The Cathedral The Cathedral

Visiting the Cathedral

The Cathedral is open every day and is free to visit. 

Chelmsford Cathedral stands at the heart of the city but as you enter the building, you notice immediately a sense of peace amidst the bustle of city life. 

It is also unexpectedly light and bright. Set among beautiful grounds which are enjoyed by many during their lunchbreaks, the Cathedral is open every day and is free to visit. But what can you expect to see during a visit?

The Building.

Originally a parish church, the first recorded service dates back to 1223, and the earliest stonework discovered here is from Norman times. In the 15th Century, the church was rebuilt to include the tower, parapets and magnificent South porch. Due to feuding during the War of the Roses between the the Yorkist Bouchiers and the Lancastrian de Veres who were funding the rebuilding, it took nearly a century to complete.

However, as you look at the exterior of the Cathedral from the South side, not all of what you see dates back to medieval times. In 1800 workmen digging to open a vault, undermined the building and the whole roof, north and south aisles collapsed. So the central area, paler in colour than the medieval west end, is made of Coade stone. Coade stone was often called artificial stone but is in fact a high quality and extremely weatherproof stone. It has also been used in St George’s Chapel in Windsor.  

On the north side of the Cathedral, the vestry block whilst looking medieval with its flint wall exterior, is in fact twentieth century. The attention given to matching the exterior makes it difficult to tell the age of the building by sight alone. Another twentieth century addition which is perhaps easier to spot is the carving of St Peter. St Peter faces Bradwell, where St Cedd originally landed in the seventh century having left Lindisfarne on a mission to bring Christianity to the East Coast and founded the chapel which still stands today.

How can we tell that this is a modern carving? St Peter holds a Yale key. 

The Nave

Standing in the nave (central area of the Cathedral) seventy years ago would have felt very different. It would have been very dark with fixed pews and dark walls.  By the 1950s it was felt that it was no longer fit for purpose and since then a series of changes have been made. 

Underfloor heating was installed in the 1980s and the walls were whitewashed. Chairs replaced pews which allow the space to be used for a variety of events; concerts, education days, talks and formal dinners all take place in the nave and this contributes to the Cathedral’s mission to be a public space as well as a place of worship.

Above the Chancel arch is a sculpture of Christ in Glory by Peter Eugene Ball. The beautiful and unique ceiling was coloured and gilded in 1961.

Unusually for a cathedral of this size, there are two organs and they are linked together so that they can be played at the same time.  The organ at the West End, installed in 1994 was the first to be built from scratch for an English Cathedral in more than 40 years.

It took 18 months to build and install having to be built off site and then dismantled and reassembled in the Cathedral. 

A gallery to house the organ under the tower had to be constructed although it is known, from engravings uncovered when the roof collapsed, that there had been a gallery there originally.  Built by the firm MP Mander, the organ case was built specifically to fit within the arch of the West tower.  The organ case in the Chancel was designed and painted to match the chancel ceiling and gives an idea of what the Cathedral would have looked like in medieval times.

Many of the windows remain clear, which contributes to the light and airy space in the building but there are several stained glass windows.  On the south side of the building, near the altar, one window tells the story of the Good Samaritan and two others contain scenes from Jesus ministry: the wedding at Cana and the Last Supper.

The Bishops Seat

The Chancel

The Chancel at the East End of the building was built in the first half of the 15th century.  The roof trusses bear the arms of the Chelmsford Diocese. Other coats of arms seen in the Chancel are those of the Borough of Chelmsford, the County of Essex, the Bourchier and de Vere families, who financed the building, and the arms of the Mildmay family and Westminster Abbey.

The present East window was a gift from Archdeacon St John Mildmay in 1878. The glass in the top depicts the Virgin Mary and eleven disciples. The other eight panels trace the life and ministry of Jesus.

The colourful patchwork hanging beneath the East window consists of 1,520 pieces and was created by Beryl Dean. The Bishop’s Chair is a contemporary piece in stone by John Skelton. To the right is a statue of the first Bishop.  A timely reminder to all future Bishops perhaps to see the first Bishop keeping an eye on them!

The South Porch and Exterior

A stone staircase leads to the upper storey of the south porch which houses a renowned library containing medieval theological books and beautifully decorated manuscripts. The collection was presented to the church by Dr John Knightbridge who died in 1677. 

US forces were stationed in Essex between 1942 and 1945 and the window is a memorial to that friendship.

The tower spire has a two-metre weathervane, made from copper, and depicting a dragon.

 A bronze sculpture, The Bombed Child, by Georg Ehrlich

Cathedral Artwork

The cathedral has a number of specially commissioned pieces of art. 

The central space in St Peter's Chapel is dominated by the bronze sculpture, The Bombed Child, by Georg Ehrlich, himself a victim of war having been forced to leave his native country of Austria to live in England, following the Nazi invasion of 1938.    The tabernacle was designed and made in glass and chrome by Bernard Merry in 2009.  It holds the Oils of Reconciliation. These two pieces in the Chapel contrast with the military nature of the chapel.  It remembers those who gave their life in war and the desire for peace and reconciliation.

The etched window in the Chapel is by John Hutton, who engraved the great west screen in Coventry Cathedral and shows St Peter with his fishing nets.

St Cedd's Chapel

The chapel window was designed by Mark Cazalet and marks the centenary of the Cathedral and diocese in 2014.

The window shows St Cedd at Bradwell.  Cedd was one of four brothers although little is known about two of them.

Chad and Cedd however, sailed from Lindisfarne, landed at Tilbury and built the stone Chapel, at Bradwell on the site of a former Roman fort. In the window, beyond St Cedd is the chapel with reference to its current setting, the wind farm out to sea beyond it.  

The Chancel Icons

Chancel Icons 

After a chance encounter at Evensong in Chelmsford Cathedral, three Orthodox nuns, who wish to remain anonymous, were commissioned to create four icons to fill the four blank windows in the chancel above the altar.

They followed the dedications of the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin, St Peter, and St Cedd, with the addition of Jesus. Jesus, Mary, and St Peter all follow the traditional iconography.

However, there is no tradition for St Cedd, and so it was agreed that following his journey from Lindisfarne to Bradwell in 654, he would probably look rather like John the Baptist. He holds the chapel he created there. 

The icons arrived at the Cathedral semi-finished and were then completed on site.

The reason for this being that the icons are viewed from below at an angle and therefore the halos, for example, had to take the distortion of the angle into account. This involved a lot of running up and down the scaffolding tower, (in habits) to the amazement of the workers who were helping with the installation of the icons. The principal icon writer of the Chelmsford icons was trained by one of the world's leading authorities on icons.     

In the north transept is Mark Cazalet’s painting on thirty-five birch wood panels depicting the Tree of Life.

 Mark, speaking about the installation, said that the inspiration behind the piece was the music and choral tradition of the Cathedral and that he very much wanted his mural to reflect this, with the swirling motion in the painting representing the musical traditions.  Mark wanted the symmetrical design of the tree to represent opposing ideas with the tree bursting into life on one side and dying back on the other.

The lighting in the Cathedral was very different from the church Mark had painted the mural in and he spent several weeks on a cherry picker, changing the colour and bringing the panels to life. His favourite part is Judas resurrected and the idea of the possibility of Judas being resurrected and spending a long time (hence the sandwiches and thermos) at the top of the tree and in turn that we too can be fully forgiven.  

Tree of life

The Cathedral has strong links with Bradwell Chapel.  It was built by Cedd in 654 on a mission to convert people to Christianity.  It is the oldest Church still in use in the UK today.

Bradwell is a place of pilgrimage as well as a place for quiet and reflection.  

If you would like to find out more about the Chapel, please see the Bradwell Chapel website.