Suvarna Garge (Editor)

Norwich Cathedral

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Norwich, Norfolk

Church of England

26 February 1954




96 m

Jane Hedges

Norwich Cathedral

Heritage designation
Grade I listed building

65 The Close, Norwich NR1 4DH, UK

Architectural styles
English Gothic architecture, Norman architecture

St John the Baptist Cathedral, Ely Cathedral, Norwich Castle, Peterborough Cathedral, Gloucester Cathedral


The history of 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.


The cathedral was begun in 1096 and constructed out of flint and mortar and faced with a cream-coloured Caen limestone. A 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 outsized by 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 or 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 or 140.5 m long and, with the transepts, 177 ft or 54 m wide at completion, Norwich Cathedral was the largest building in East Anglia.

The spectacular norwich cathedral england inside and outside views


In 672 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus divided 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. The new cathedral incorporated a monastery of Benedictine monks.

Norman period

The structure of the cathedral is primarily in the Norman style, having been constructed at the behest of Bishop Herbert de Losinga who had bought the bishopric for £1,900 before its transfer from Thetford. Building started in 1096 and the cathedral was completed in 1145. It was built from flint and mortar and faced with cream coloured Caen limestone. 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 Wensum and unloaded at Pulls Ferry, Norwich.

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. 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. The present spire was added in the late fifteenth century.

Later Medieval period

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

A large two-storey cloister, the only such in England, with over 1,000 ceiling bosses was begun in 1297 and finally finished in 1430 after the Black Death had plagued the city.

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. In the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the cathedral's flat timber ceilings were replaced with stone vaults: the nave was vaulted under Bishop Lyhart (1446–72), the choir under Bishop Goldwell (1472–99) and the transepts after 1520. The vaulting was carried out in a spectacular manner with hundreds of ornately carved, painted and gilded bosses. The bosses of the vault number over 1,000. Each is decorated with a theological image, and as a group they have been described as without parallel in the Christian world. The nave vault shows the history of the world from the creation; the cloister includes series showing the life of Christ and the Apocalypse.

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 creamy Caen limestone a pink colour. 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. At 315 feet (96 metres) high, the spire is the second tallest in England. Only that of Salisbury Cathedral is taller at 404 feet (123 metres).

The total length of the building is 461 feet (140 metres). Along with Salisbury and Ely the cathedral 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.

Seventeenth century

The cathedral was partially in ruins when John Cosin was at the grammar school in the early 17th century and the former bishop was an absentee figure. In 1643 during the reign of Charles I, 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 under Charles II.

Nineteenth and twentieth centuries

In about 1830 the west front was remodelled by Anthony Salvin. In 1930–2 a new Lady Chapel, designed by Sir Charles Nicholson, was built at the east end, on the site of its 13th century predecessor, which had been demolished during the Elizabethan period.

Modern works

In 2004 the new refectory (winner, National Wood Awards 2004), 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 Elizabeth II 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.

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.


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.

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


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 in size it occupied in medieval times one tenth of the total area of the city.

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


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 fourteenth century. It has two storeys, the upper originally a chapel dedicated to St Ethelbert and decorated with flushwork. In 1420 Sir 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 Chapter

  • Dean – The Very Revd Jane Hedges
  • Vice-Dean and Precentor – The Revd Canon Jeremy Haselock (Precentor since 1998)
  • Canon Pastor – The Revd Canon Richard Capper (since 12 February 2005 installation)
  • Canon Librarian – The Revd Canon Peter Doll (since 14 March 2009 installation)
  • Organists

    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's close, with at least 50% 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 Evensong on Tuesdays. The men also sing Evensong on Thursdays 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 weekly (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 Sir John Betjeman. 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. More recently the cathedral has featured in the 2016 BBC 4 documentary "The Search for the Lost Manuscript: Julian of Norwich" and the forthcoming 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.


  • Sir Thomas Erpingham, KG (c. 1355–1428)
  • St William (of Norwich), Child Martyr (d 1144)
  • John de Gray, Bishop of Norwich (1200–1214)
  • Pandulf Verraccio, Roman ecclesiastical politician, papal legate to England and Bishop of Norwich (1215–1226)
  • John Salmon, Lord Chancellor of England and Bishop of Norwich (1299–1325)
  • Henry le Despenser, Bishop of Norwich (1370–1406)
  • William Paston (died 1444) Justice of the Common Pleas
  • Richard Nykke, last Catholic (before the Henrician reform) Bishop of Norwich (1501–1535)
  • John Hopton, Bishop of Norwich (1554–1558)
  • John Salisbury (bishop)
  • John Parkhurst, Bishop of Norwich (1560–1575)
  • William Redman, Bishop of Norwich (1595-1602)
  • John Overall (bishop), Bishop of Norwich (1618–1619)
  • Richard Montagu, Bishop of Norwich (1638–1641)
  • Edward Reynolds, Bishop of Norwich (1660–1676)
  • Herbert de Losinga, Bishop of Norwich (1095–1119)
  • Edith Cavell, nurse, executed in the WW1 (1865-1915)
  • Thomas Gooding commemorated by a tomb, known as The Skeleton
  • Sir Geoffrey or Jeffery Boleyn (1406–1463)


    Norwich Cathedral Wikipedia

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