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Ripon Cathedral

History

Blessed Sacrament windowRipon Cathedral is one of the smallest and oldest in the country. People have been coming to worship and pray at Ripon for over 1300 years. The Cathedral building itself is part of this continuing act of worship, begun in the 7th century when Saint Wilfrid built one of England’s first stone churches on this site, and still renewed every day. Within the nave and choir, you can see the evidence of 800 years in which master craftsmen have expressed their faith in wood and stone.

Formerly Ripon Minster, the minster became a cathedral in 1836, the focal point of the newly created Diocese of Ripon - the first to be established since the Reformation. Today the Cathedral is one of three cathedrals in the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales.

 

Architecture

Today’s church is in fact the fourth to have stood on this site. Saint Wilfrid brought stonemasons, plasterers and glaziers from France and Italy to build his great basilica in AD 672. A contemporary account by Eddius Stephanus tells us:

In Ripon, Saint Wilfrid built and completed from the foundations to the roof a church of dressed stone, supported by various columns and side-aisles to a great height and many windows, arched vaults and a winding cloister.

Devastated by the English king in AD 948 as a warning to the Archbishop of York, only the crypt of Wilfrid’s church survived but today this tiny 7th century chapel rests complete beneath the later grandeur of Archbishop Roger’s 12th century minster.

A second minster built to minister the love of God to the local community soon arose at Ripon, but it too perished this time in 1069 at the hands of William the Conqueror. Thomas of Bayeux, first Norman Archbishop of York, then instigated the construction of a third church, traces of which were incorporated into the later chapter house of Roger’s minster.

The exceptional Early English west front was added in 1220, its twin towers originally crowned with wooden spires and lead. Major rebuilding had to be postponed due to the outbreak of the War of the Roses but commenced after the accession of Henry VII and the restoration of peace in 1485. The nave was widened and the central tower partially rebuilt. Ripon Cathedral’s exquisite misericords were carved about this time.

Attractions

One part of Wilfrid’s church has survived nearly intact throughout the last 1300 years the crypt. The interior is almost as Wilfrid described it. By way of dark passages, pilgrims came to the main chamber where, presumably, one of the relics which Wilfrid had brought back from Rome was displayed in the eastern niche.

The Choir boasts some splendid 15th Century misericords - some of which, especially the misericord of a griffon chasing a rabbit down a rabbit hole, are believed to have inspired Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, more commonly known as Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. His father became a residentiary canon of the Cathedral in 1852.

During the First World War, the war poet Wilfred Owen was posted to the Northern Command Depot at Ripon. A number of poems were composed in Ripon, including ‘Futility’ and ‘Strange Meeting’. He is known to have spent some time in and around the Cathedral.

Local Interest

A few miles from Ripon Cathedral is Fountains Abbey, arguably the most famous of the old abbeys and a World Heritage Site. It was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks seeking a simpler life. They later became Cistercian monks. On Boxing Day (26th December) they walked from Ripon Cathedral to the site of Fountains, a journey which is marked today by a walk from the Cathedral to the Abbey on the same day every year.

Ripon lies on the corner of the Yorkshire Dales and is known as the Cathedral City of the Dales. One of the most beautiful parts of the country, the Yorkshire Dales National Park covers an area of 1,762 square kilometres (680 square miles) and straddles the central Pennines in the counties of North Yorkshire and Cumbria.