Manchester Cathedral monuments

Manchester Cathedral.

Manchester Cathedral is an unusual building, which has been described somewhat loftily as ‘a very fine parish church’. It can lay claim to a little more than that implies, though it is of course a building which has been promoted rather than a purpose-built Cathedral. There was indeed some existing Parish Church building on the site in 1422, when Thomas De la Warre (or Thomas Lord de la Ware), later the Baron of Manchester (he has a fine statue on the Town Hall, shown holding a model of the Cathedral), persuaded King Henry V that his church should become Collegiate, dedicated to the Virgin, later being dissolved and refounded on more than one occasion in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The Collegiate Church became a Cathedral in 1848, at which point its oldest part, the tower, which dated from pre 1400, was declared unsafe and pulled down and replaced, despite George Gilbert Scott’s view that it might have been preserved. The new, larger tower, thought more befitting for the new status of the edifice, was the work of the Chapter architect, James P. Holden – a fine thing, particularly when viewed from across the bridge to Quay Street, but given what was lost, a creation of the combined forces of Ecclesiastical and Architectural barbarism.

Manchester Cathedral from beyond the bridge.

What, then, do we see today? From the outside, it is the 19th Century work which we notice, but inside, the immediate impact is of the extremely wide space, which consists of the nave, which is preserved from the early 15th Century, along with some other work, aisles, and an outer set of chapels, making effectively a double set of aisles, which date from a bit later, with a slightly different style. The central nave, with ornate ceiling, is high enough, but still the overall feel is of remarkable breadth rather than height. Bombing in WW2 has taken its toll, and much has been lost from what survived into the 20th Century. Among the losses was most of the Lady Chapel, but the 15th Century wooden screen to this happily survives, with seven small carved standing figures and animals higher up among the ornament. Lively medieval, well draped, and with grotesques under their feet.

Nearby we have a bit of sculpture far older, a late Saxon or early Norman relief of an angel, known as the Angel Stone, discovered during the demolition of the mediaeval South Porch during the 19th Century.

19th Century figure sculpture on the Cathedral exterior.

Of an apparently once-rich collection of monuments, there survive about eight significant works of sculpture, and a number of panels. First the grander works:

Woodwork in the choir, 1506.

The lesser monuments date from the mid-17th Century onwards:

Aside from the monuments, we may note a modern group of the nativity, with the composition arranged as a triangle, Joseph’s head formng the apex, the reclining Mary as the base, and the infant Christ held in the centre. Not overly detailed, but Mary’s face has some feeling, and there is a well-captured pose of a lamb at her feet. It is entitled the Holy Night Statue, and was sculpted by Josephina de Vasconcelios in 1992.

We may mention that a few bits of architectural stonework of late medieval times, decorated with figural scenes, survive; for example some martyrdom scene with two winged demons holding a saint, a hunter and dog after some ruminant on a hill, a brewer with two barrels, and bosses to the arches in the shape of kingly heads. Added to these are 19th Century adornments in the shape of grotesque lions, and some work which looks of modern times.

There is a marble font of 1787, made by David Broad.

Also to be noted are a few brasses, not covered here, and the fine woodwork, particularly in the choir of 16th Century and later, looking to have gone a makeover in the 19th Century, but this is not my area of expertise. The choir woodwork is due to the munificence of James Stanley, warden until 1506, later Bishop of Ely.

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