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Chichester Cathedral

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Chichester_Cathedral_about_1650_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_13331.jpg
Chechester Cathedral, illustrated circa 1650

Chichester Cathedral in Chichester, Sussex, England has superposed 'Norman' (English Romanesque) arcades in the nave and choir, with much Early English (Early Gothic) building. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner rated it 'the most typical English cathedral' (Buildings of England: Sussex). The nave is unusual in that its aisles were doubled in the 13th century. Chichester is the only medieval cathedral in England with a separate bell tower, like a campanile, and also the only one visible from the sea.

The cathedral of the Holy Trinity at Chichester was founded in 1075, after the seat of the bishop was transferred to the town from nearby Selsey. It was consecrated in 1108 under Bishop Ralph de Luffa but a subsequent fire created a need for substantial rebuilding, which was not completed until 1184. The cathedral was reconsecrated in 1199. This was not the last stage in its development, by a long way. Richard de la Wyche, (Saint Richard of Chichester in the Anglican Communion), who was bishop from 1245 to 1253, was buried in the cathedral, where his shrine was a place of pilgrimage, until it was ordered destroyed in 1538, during the first stages of the English Reformation. Further damage to the cathedral had been done by fire after the second consecration, and much rebuilding was carried out in the Early English style. The original wooden ceiling had burnt out, and the sublimely simple present vaulting replaced it. The spire, which was originally built in the 14th century, was repaired in the 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren and survived a lightning strike in 1721. However, its construction from poor-quality local stone led to its sudden collapse on February 21 1861, miraculously without loss of life. It was immediately rebuilt by George Gilbert Scott, and now rises to a height of 82 metres.

The cathedral has many other unique features. Under the floor of the nave are the remains of a Roman mosaic pavement, which can be viewed through a glass window. Also in the interior are the grave of the composer Gustav Holst and the Gothic "Arundel tomb" referred to in a famous poem by Philip Larkin.

Despite its age, the cathedral contains several modern works of art, including tapestries by John Piper and Ursula Benker-Schirmer, a window by Marc Chagall, and a sculpture by Graham Sutherland.

St. Mary's Hospital Almshouses in Chichester, which are linked to the Cathedral, are thought to be the oldest in Britain, dating back to the 13th century. Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, composed for the cathedral, are among his finest music.

The city of Chichester, though it retains two main cross streets laid out by the Romans, has always been small enough for the city's entire population to fit inside the cathedral at once:

I cannot say much of Chichester, in which, if six or seven good families were removed, there would not be much conversation, except what is to be found among the canons, and the dignitaries of the cathedral. —Daniel Defoe, A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724)


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