The Diocese of Truro was one of the Victorian creations, established in December 1876 when the See of Exeter was divided into two.
Truro Cathedral, or the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, bears a striking resemblance to Lincoln Cathedral, though it is several hundred years ounger, and a fair bit smaller.
It’s no coincidence. John Longborough Pearson was the appointed architect at Lincoln, and the first Bishop of Truro, Edward Benson, was previously Canon Chancellor there, also. Between them, they created the first Anglican Cathedral on a new site since Salisbury was begun in 1220.
Lincoln has a more quirky charm than Truro, which is a touch austere, like Salisbury Cathedral.
Salisbury Cathedral, built between 1220 and 1258, took only eight years longer than Truro’s construction froto880 and 1910, despite more than six hundredat lay between them. Both cathedrals had the advantage of a fresh start, allowing a uniform design. Salisbury is entirely early English Gothic of the concurrent period. Truro is a Gothic revival but “a scholarly exercise in French early gothic,” as described by Simon Jenkins of England’s Cathedrals. Apparently, Bishop Benson claimed that such a style reflected ancient links between Cornwall and Brittany, despite any such links being long before the gothic period. Enthusiasts do have a way of bending reality to their vision…
Looking westward through the choir and nave, you can appreciate the rich, traditional furnishings in the choir.
Nathaniel Hitch, a British sculptor, created the choir stalls and the reredos to a design by Pearson.
The statues of Bishops and saints are tinted, standing out amongst a sea of intricate wooden carvings.
No misericords, unfortunately, nor are there any tombs in the floor of this Cathedral—a byproduct of its youthfulness. The marble mosaic floors are smooth and elegant.
A Cornwall Live article, The secret parts of Truro Cathedral you’re not allowed to see, has a fabulous shot of the choir and presbytery, where you can gaze down on the tile floor in all its glory. The view is from high in the crossing and clearly shows the arches in the clerestory.
To orient ourselves, let’s take a look at the floor plan from 1880. The photo above is taken from inside Victoria Tower.
Here, we are looking up from the base of the central tower crossing. The clear windows provide excellent light.
Nathaniel Hitch also carved the elaborate reredos in the sanctuary.
Christ, pairs of Angels, a ninefold choir of Heaven, Prophets, Saints and Martyrs are all well represented.
On either side of the reredos are sedilia (seats) with intricately carved canopies. They usually comprise three seats and only on the south side of the altar, but Truro seems to have gone all out. The mind boggles a bit at how many clergy would be gathered in the space to require them!
It’s easy to lose sight of the altar among all the carved stone.
The stained glass above the reredos is equally intricate.
If you look carefully at the central panel, there is one piece of plain glass. In the 1940s, a chorister from the Cathedral fired his rifle and accidentally fractured the glass. The replacement was supposed to be temporary, but somehow no one got around to replacing it. It’s one of those things you can’t unsee once you know it’s there!
The choir and transepts were complete by October 1887. The consecration service took place on November 3, performed by E. W. Benson, then Archbishop of Canterbury. His successor as Bishop of Truro was George Wilkinson, who, along with twenty other bishops and noted local dignitaries were among the 2000 attendees. I begin to see how all that seating in the sanctuary might have been filled.
As the Cathedral is dedicated to Mary, there is no Lady Chapel. However, behind the Sanctuary is All Saint’s Chapel. Isn’t the ceiling view marvellous?
I didn’t manage to get into the chapel, but while writing this blog, I came across this photo on artist Zoe Cameron’s website.
In 2011 she was commissioned to create paintings to fit into the ten lancet-shaped niches in All Saint’s Chapel, depicting a modern interpretation of the Stations of the Cross (which traditionally number fourteen). It took her two years to complete the project, and they were displayed in the Cathedral until 2014 when they were retired. They were shown again in 2022 when the Cathedral emerged from Covid restrictions. There is a very interesting YouTube video on how she made them and the significance of the designs.
Here is a screenshot from the YouTube video where she is installing the paintings into the niches. I’m not usually a fan of modern interpretations of classic themes, but I think she’s done a marvellous job with this uniquely appropriate decoration for the chapel.
Moving west now, down the South Aisle, also called St. Mary’s Aisle, we see a large open space to our left.
Beyond the wrought iron screen is the old Parish Church of St. Mary’s, which is appended to the south wall of the Cathedral. It still serves as the parish church for the city of Truro.
Moving further west, we go through a carved wooden screen to leave the South Aisle and enter the South Transept, with the nave beyond.
The baptismal font is tucked into the west end of the south transept.
High on the south wall of the South Crossing is one of the three rose windows, one in each transept and the one above the West Doors.
Looking west through the nave, we see the third large rose window above the lancet windows, which float above the lancet arches.
The same firm, Clayton and Bell, did all of the stained glass in the late 19th century.
There is a restful uniformity to the decor of the Cathedral.
Stepping through the doors, we can see how all of this looks from the outside looking in. No detail is left undone. From a pure design perspective, it is an actual Gothic Cathedral.
Here you can see the exterior of the aspidal area just west of the South transept that holds the baptismal font.
Truro Cathdrals towers are tall but not out of proportion; the central bell tower is 250′ and the two west towers are 200′. Truro is one of only three English Anglican Cathedrals with three towers, the others being Lincoln and Lichfield.
Don’t they look stately?
We had a lovely visit and enjoyed our time in Truro, to which we drove on a day trip from Bovey Castle. We stayed at Bovey in 2012 and revisited it in 2022. It shows you how long this Cathedral project has been going on!