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Holy Trinity, Chichester, Sussex

(50°50′7″N, 0°46′53″W)
SU 859 047
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Sussex
now West Sussex
  • Kathryn Morrison

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Chichester Cathedral is situated within the SW quadrant of the city, which was originally laid out by the Romans. A small, irregular cloister ('Paradise') on the S side gives access to the Chapel of St Faith, the 15thc.Vicar's Close, and St Richard's Lane. The Bishop's Palace lies to the SW, and there are a number of clergy houses to the S, along Canon Lane (see separate entry for No.4 Canon Lane). A detached tower stands to the NW.

The Cathedral was erectedc.1075-1130 (see VII History, below), and despite centuries of alteration, enlargement, conflagration and collapse, it is still, predominantly, a Romanesque building. Many alterations and additions were madec.1187-1240, in a mature Early English style, but later medieval work is minimal. The building will be described from E to W.

The E End:

The E end of the original building comprised a choir of three aisled, straight bays, a seven-bay ambulatory and three radiating chapels. Of these elements, only the straight bays survive today. Initially the choir was unvaulted, but the remains of transverse arches (i.e. concealed buttresses) in the choir galleries have generated the theory that a barrel vault was planned, but never built (see Andrew 1980 and 1982). The remains of plinths, discovered in 1860, show that a transverse arch on shafts marked the beginning of the apsidal termination, and surviving stumps of walling in the fourth choir bay reveal that it was slightly stilted in plan.

In the early 1180s, the central apsidal chapel was replaced by a three-bay, Transitional-style Lady Chapel, and a consecration ceremony in 1184, led by Bishop Seffrid I, may have marked the completion of that work. After a serious fire in 1187, the remainder of the original apse was replaced by a two-bay choir extension (retro-choir) and, flanking the W bay of the Lady Chapel, the square-ended chapels of St Katherine and St Mary Magdalene. At the same time, the internal three-storeyed elevation of the choir straight bays was remodelled: the outer order of each arcade bay was refashioned in Purbeck marble, and vertical vaulting shafts were inserted between the bays. The gallery, with its twin openings and opus reticulatum spandrels, was left largely untouched, but the clerestorey passage was given a new arcade. Stone rib vaults were erected over the main vessel of the choir, and were supported externally by flying buttresses. The choir aisles, which may have had groin vaults originally, were also given rib vaults, and it has been suggested that blind arcading was removed from their inner walls at the same time.

The post-fire work is in a mature Early English style, and must have continued beyond the rededication ceremony of 1199, as a royal licence was granted to transport Purbeck marble by sea in 1206, and there are various references to work on the fabric throughout the first half of the 13thc. The most significant later work in the E arm is the two-bay Lady Chapel extension, dating fromc.1288-1304, with tierceron vaults and Decorated window tracery. Around 1300, the clerestorey walls of both choir and nave were raised, and the roofs rebuilt (dated by dendrochronology c. 1280-1315).

The Transepts and Crossing:

The two-bay transepts are simple, aisleless spaces, but may originally have had end galleries which would have permitted circulation around the entire building at triforium level. The original semi-circular E chapels, on two levels, were replaced by single-storeyed square chapels after the 1187 fire, and at the same time the inner clerestorey arcades were remodelled and the transepts vaulted. The chapel of the Four Virgins (i.e. the Treasury) on the E side of the S transept is the only post-fire work to incorporate Romanesque features (i.e. chevron). The great window in the S wall of the S transept dates from the early 14thc., and the N window of the N transept from the late 14thc. There is evidence that the crossing suffered from subsidence in the 12thc., and the piers had to be rebuilt or repaired. The tower was heightened in the late 13thc., and later given a Perpendicular spire based on that of Salisbury. The crossing was entirely rebuilt after its dramatic collapse during restoration work in 1861 (see VII History, below), and the piers, tower and spire are the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott, as is much of the stonework in the adjacent bays to E, S, W and N.

The Nave and W End:

The eight-bay nave is flanked by aisles and terminates in two W towers, positioned within the aisles. Like the choir, it has a three-storey elevation and was originally not vaulted, therefore the interior elevation would have had a strong horizontal, rather than a vertical, emphasis. A building break occurs in the fourth bay, but the same basic design is maintained throughout. After the fire of 1187, the elevation was remodelled in much the same manner as the choir, and rib vaults were erected. The nave aisles, which may have had groin vaults from the outset, were now given rib vaults. The N porch (bay N7) was also built in the late 12thc. St Richard's Porch (bay S3) and the Sacristy (bays S1-S2, with the Song School and Choir Library above) date from the 13thc. In the later 13thc., chapels were erected against the outer aisle walls (bays N2-N6 and S4-S7); their window tracery dates from 1847. The original aisle corbel tables may be viewed from the roof spaces of these chapels, and in the chambers over the porches.

The W façade comprises a gabled bay between two towers. The lower stages of the SW tower belong to the mid-12thc., but the upper stages have pointed apertures and were added in the late-12th or early-13thc., probably after 1210, when a storm reportedly wrecked two towers, variously identified as the central and SW tower, or the SW and NW towers. The S doorway is the most elaborate piece of Romanesque architectural sculpture in the cathedral. The 12thc. NW tower was rebuilt in 1901 by J L Pearson, having collapsed in 1630. Pearson seems to have been able to incorporate much original fabric into the east and south walls. Neither tower has a spire.

The façade between the towers has been wholly reconstructed since the 12thc., although the bases of the original W doorway were uncovered in the 1970s (boxed in, 1989). The W porch, with its quatrefoil blind arcading and Early English doorway, dates from the late 12thc., as does the triplet above the porch, and the W gable, although the decorative facing is probably reused 12thc. material. The great W window contains wooden mullions of 19thc. date.


Aside from the architectural sculpture which is still in situ, Chichester Cathedral possesses the 'Chichester Reliefs' (Bethany and Lazarus), now displayed in the S choir aisle, and fragments of one or more reliefs, now in the Library.


The impoverished episcopal see of Sussex was transferred from Selsey (qv) to Chichester c.1075. Chichester had been an important Roman town, but seems to have been largely abandoned until nominated a burh by Alfred the Great in the late 9th century. A minster dedicated to St Peter was taken over by Bishop Stigand, and was probably used as the Cathedral until the present building was erected, c.1075-1140.

Throughout the medieval period the town of Chichester maintained a low population (about 2000), and was not particularly prosperous. The Cathedral inherited the endowments (ie: parish churches and estates) of Selsey, but from the mid-12th century these were divided up to provide the canons (of whom there were about 26) with prebends, leaving only a small amount in communa to support the resident Cathedral staff. Aside from these endowments, the main sources of income were donations made at Pentecost and on other holy days (especially St Faith’s day, which coincided with a fair), when people flocked to the cathedral, and bequests from wealthy citizens and cathedral dignitaries. Until a shrine was set up to contain St Richard’s body in the 1260s there were no major relics, and no local cult, which might have attracted greater numbers of pilgrims. As a result, the Cathedral, if not exactly strapped for cash, was not particularly wealthy. It is therefore credible that the erection of the new building might have been staggered over 50 years.

There is general agreement that Chichester Cathedral was erected in the usual manner, from E to W, but its absolute chronology is controversial. Arguments revolve around five key dates: the translation of the see in or around 1075, the appointment of Bishop Ralph de Luffa in 1091, a dedication in 1108, a fire in 1114 and the death of Luffa in 1123.

William of Malmesbury’s statement that the church was built a novo by Bishop Ralph de Luffa (1091‑1123), is deemed unlikely by some architectural historians (eg: Richard Gem and Tim Tatton Brown) who believe that it was begun shortly after 1075 by Bishop Stigand. While Tatton Brown has suggested that the church was completed as far as the fourth nave bay before 1091, Martin Andrew has suggested that the Cathedral was only begun c.1091. The first phase (or two virtually indistinguishable phases, of c.1091-1108 and 1108-c.1120, according to Andrew), in Quarr stone, would have included the choir, ambulatory and radiating chapels, the crossing, the N and S transepts and the four eastern nave bays, where there is a clear building break. It is uncertain how much of the building would have been completed by 1108, when it was dedicated, or how much was rebuilt after a serious fire in 1114. Andrew has argued that the nave building break reflects the death of Luffa rather than either of these two events. While Tatton Brown has suggested that the entire church might have been completed by 1114, Andrew has placed the completion of the nave and W towers in the 1130s. In conclusion, the widest date brackets for the original building are considered to be 1075 to 1140.

The three western bays of the Lady Chapel (two with their original groin vaults and late Norman capitals) are thought to have been erected under Bishop Hilary, in the early 1180s. Its completion may have been celebrated by the consecration ceremony of 1184. Only three years later, in 1187, a fire gutted the cathedral, initiating at least 20 years of repair, alteration and addition (see GENERAL DESCRIPTION, above). During that work, which is Early English in style, some of the earliest Romanesque sculpture in the Cathedral, in the ambulatory and radiating chapels, would have been destroyed. Other carved elements would have been lost in the later medieval period, when larger windows were inserted, the clerestorey walls were heightened, and aisle walls were broken through to erect chapels and porches.

The church was damaged by Henry VIII’s commissioners in 1538. The NW tower, which is represented in an engraving by Hollar, collapsed c.1636 and shortly afterwards (1642) the Cathedral was damaged by Sir William Waller’s troops during the Civil War. Around 1684 Sir Christopher Wren suggested demolishing the SW tower and rebuilding the entire W end; this was not done, but Wren did rebuild the upper part of the central spire. Throughout the 18th century, the building seems to have been neglected. Repairs were carried out by James Elmes in 1812-17 and ‘major repairs and improvements’ were carried out in the choir and presbytery in 1829, when the Chichester Reliefs were discovered and moved to their present position. In 1847, R C Carpenter was engaged to carry out more extensive restorations, which continued through the 1850s.

In 1860 the architect William Slater supervised the removal of the Arundel Screen, revealing huge cracks in the crossing piers. Work was still under way in February 1861, when the central tower telescoped into the crossing, damaging the adjoining bays of the choir, transepts and nave. It was reconstructed, six feet higher but otherwise in replica, by Sir Gilbert Scott and William Slater. Scott gave his son Gilbert the task of identifying and labeling every carved or moulded stone found amongst the debris, intending to reuse or copy them. A photograph, signed J Russell, Chichester, 1861, shows a pile of carved stones sorted from the debris (see LOST SCULPTURE, above). The new crossing was completed in 1866, and the rebuilding of the NW tower in 1901 completed the building as it stands today.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses
Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches



Wall passages/Gallery arcades


Vaulting/Roof Supports


Interior Decoration

Blind arcades
String courses





Loose Sculpture

Building stones

Conflicting information is available about the stone(s) used in the cathedral. Zarnecki was advised by the Geological Survey in 1953 that the outer facing of the choir is a calcareous sandstone from Merstham in Surrey, while the inner facing is Caen stone. The same source persuaded him that the Chichester Reliefs were Purbeck (limestone rather than marble; ‘tufaceous shell-brash, Lower Purbeck formation’). More recent sources dispute this, asserting that the reliefs are of Caen stone, and they do seem to be of a fine-grained, cream-coloured limestone. Tatton Brown claims that the cathedral was entirely built of Quarr stone, with Caen being introduced for the first time for later 12th-century repairs. Most of the original building, including most of the carved work, does seem to be of very shelly Quarr stone, but some of the choir gallery capitals seem to be of Caen rather than Quarr stone. A few corbels appear to be of Sussex marble. The building and its sculpture should, clearly, be submitted to closer geological analysis.

Fragments collected 1861

These include one piece of considerable interest, a rectangular relief of a dragon, which resembled late Anglo-Saxon frieze carvings. This is not necessarily a remnant of the church of St Peter which existed on the site in 1075, although it is tempting to think so. Similar sculptures occur on early 12th century Norman churches, eg: the N Transept of Graville-Ste-Honorine.

S Doorway of SW Tower

Parallels include a collection of loose voussoirs in Bosham church (qv).

Chichester Reliefs

Until 1953, the Chichester Reliefs had been variously dated, eg: c.1000-1050 (Arthur Gardner), c.1080 (David Talbot Rice), 1090-1140 (TSR Boase) and first half of 12th century (Kendrick). In 1953, George Zarnecki argued for a date of c.1125-1150, and that has been widely accepted ever since.

More significantly, Zarnecki plausibly suggested that the reliefs were discovered in their original position, ‘just above the stalls of the choir’, and more specifically on the SE and NE crossing piers. Zarnecki noticed pale rectangular patches of ashlar on the S face of the NE crossing pier, and on the N face of the SE pier, in post-collapse photographs of c.1861, and calculated that these were approximately the same dimensions as the reliefs. The additional relief fragments now in the Cathedral Library would have belonged to the upper part of a lower tier of scenes which would have been largely destroyed when the choir stalls were installed in the 14th century. There were therefore two screens, one between the SE and SW piers, and another between the NE and NW piers. There was probably a third, extending the liturgical choir to the first bay of the nave. In a plausible reconstruction drawing, Zarnecki depicted a screen with eight panels arranged in four superimposed pairs, with two on each pier and two on either side of an entrance in the centre of the screen. The only parallels for this putative Romanesque screen are Durham and Ely.

The 13 fragments found with the Chichester Reliefs probably come from two separate scenes. Ten are from a relief with the same format as the Bethany and Lazarus scenes, possibly another scene from the story of Lazarus. Three are on much narrower stones, and are carved on both sides; they would have occupied a different position, where they could have been viewed from both sides.

The technique, of carving one scene on several courses of masonry blocks is paralleled elsewhere in English Romanesque sculpture (eg: ‘The Deluge’ on the Lincoln Cathedral frieze; the ‘Crucifixion’ at Barking), including the geometric spandrel carving of the gallery openings in the Chichester Cathedral nave bays 5-8, and the W gable. Zarnecki states that there are no Anglo-Saxon examples of this method of relief carving, and it must have been introduced by the Normans.

Iconographically, the Raising of Lazarus departs from the traditional means of representing the scene, with Lazarus emerging from a sarcophagus rather than a cave (cf: Winchester Psalter). This has been cited to rule out the possibility of a late Anglo-Saxon or early Romanesque date, although the earliest known example of this iconography is the Hildesheim Column (1st half 11th century).

Stylistic parallels are diverse. The expressive faces and crimped hairstyles recall Roman theatrical masks. The compositions and figures style are often compared with scenes in the Winchester and St Albans Psalters but, as ever, it is difficult to draw convincing parallels between sculptures and manuscript illustrations. The closest sculptural analogy is a relief at Toller Fratrum in Dorset depicting Mary Magdalen wiping the feet of Christ. It resembles the Chichester Reliefs both stylistically and iconographically, but it has never actually been suggested that this sculpture arrived at Toller Fratrum after the Chichester screens were dismantled in the 14th century, or after they were uncovered in 1829, possibilities which should be investigated. Another similar fragment is a head of Christ from Old Sarum, reused as building material in Salisbury Cathedral, and thought to have come from a coursed relief. Other parallels are drawn with foreign sculptures (esp. German art). The Chichester Relief style is, above all, dramatic, and George Zarnecki has pointed out that one of the few surviving spiritual dramas of the 12th century is Hilarius’s ‘Raising of Lazarus’.

As it is generally thought that the entire cathedral was complete by 1123, the most likely date for the screen would appear to be c.1125-1135. Zarnecki has cited the St Albans Psalter and German ivories of c.1130 as the closest stylistic parallels and argued, unlike some earlier scholars, that the reliefs were of English workmanship. The acanthus border is also paralleled at Lincoln


The Chichester corbels are usually compared with those of the Bosham W tower. The Bosham corbel table is also arcuated, but the arches do not have roll mouldings. As at Chichester, there are gaps between the arched blocks (to receive rafter ends?) but these are filled with flint rather than ashlar. Furthermore, the Bosham corbels do not exactly fit underneath the arches, but between them. Differences in installation do not prove that the corbels were carved by different teams of masons, but despite the recurrence of popular motifs, such as double heads, clasped rolls and animal heads, and a certain ‘crudeness’ in the carving style, it is impossible to declare the two ensembles the products of a single workshop. The repertoire of motifs at Bosham is very restricted, and does not include the more unusual motifs which appeared at Chichester. It seems most likely that the Bosham corbel table was inspired by those of the new cathedral, but was not necessarily by the same masons.

The Chichester corbels have also been compared with those of Boxgrove Priory, again probably because of the recurrence of motifs from the standard repertoire of Romanesque corbels. The Boxgrove corbel tables are constructed quite differently from Chichester, with long chamfered slabs supported at wide intervals by small carved corbels. The history of the priory indicates that the earliest, those of the transepts, date from the second quarter of the 12th century. The Chichester corbel tables were probably devised in the last quarter of the 11th century, and would have been largely completed and installed by the time Boxgrove was begun. Again, evidence is not strong enough to allow the suggestion that the same masons worked on both sites.

Lady Chapel

This has close parallels with Boxgrove.

F.G. Aldsworth, K. Morrison, D.H. Miles and M.J. Worthington, 'The spire of Holy Trinity Church, Bosham, West Sussex', Sussex Archaeological Collections 138, 2000, 115-34.

M. Andrew, 'Chichester Cathedral: the problem of the Romanesque choir vault', Journal of the British Archaeological Association 135, 1982, 11-22.

M.R.G. Andrew, 'Chichester Cathedral, the original east end: a reappraisal', Sussex Archaeological Collections 118 (1980), 299-308.
M.R.G. Andrew, The Architectural History of the Romanesque Cathedral at Chichester, Sussex, M. Phil., University of London, 1976.
H.C. Corlette, The Cathedral Church of Chichester, London, 1901.
Rev. P. Freeman, 'On the characteristic features of Chichester Cathedral', Sussex Archaeological Collections 1, 1848, 142-48.
R. Gem, 'Chichester Cathedral: when was the Romanesque church begun?, in R.A. Brown (ed), Proceedings of the Battle Conference, 1981., 61-64.

H. Hall, 'Stigand, Bishop of Chichester', Sussex Archaeological Collections 43, 1900, 87-104.

M. Hobbs (ed), Chichester Cathedral. An Historical Survey. Chichester 1994.
R. McDowall, 'Chichester Cathedral', Proceedings of the Summer Meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute at Chichester in 1985, Archaeological Journal 1985, 66-70.
H. Meyer-Harting, `The Bishops of Chichester, 1075-1207', Chichester Papers, 40, 1963.
W.D. Peckham, 'Some Notes on Chichester Cathedral', Sussex Archaeological Collections 111, 1973, 20-26.
W.D. Peckham, 'The parishes of the city of Chichester', Sussex Archaeological Collections 74, 128-33.
W.D. Peckham, 'Chichester Cathedral in 1562', Sussex Archaeological Collections 96, 1-8.
T. Tatton-Brown, 'The West Portal of Chichester Cathedral', CCJ, 1990, 8-11.
T. Tatton-Brown, 'The Medieval Fabric' in Hobbs 1994, 25-46.
Victoria County History: Sussex. III (City of Chichester). 1935.
R. Willis, The Architectural History of Chichester Cathedral, 1861.

G. Zarnecki, J. Holt and T. Holland (ed.),English Romanesque Sculpture, Exhibition catalogue, London Hayward Gallery, 1984, 160

G. Zarnecki,`The Chichester Reliefs', Archaeological Journal, 110, 1953, 108-13. (or is it 1954, 106-119?)