Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Peterborough Cathedral

When I was in Peterborough last week I did not have an opportunity to make a return visit the cathedral, which is a wonderful building, but not particularly well known by the general public. The west front is one of the most awe-inspiring facades in the country, if not indeed in Europe, and the impact of one's first sight of it remains in the memory long afterwards, indeed is virtually unforgettable. For a monastic church, and one that did not have a major pilgrimage shrine, it is all the more remarkable. It was usually the secular canons who built cathedrals with majestic west fronts, not the Benedictines. Perhaps it was a compensation for not risking building a commanding central tower, which the Benedictines did do, given the lack of a strong sub-stratum of rock.

Peterborough Cathedral oblique view.jpg

Peterborough Cathedral as it is today

As with other cathedrals it has suffered from the reformation and civil war - the latter saw the cathedral being sacked in 1643 and from neglect and the removal of features deemed to be surplus to requirements. Thus the Lay Chapel was demolished in the 1650s and the stone used to build a country house on the oustskirts of the city - Thorpe Hall, which is a fine example of its period - and the spire on the north-west tower was removed in the eighteenth century, presumably to save the expense of repairing it. If I had a say in the matter it is a feature I would want to see restored. Here is an engraving showing the west front with the spire still in place:

File:Peterborough Cathedral - West prospect C17 - Project Gutenberg eText 13618.jpg

Quite apart from looking at the architecture I would also liked to have had the opportunity to pay my respects to Queen Katherine of Aragon, who is buried in the cathedral. Her tomb was one of those destroyed by the Parliamentarians in 1643. This is where she is buried:

Go to fullsize image

One of the city of Peterborough's minor claims to fame is that it is said to be the last place in England where sedan chairs were used as a regular means of transport into the early nineteenth century, before the railways changed its character of the city from a sleepy cathedral city to an industrial town.

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