If Exeter Cathedral is a sumptuous white wedding gown, Chichester Cathedral is a grey morning suit with a particularly vibrant waistcoat.

Chichester Cathedral’s predecessor, Selsey Abbey, was founded in 681 by the irascible Wilfred of Ripon, famous for championing the Roman method for calculating the date of Easter at the Synod of Whitby. (Yes, there were two equally opaque methods for determining when the Easter bunny hops down the bunny trail). My friend, Mike Biles, over at A Bit About Britain, writes humorously about it.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, the policy of moving cathedrals into cities brought the seat of the diocese to Chichester in 1075. A new building began and was consecrated in 1108 under bishop Ralph de Luffa; we see the Norman arches and columns in the nave from that period.

The upper stories of the nave are in Early English, though.

Note the pointed arches, Purbeck marble shafts and stiff-leafed capitals.

That’s due to the fire of 1187, which burnt the Cathedral’s roof and destroyed much of the town.

The wooden ceiling in the nave was replaced with the stone vault we see today, and the Cathedral was rededicated in 1199.

The central tower was completed in the 13th century. Chichester’s foundations are subject to subsidence, and the decision was taken not to burden the central tower with the additional stress of swinging bells. A separate, free-standing bell tower was completed in 1402.

The southwest tower collapsed in 1210 and was rebuilt. The etching below is from 1650, just before the northwest tower gave way in 1635.

The English Civil war prevented its prompt rebuilding, which was finally completed in 1901.

Sir Christopher Wren repaired the masonry spire of the central tower in the 17th century. It survived a lightning strike, but despite all efforts, its fate was writ large. The Cathedral’s central tower collapsed in 1861, folding inwards on itself. Fortunately, no one was killed, but it made a terrible mess.

Some blamed the removal of the Arundel screen, undertaken in 1860.

The screen had separated the choir from the nave (it was returned to its original position in 1960). But it was more likely that the foundations had succumbed to the same subsistence as the other towers, and high winds finished it.

The £48,000 needed for the rebuilding was raised, and George Gilbert Scott built a replica of the old tower and spire, increasing the height by about 6 feet.

Now that we’ve dealt with all those dramatic architectural catastrophes let’s go inside and look around. Here we are at the west doors.

Through the doors, we can see right through the nave to the east end of the Cathedral.

Walking up the centre aisle and looking back, we can see the nave takes a slight twist. It isn’t quite straight.

As you can see from the floorplan below, Chichester Cathedral takes the shape of a cross, albeit slightly odd. Note that on either side of the nave are double aisles. That’s unusual.

The aisles’ creamy limestone is punctuated with dark Purbeck marble shafts, consistent with the style in the nave, which lends the entire Cathedral a very consistent mien.

The Arundel Tomb in the north aisle of Chichester Cathedral was brought from Lewes Priory after its dissolution in 1537.

I assume the snout was damaged on what looks more like a pig than a dog.

The recumbent figures of Richard Fitzalan, 2nd Earl of Arundel, and his wife, Eleanor of Lancaster, are holding hands–a highly unusual form of affection for a medieval effigy.

The additional aspect of her leg being turned towards him cements the deal. They were a devoted couple by the looks of things.

The north aisle also houses the Chapel of St. Clement, restored in 1898.

It’s dedicated to the 3rd Bishop of Rome, who died at the end of the first century.

The Chapel was built around 1300 and is still used for morning prayers and other services.

The angels are my favourite part of the canopy.

The Chichester Reliefs, two carved stones, were discovered behind the woodwork in the choir stalls in 1829. They’ve been dated to the mid-12th century, and thus some of the earliest pieces of art in the Cathedral. They depict two scenes, Christ arriving in Bethany and the Raising of Lazarus. I only managed to photograph one of them, Jesus raising Lazarus, still in his grave clothes, from the dead. Mary and Martha are looking on with expressions of astonishment. I particularly enjoy the two grumpy gravediggers.

Let’s head into the choir. If we walk right through, we can look back towards the west.

Inside the choir, the 17th-century organ pipes perch above the northern choir stalls, where they were moved to allow a clear view into the nave over the Arundel screen.

The choir stalls were introduced under the aegis of Bishop Langton in the 1330s.

Miraculously, they largely survived the fall of the Tower in 1861, though most of the panelling and upper work is from a renovation in the 19th century.

One of the more famous of the 38 misericords is of a fiddler trying to kiss a girl while still playing.

The colourful marble floor doesn’t overwhelm you.

Looking east from the choir into the presbytery, we come to the vibrant waistcoat, aka Piper’s tapestry reredos. Needlework banners are a 20th-century contribution to cathedrals and not to everyone’s taste. Enough said.

There is another one in Saint Richard’s shrine, by the German artist Ursula Benker-Schirmer and co-created with students from West Dean College, near Chichester.

Richard of Wych was the bishop of Chichester from 1245 to 1253 and was canonized by Pope Urban in pretty short order: 1262. His shrine was a magnet for pilgrims until those pesky iconoclasts sacked it during the Reformation.

Today, he is best known for his prayer, whose Edwardian translation of the original Latin ends with the words, to

know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.

I do wonder what he might think of the tapestry!

An equally vigorous stained glass window is by Marc Chagall, installed in 1978.


The Lady Chapel is delightfully traditional, with a nature-inspired fresco on the ceiling nearest the entrance.

The original, apsidal (semi-circular) Lady Chapel was much smaller; it was extended to three bays, probably under Bishop Hilary (1147-1169), and then extended again by Bishop Gilbert of St Leofard in the late 13th century, in the Decorated style. The original small Norman windows were enlarged, providing the Gothic pointed arches and tracery we see today.

Between 2007 and 2009, a significant refurbishment of the Chapel incorporated the bright vermillion and blue colouring on the vault ribs at the eastern end.

The same restoration restored the green, red and gold decorative work on the bosses and capitals.

The medieval Cathedral must have been very colourful!

The stained glass windows in the Lady Chapel are all by Clayton and Bell of London (1873-1888. They portray scenes from the life of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Looking into one of the side aisles, we glimpse the Chapel of St Michael, also known as The Sailors’ Chapel,

It is a memorial chapel to the Royal Navy and the people of West Sussex who gave their lives at sea in World War II.

The reredos behind the altar is very elaborate.

Let’s visit the cloisters now, shall we? They’re delightfully quirky and at an odd angle.

Chichester Cathedral’s cloisters were built in the 15th century to provide a covered passage for clergy and worshippers,

The central area of the cloisters is called Paradise, accessed through this gate.

Along one of the exterior walls of the cloister is s a walkway named after St. Richard (of the Chapel with the lively tapestry). I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I was intrigued enough to photograph it. Pilgrims used it to approach the Cathedral. It leads to the Deanery, apparently one of the finest Georgian houses in Chichester. I must check it out!

Heading out of the cloisters and back along the path to the street, I looked back to enjoy the view.

Bye, Chichester Cathedral!

See you again sometime!