrist, Roberta (2005). Norwich Cathedral Close: The Evolution of the English Cathedral Landscape. Studies in the History of Medieval Religion, Volume 26. Boydell Press. p. 51. ISBN 9781843831730. Archived from the original on 23 April 2017. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  25. ^ Norwich Cathedral — The Dean & Chapter Archived 23 April 2019(Date mismatch) at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 30 December 2020)
  26. ^ "Installation of Doll as Canon Librarian — 14 March 2009" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 April 2015. Retrieved 30 September 2017.
  27. ^ Norwich Cathedral — Installation of new Canon Precentor Archived 17 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 16 January 2018)
  28. ^ Diocese of Bath & Wells — Portishead Team Rector to join Norwich Cathedral (Accessed 16 January 2018)
  29. ^ Diocese of Worcester — Bewdley Rector on the move! Archived 17 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 16 January 2018)
  30. ^ "A Passion For Churches". BBC. Archived from the original on 25 October 2015. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  31. ^ BBC news item Archived 30 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 25 March 2013
  32. ^ "One of the finest Cathedrals in Europe, dating from 1096". Archived from the original on 31 May 2016. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  33. ^ "Norwich Cathedral". Archived from the original on 6 August 2019. Retrieved 6 August 2019.

Further readingEdit

Pevsner, Nikolaus (1979) [1962]. North-East Norfolk and Norwich. The Buildings of England.

External linksEdit