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Peterborough Cathedral Also known as St Peters Abbey



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  • A place of worship on the site of Peterborough Cathedral was founded in around 655 by Peada of Mercia and survived until it was destroyed by Vikings in 870. At the time of the Dark Ages it was reputed to be the richest church in England with an income of over 1,000 a year.
  • Rebuilding started on the abbey in 972 and survived Norman invaders and local uprisings until it was destroyed by fire in 1116. Work then began on the existing building which took 120 years to complete and was consecrated in 1238.
  • Much of the early Norman style was rebuilt as Gothic in the following century giving a unique 'French' design. Whilst the English favoured tall towers and relatively low naves, Peterborough has the tallest nave in England and a low central tower.
  • The three entrance arches to the cathedral are 27m tall which were erected between 1214 and 1222. This west front stands 47.5 metres wide, a greater size than the height of the central tower. It was perhaps designed for use specifically on Palm Sundays with huge celebratory banners hung in the arches.
  • As well as the scale, the west front is notable for its chaotic appearance that shows the haphazard way it was built, with the design rapidly changing a section at a time. Other great churches would simply demolish a part considered obsolete and rebuild in its place, or at least heavily restyle, but this appears to uniquely ignored at Peterborough where conventional architecture was seemingly ignored for spontaneous construction. This is evidenced above all by towers in front of towers.
  • A large single tower pokes over the frontage disrupting the symmetry having been raised unlike the other flanking tower which remains a stump. Furthermore the central arch has a lesser width than those either side, and a small porch sits in the middle of it like an after-thought. One possible explanation is that this was done for structural reasons as the central arch was starting to spread.
  • Early attempts, perhaps in 1118 to vault the nave, something that at the time was a cutting edge technology had failed resulting in the unvaulted look that remains today. Fan vaulting was later constructed by John Wastell at the far east end of the quire, one of the earliest examples of its type. The similarities to his nearby and future work in Cambridge are striking.
  • Unlike most great abbeys, it survived the reformation of the Church of England thanks to having the body of Katherine of Aragon, Henry the 8th's first wife when it was elevated to cathedral status, but it was badly vandalised in the English civil war with much of the stained glass being completely destroyed. The lady chapel was also demolished.
  • Restoration work started piecemeal in the the later half of the 17th century but it was not until 1883 that full scale work was done and the cathedral was restored to its former glory.


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John Wastell
Renovation Architect
John Loughborough Pearson

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Building Location

Minster Precincts, Peterborough. PE1 1XS
Peterborough City Council
East Anglia
United Kingdom

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Building Specification

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Heritage Status
Grade I

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Market Data

Primary Use
Place of Worship

Metres > Feet