The Cathedral Church of Saint Martin, Leicester, usually known as Leicester Cathedral, is a Church of England cathedral in the English city of Leicester and the seat of the Bishop of Leicester. The church was elevated to a collegiate church in 1922 and made a cathedral in 1927 following the establishment of a new Diocese of Leicester in 1926.
The Normans began the construction of the original St Martin’s church around 900 years ago. It was rebuilt and enlarged between the 13th and 15th centuries and became the ‘Civic Church’, with strong links with the merchants and guilds (with the Guildhall being located nearby).
Just over 100 years ago the Victorian Architect, Raphael Brandon, magnificently restored and, in places, rebuilt the church, including the addition of a 220ft spire. When the Diocese of Leicester was re-established in 1927, the church was hallowed as Leicester Cathedral.
In 680 AD, the Saxons gave Leicester its first Bishop, Cuthwine. Two hundred years later the last Saxon Bishop fled south from the invading Danes. For over 1000 years following the departure of its last Saxon Bishop, Leicester had no Bishop and the people of Leicestershire were looked after by the Bishops of Lincoln and later by the Bishops of Peterborough. It was not until 1927 that Leicester again had its own Bishop and the Church of St Martin became Leicester Cathedral.
Saint Martin of Tours (316 or 336 – 8 November 397), for whom the church is named, was the third bishop of Tours. He has become one of the most familiar and recognizable Christian saints in Western tradition.
A native of Pannonia, he converted to Christianity at a young age. He served in the Roman cavalry in Gaul, but left military service at some point prior to 361, when he embraced Trinitarianism and became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, establishing the monastery at Ligugé. He was consecrated as Bishop of Caesarodunum (Tours) in 371. As bishop, he was active in the suppression of the remnants of Gallo-Roman religion, but he opposed the violent persecution of the Priscillianist sect of ascetics.
His life was recorded by a contemporary hagiographer, Sulpicius Severus. Some of the accounts of his travels may have been interpolated into his vita to validate early sites of his cult. He is best known for the account of his using his military sword to cut his cloak in two, to give half to a beggar clad only in rags in the depth of winter. His shrine in Tours became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
With Cuthwine being the first Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Leicester, it must be presumed that there was an Anglo-Saxon church built. In 870 the Danes invaded the Midlands, the Bishop fled south and Leicester ceased to be a separate diocese.
When the Normans arrived they put Leicester under the jurisdiction of the Lincoln diocese. In 1086 there is the first recorded mention of St Martin’s Church. The Norman church replaces the Saxon one.
Leicester Abbey was built in the 13th century. For a time the Abbey appointed the St Martin’s vicars. Aisles were added to the church and, in 1225, there is the first record of the name of the priest of St Martin’s. Leicester was prospering. In 1343 the Corpus Christi Guild were formed. The Nave and the Chancel were extended in the 15th century.
Hard times then fell upon the church. In 1535 the nearby Greyfriars Monastery was closed. During the Reformation, St Martin’s was stripped bare of statues, vestments, screens and stained glass. A century later there were visits by King Charles I in 1634 and 1642.
In 1757 the spire was added to the Norman tower and in 1837 Leicester was placed in the care of the Bishop of Peterborough.
In 1859 David Vaughan was appointed vicar of St Martin’s. A year later Victorian restoration began. The tower and spire were completely rebuilt, replacing the spire which had been built onto the original Norman tower in the 18th Century and which had subsequently become unsafe. A new West window was constructed and the Nave roof was completely re-built to accomodate it. In 1888 the Suffragan Bishop of Leicester is appointed by Peterborough.
In 1922 St Martin’s was raised to the status of Collegiate Church and, in 1927 Leicester had its own Bishop again. St Martin’s was hallowed as Leicester Cathedral.
The East Window was installed as a monument to those who died in World War I. The highest window contains a sun-like orb with cherubs radiating away from it. In the centre Jesus sits holding a starry heaven in one hand with one foot on a bloody hell. Surrounding Jesus are eight angels whose wings are made from a red glass. To the far right stands St Michael the Archangel, who stands on the tail of a dragon. The dragon goes behind Jesus and can be seen re-emerging under the feet of St George who stands on its head. On the bottom row can be seen from left St Joan of Arc, Mary, Jesus with crying angels, Mary Magdalene, James, and St Martin of Tours. The window includes an image of a World War I soldier.
The tower and spire were restored both internally and externally in 2004–5. The main work was to clean and replace any weak stonework with replacement stone quarried from the Tyne Valley. The cost was up to £600,000, with £200,000 being donated by the English Heritage, and the rest raised through public donations.
The cathedral has close links with Leicester Grammar School which used to be located directly next to it. Morning assemblies would take place each week on different days depending on the school's year groups, and services were attended by its pupils. The relationship continues despite the school's move to Great Glen, about seven miles south of Leicester.
In 2011, after extensive refurbishment, the cathedral's offices moved to the former site of Leicester Grammar School, and the building was renamed St Martin's House. The choir song school also relocated to the new building, and the new site also offers conference rooms and other facilities that can be hired out. The new building was officially opened by the Bishop of Leicester in 2011.
In July 2014, the cathedral completed a redesign of its gardens, including installation of the 1980 statue of Richard III. Following a judicial review decision in favour of Leicester, plans were made to reinter Richard III's remains in Leicester Cathedral, including a new tomb and a wider reordering of the cathedral interior. Reinterment took place on 26 March 2015 in the presence of Sophie, Countess of Wessex (representing the Queen) and Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. On 13 April 2017, Queen Elizabeth II distributed Maundy money in the cathedral to 182 recipients.
** – Vaughan Porch – **
The Vaughan Porch which is situated at the south side of the church was designed by J. L. Pearson, who was also the architect of Truro Cathedral. It is named the Vaughan Porch because it was erected in memory of the Vaughans who served successively as vicars throughout a great part of the nineteenth century. The front of the porch depicts seven saintly figures set in sandstone niches, all of whom are listed below.
** – Chapels – **
The cathedral contains four separate chapels, three of which are dedicated to a different saint. St Katharine's and St Dunstan's Chapels act as side chapels and are used occasionally for smaller services and vigils. St George's Chapel, which is located at the back (or west) of the cathedral commemorates the armed services, and contains memorials to those from Leicestershire who have been killed in past conflicts. The new Chapel of Christ the King adjoins the East Window.
St Katharine's Chapel is located on the north side of the Cathedral to the left of the sanctuary. In the window above the altar is St Katharine, who was tied to a wheel and tortured (hence the firework named after her). Below this is a carved panel showing Jesus on the cross with Mary and John on either side of him. St Francis of Assisi and the 17th-century poet Robert Herrick are also pictured – indeed, the chapel is sometimes referred to as the "Herrick Chapel".
St Dunstan's Chapel, located on the other side of the chancel to St Katharine's Chapel, is specially put aside for people to pray in. A candle burns in a hanging lamp to show that the sacrament of Christ's body and blood is kept here to take to those who are too ill to come to church. The walls of the chapel are covered with memorials to people who have prayed in the chapel. St Dunstan was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 10th century, and scenes from his life are depicted in the south-east window.
St George's Chapel was the chapel of the Guild of St George. The effigy of England's national saint, on a horse, was kept here and borne through the streets annually on 23 April in a procession known as "riding the George". The legend of George killing a dragon is shown in one of the chapel's windows. The chapel, enclosed by a carved wooden screen, was reconstructed in 1921 and contains memorials to the men of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment. Here the battle honours of the Regiment and the names of those killed in the Crimean, South African and two World Wars are recorded and remembered.
The new Chapel of Christ the King was created at the east end of the cathedral as part of the re-ordering work for the burial of Richard III.
** – Visiting – **
They want everyone to be able to get as much as possible out of their Leicester Cathedral experience. They are committed to doing everything they can to make the Cathedral as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. This includes both physical access to the building itself, and how they present information, so that they can support visitors both able bodied and disabled alike.
They know that people have different needs and like to access the Cathedral in different ways. They have carried out access audits led by people with disabilities, to help develop this policy. This work has included a physical audit of the Cathedral, and an audit of their website and information. They are also committed to training their staff at all levels to raise awareness of key issues and how they can help people to access the Cathedral.
** – Opening Times – **
Normal entry times to visit as a tourist or to see the tomb of King Richard III* are:
Leicester Cathedral is generally open for prayer and worship from:
During the periods 9.00am to 10.30am and 4.30pm to 5.00pm the Cathedral is still open to general visitors and those looking to pray, but viewing of the tomb is restricted. There are events, festivals and services (e.g. funerals and recitals) which interrupt this pattern week by week. If you have any questions, please contact the Cathedral Office via 0116 261 5357.
** – Getting There – **
The New Street car park (a facility managed by their partners at St Martins House) has now reopened following resurfacing. At present, parking on Monday to Friday is restricted to permit holders only, but on Saturdays and Sundays it is open from 7am to 6pm at the following rates payable by debit card or chip and pin only – no cash. This is in order to protect their staff.
The nearest disabled parking spaces for blue badge holders are on Applegate, immediately behind St Martins House.
** – Tours – **
If you are intending to visit the King Richard III Visitor Centre as well, in a group of 10 or more, you can book an all in one ticket including a visit to the Cathedral directly with them – ring 0300 300 0900 or visit their website. Tours are usually between 10.00am – 12.45pm and 1.45 pm – 5.00pm, Monday to Saturday.
Both tours are subject to availability as access to the Cathedral is restricted during a special service or event. For confirmation you should ring the Cathedral Office on 0116 261 5373.
Location : Leicester Cathedral, St Martins House, 7 Peacock Lane, Leicester LE1 5PZ
Transport: Leicester City (National Rail) then 14 minutes (see above) or bus. Bus routes: 20, 88, 88A, 88E, 103, 104 and 203 stop near by.
Opening Times: see above
Tickets : Free. Tours see above.
Tel: 0116 261 5200