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.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

St John the Baptist Chester

Today is the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. 

In a previous post Churches of St John the Baptist I wrote about various churches under his patronage which I know and like, and today is an opportunity to say a little more about one of these, the church of St John the Baptist in Chester.

south side of st.john's

St John the Baptist's Church Chester

This remarkably interesting church was in existence by 973, but begun in its present form as the new cathedral of the diocese of Lichfield by the first Norman bishop who transferred the diocesan centre to its largest town, which was Chester. The cathedral was soon after moved to Coventry, and then the co-cathedral restored at Lichfield. St John's remained a collegiate church until 1548, but then fell into decay. Today only part remains, but what does survive is noble and dignified, and rather moving in its wounded state. There is an online introduction to it here.

There is a much more detailed account with photographs, paintings and prints, and links to other sites, at the Chester based account which can be viewed here.

The particular tragedy of this remarkable church came on Good Friday 1881, when the fifteenth century tower collapsed, destroying the thirteenth century porch. The porch was reconstructed, but funds did not appear, or were not sought to rebuild the tower. This seems surprising given the enthusiasm for restoring churches in the nineteenth century, and a most unfortunate and regrettable decision. That said there are, as the second website illustrates, pictures of the tower as it was before 1881, and it is still not too late to rebuild it. Surely that could catch the imagination of the citizens of Chester, or draw upon appeal or commemorative funds, such as the Millenium Fund?

 st. john's from the river

St John's Chester before 1881 from the Dee


If you are visiting Chester I would urge anyone interested in history to make a detour to see this church and reflect on all it has witnessed, and suffered, over the centuries.

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