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Carlisle Cathedral

Carlisle's red sandstone cathedral - the second smallest in Britain after Christ Church Oxford - is a must for any visitor to the great border city. A little time spent here gives an extraordinarily vivid evocation of the turbulent history of the place.

Situated between the city centre and the imposing castle, Carlisle Cathedral started life in 1092 as a church founded by William Rufus (builder of Carlisle Castle). In 1122 Henry I created it as an Augustinian Priory of St Mary before, 11 years later, elevating it to cathedral status, making Carlisle the only city in the area now known as Cumbria.

The building has a rather violent history, perhaps unique to any cathedral in Britain. Even before the Reformation it had been destroyed by fire (1292), with its rebuilding delayed by the Wars of Independence. In 1297 it was the location where Robert the Bruce swore allegiance to Edward I (although that wasn't the end of the wars).

After the Reformation Oliver Cromwell destroyed much of the west end, while four years later in 1645 the Scottish destroyed much of the original nave. After the Jacobite invasion of 1745, the Duke of Cumberland used it as a gaol and torture chamber for captured Jacobites.

Thankfully, since then, the cathedral has been allowed to resume its original, spiritual purpose and the latest addition, between 1999 and 2000, has been the hanging of a complete new set of 12 bells.

Look out for the beautifully restored 14th-century barrel-vaulted painted ceiling, its gold stars shining resplendently on a rich blue background, and a particularly fine east window -40 x 30 feet and depicting Christ leading the saved into paradise above the damned being dragged to hell - as well as the Flemish Brougham Triptych from 1510 in St Wilfrid's Chapel. Also worth looking at are the carved oak misericords underneath the seats in the choir stalls (so even when upright the seats would offer support for standing clergy to lean back against).

Carlisle Cathedral. Photo Ben Barden, courtesy Cumbria Tourist Board

Carlisle Cathedral Information


When: Daily

Where: Carlisle

Cost: Free; donations requested

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 7.30am-6.15pm; Sun 7.30am-5pm

Address: 7 The Abbey, Castle St, Carlisle, CA3 8TZ

Hotels near Carlisle Cathedral


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