Cathedral in 1903

Cathedral in 1903

The Nave

Cathedral Nave


Manchester Cathedral, formally the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George, in Manchester, England, is the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Manchester, seat of the Bishop of Manchester and the city's parish church. It is on Victoria Street in Manchester city centre.

The main body of the cathedral is in the Perpendicular Gothic style. James Stanley (warden 1485–1506) was responsible for commissioning the late-medieval wooden furnishings, including the pulpitum, choir stalls and the nave roof supported by angels with gilded instruments. The medieval church was extensively refaced, restored and extended in the Victorian period, and again following bomb damage in the 20th century.

The origins of Manchester's first churches are obscure. The Angel Stone, a small carving of an angel with a scroll was discovered in the wall of the cathedral's south porch providing evidence of an early Saxon church, has been dated to around 700 AD and is preserved in the cathedral. Its Old English inscription translates as "into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit".

The first church, possibly sited on or near the site of St Ann's Church, was destroyed by Danish invaders in 923 and a church dedicated to St Mary, built by King Edward the Elder, possibly where St Mary's Gate joins Exchange Street, was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. The Domesday Book entry for Manchester reads "the Church of St Mary and the Church of St Michael hold one carucate of land in Manchester exempt from all customary dues except tax".

Construction of the predecessor parish church between the Rivers Irk and Irwell and an ancient watercourse crossed by the Hanging Bridge started in 1215 within the confines of the Baron's Court beside the manor house on the site of Manchester Castle. The lords of the manor were the Grelleys whose coat of arms is still associated with the cathedral. The Grelleys acted as stewards, building and endowing the first chancery, the St Nicholas Chancery. In 1311, the Grelley estate passed by marriage to the de la Warres. In 1349 the St Nicholas Chancery was endowed by the de Traffords. In 1382 Thomas de la Warre, became its rector.

The church had a six-bay aisled nave and six-bay chancel with aisles and a west tower in the perpendicular style of the late-medieval period

* Collegiate Church. *

Thomas de la Warre became Baron de la Warre in 1398. A priest for more than 50 years, he was granted a licence from King Henry V and Pope Martin V to establish a collegiate church in Manchester in 1421. The college was established by royal charter, with a warden, eight fellows, four singing clerks and eight choristers. The parish church was dedicated to St Mary and to that dedication were added St George, the patron saint of England, and St Denys, the patron saint of France, perhaps reflecting de la Warre's French heritage, or Henry V's claim to the French throne.

The college of priests was housed in new buildings on the site of the former manor house that survive as Chetham's Library paid for by de la Warre. He appointed John Huntingdon as the college's first warden who, between 1422 and 1458, rebuilt the eastern arm of the parish church to provide the collegiate choir. Huntington is commemorated in a rebus, carvings of a man hunting and a man with a tun (barrel of ale), on either side of the arch accessing the Lady Chapel. The church's 14th-century west tower and Lady Chapel were incorporated into the current structure although little or no fabric of that date is still visible.

Traditionally the third warden, Ralph Langley (1465–1481), is credited with rebuilding the nave but the nave and choir were substantially reconstructed again by James Stanley a few years later, when he raised the clerestory and provided the richly decorated timber roofs and choir stalls. His stepmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort was mother of Henry VII and through their alliance with the Tudor dynasty the Stanleys acquired fabulous wealth and access to architects and craftsmen working on royal commissions.

On stylistic grounds, the arcades and clerestory of the cathedral are attributed to John Wastell, the architect for the completion of Kings College Chapel. The choir stalls, carved at the workshop of William Brownflet of Ripon, are the finest of a series which includes the surviving stalls at Ripon Cathedral, Beverley Minster and Bridlington Priory. The carving of the misericord seats is exceptionally fine. James Stanley was responsible for the embellishment of the nave roof with supports in the form of fourteen life-size angel minstrels, each playing a different late-medieval instrument; and for the endowment of his own chantry chapel (now destroyed) at the north-east corner, in which he was buried in 1515.

In the early 16th century an almost complete sequence of chantry chapels was constructed along the north and south sides of the church creating a double aisle around the parochial nave, which is consequently much wider than it is long. Manchester is commonly claimed to have the widest nave of any cathedral in England.

On the south side, the oldest of the chantry chapels, the St Nicholas Chapel, was rebuilt by the de Traffords in 1470. St George's Chapel was endowed by William Galley in 1503 and Richard Beswick endowed the Jesus Chapel in 1506. On the north side, William Radcliffe of Ordsall Hall endowed the Holy Trinity Chapel in the northwest corner in 1498. Huntington left money and land for the St James' Chapel which was built in 1507. The largest of the chantries, the St John the Baptist Chapel, was begun by James Stanley the Bishop of Ely in 1513. A chapel to commemorate James Stanley, the Ely Chapel, has been demolished.

The college was dissolved in 1547 in the reign of Edward VI by the Chantries Act, but refounded by his sister Mary. Its future was uncertain when Elizabeth I succeeded in 1559, but was assured when she granted a new charter in 1578, allowing a warden, four fellows, two chaplains, four singing men and four choristers. The dedication of the college (but not the church) was changed to the college of Christ.

Manchester and Southwell Minster were the only two medieval collegiate foundations where daily choral worship was maintained after the Reformation until they were joined by Ripon when its collegiate foundation was restored in 1607. John Dee, magus and astrologer for Elizabeth I was warden from 1595 to 1608 and occupied the wardens' lodgings now incorporated into Chetham's Library. The present charter, the fourth, was granted by Charles I preserving the dedication of the college to Christ. The chapels are no longer demarcated as the screens that divided them have been removed giving the appearance of double aisles on either side of the nave.

* Cathedral. *

Under the Cathedrals Act 1840, the warden and fellows of the collegiate church were translated into a dean and canons in preparation for becoming the cathedral of the new Manchester Diocese which came into effect in 1847. The building was extensively renovated in 1882.

During the Manchester Blitz in 1940, a German bomb severely damaged the cathedral demolishing the medieval lady chapel and James Stanley's chantry chapel. It took almost 20 years to complete the repairs, in the course of which the Guy Chapel was rebuilt to the designs of Hubert Worthington. The cathedral was again damaged in the IRA bombing in June 1996.

The cathedral houses extensive parish and historical archives, dating back to 1421. In 2003, a project began to provide an exhaustive catalogue of the archive's contents to the public. The cathedral was granted Grade I listed building status in January 1952. Grade I structures are considered to be "buildings of exceptional interest".

The cathedral is constructed of two types of stone. The dark brown sandstone walls are of Collyhurst sandstone formed in the early Permian period and its floors of limestone from the Peak District which contains crinoid fossils.

By the 1840s the external and internal stonework was in a poor state, partly due to the poor weathering qualities of the Collyhurst sandstone, but also because of an ill-advised attempt to lighten the interior by coating the internal surfaces of the nave with Roman cement by John Palmer. The external stonework was replaced between 1850 and 1870 in a restoration by J. S. Crowther, who also replaced the internal stonework of the nave walls and arcades.

The west tower was heightened in 1868 by J.P. Holden, who also replaced its external stonework. Basil Champneys added the vestry and porches in 1898. Consequently, the cathedral gives the impression of being a 19th-century structure. To accommodate upgrading work on the cathedral's heating system, in 2013 a temporary wooden cathedral was built on Victoria Street to allow worship to take place.

The cathedral has thirty 16th-century misericords, considered to be among the finest in Europe. They are similar in style to those at Ripon Cathedral and Beverley Minster. Although Manchester's are of a later date, they were probably carved by the same school at Ripon. One of the most notable is N-08, the earliest known depiction of backgammon in the UK.

All the Victorian stained glass was destroyed during the Manchester Blitz in 1940. Until the late 1960s, only two windows had been replaced, notably the Fire Window by Margaret Traherne (1966). The dean and chapter commissioned Tony Hollaway to prepare a scheme for reglazing the cathedral, with priority to the five western windows: St George (1973), St Denys (1976), St Mary (1980), The Creation (1991) and The Apocalypse (1995). To commemorate the restoration of the cathedral following an IRA bomb in 1996, the Healing Window by Linda Walton was installed in 2004.

The ten bells in the cathedral tower hung for change ringing were cast by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon in 1925. The tenor (largest) bell weighs 1.3 tonnes and is tuned to the key of D. The bells are rung for church service on Sunday mornings and on special occasions including a visit by Elizabeth II to distribute the Royal Maundy. One of the recipients was the tower captain, Roland Eccles, for 35 years of service to ringing and the cathedral community.

* Archives. *

Manchester Cathedral’s Archives are stored on site in a purpose-built muniments room above the North Porch. The archives consists of two distinct collections: the Capitular papers and the Parish Records.

The Capitular records are the records of the Chapter, i.e. the Dean and Canons of the Cathedral and their predecessors, the Warden and Fellows of the Collegiate Church. The main records are the minutes of the Chapter meetings, which survive from 1635 onwards, but the bulk of the records is made up of sequences of legal records concerning the leases of land on the Chapter Estates, from which the foundation derived its income. In addition there are records concerning the fabric of the building from 1756, Precentors' registers (recording daily music settings) from 1863, service sheets and printed ephemera from 1832, and photographs of the building, ceremonies and individuals, from c1850 to the present day.

The bulk of the material on the Parish side is made up of what is thought to be the largest complete series of parish registers (of baptisms, marriages and burials), for a single parish, in the country. There are over 450 leather and vellum bound volumes, covering the period from 1573 to the present day. The reason for this proliferation of registers is explained partly by the size of the ancient Parish of Manchester: sixty square miles including thirty townships. This is not uncommon in the north west of England, however; the Parish of Whalley included forty-five townships. The main difference was that Manchester changed from being a rural parish when it became the centre of the Industrial Revolution, and the population grew extremely rapidly in a very short space of time, from the middle of the eighteenth century.

The other reason for the volume of baptisms and marriages conducted at Manchester was that the Collegiate Church retained a virtual monopoly over the licences to perform the ceremonies. There were outlying chapels within the parish, but a ceremony at one of the chapels was liable to a double fee – one to the chapel, and one to the mother church at the centre. After Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1754, marriages at outlying chapels dramatically ceased. In 1847, the Collegiate Church was raised to Cathedral status and its stranglehold over the income from the ceremonies was broken three years later in 1850, after popular protest. The Manchester Parish Division Act broke up the Ancient Parish of Manchester and created many new parishes, leaving the Cathedral with a residual parish of a single square mile in the centre of the City.

The full catalogue is now available and fully searchable on the “Access to Archives” website through the National Archives. The Parish registers have been digitised by and can be searched at their site. Free access to is available from any Manchester City Council library.

* Visiting *

The gateway to the medieval quarter, the 1421 Hanging Bridge was always the hub of mancunian life. Today it is the showpiece of Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre, a remnant of ancient origins amidst a bustling, modern metropolis. Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre is a charitable trust, dedicated to sharing the city's rich hertiage with its local, national and international visitors.

Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre is the custodian of the Hanging Ditch Bridge, a scheduled ancient monument dating back to 1421. The bridge is open to the public and is free to see so please stop by on your next visit to the centre.

For many years, the bridge was completely hidden, remembered only in the name of the area where it had stood, until its rediscovery and subsequent excavation as a result of demolition work carried out in the 1880s. At that time, the bridge was opened to the public and in three months had about 32,000 paying visitors. It was then covered up during the Victorian expansion of Manchester. More than 100 years later it was rediscovered, and following restoration work went on display in 2002 as a main attraction of Manchester Cathedral’s newly built Visitor Centre.

Today the bridge is largely hidden by modern buildings, but it can be seen in the basement of Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre. Click here to download the Hanging Bridge leaflet with a more detailed history.

Proper Tea offers a contemporary take on the traditional British tearoom, serving fine loose leaf teas alongside fresh homemade meals and delicious hand crafted treats. The menu boasts showstopping afternoon teas, cream teas and cakes alongside hearty stews, soups and sandwiches.

There are no car parking spaces available at the Cathedral. The nearest carpark is Q-Park Deansgate North which is located at 2 Chapel Street, Manchester, just a few minutes’ walk away.

Cathedral Opening Hours are as follows:

  • Monday and Friday 8.30am - 5.30pm.
  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 8.30am - 6.30pm.
  • Saturday 8.30am - 6.30pm.
  • Sunday 8.30am - 6.30pm.
  • These times may vary during special events.

    Manchester Cathedral aims to provide a first class visitor experience to all visitors and worshipers and is continuously looking to improve accessibility and facilities for all. They also acknowledge that the Cathedral is a medieval building and whilst it is open to the public, it’s not always possible to provide the facilities thry would like.

    The Visitor Services Manager will assist with all planning and visitor enquiries and aims to provide a full and equal visitor experience for all visitors. tel: +44 (0) 161 833 2220 email:

    The Verger Department will be able to provide assistance and advice specific to attending a service at the Cathedral. The Cathedral provides two wheelchairs for use within the Cathedral. To ensure availability, please book in advance through the Verger Department. tel: +44 (0) 161 833 2220 email:

    Visitors to Manchester can also use the free ‘Shopmobility Manchester’ scheme based in the Manchester Arndale, which entitles free use of manual and electric wheelchairs, electric scooters and baby buggies. Shopmobility also provides a meet-and-greet service around the city centre, volunteer guides for people with sensory impairment, free access to the internet and an information service that will help signpost to other individuals and organisations that can offer assistance. tel: + 44 (0) 161 839 4060 email:

    Health and Safety policies are in place and regularly reviewed. Risk Assessments are also carried out and it is deemed that visiting Manchester Cathedral is a very low-risk activity. Free assistance is available at all times through their staff and volunteers on arrival and throughout the visit. The Cathedral is a non-smoking area.

    A hearing loop has been installed in the Nave and Quire for use during Services (not used for guided tours). Hearing aid users should adjust their hearing aid to T. Assistance guide dogs are welcome and can be provided with water on request. Please speak to a volunteer welcomer or guide.

    Level access into the Nave is through the South Door, which has double doors, each of which is 0.96m wide. Entrance to the Quire is via a purpose-built ramp, which is fully compliant. There is a temporary ramp for entrance into the Jesus Chapel. Unfortunately there is no wheelchair access to the Regiment Chapel and Chapter House. There is also level access to the Cathedral Visitors’ Centre, which is a short distance from the South Porch of the Cathedral. There is full disabled access to all areas of the Cathedral Visitors’ Centre, including the use of a passenger lift.

    Please inform them if a member of your party has special access requirements – staff and volunteers are always happy to assist. The Cathedral has steps within the building and some may be old or uneven. Where possible, but not everywhere, steps have white markings or handrails provided. There are no benches around the site exterior but there is seating available inside the Cathedral when there are no services taking place. No braille or tactile markings are available at present.

    There are no toilets inside the Cathedral that are available for the public. Public toilets are available in the Cathedral Visitors’ Centre, where there are also dedicated facilities for the sole use of disabled people (all such facilities have wide doors and are suitable for wheelchair users). There is full level access to the Cathedral Visitors’ Centre from the Cathedral itself (no steps are necessary); the Cathedral Visitors’ Centre has a lift to all floors and is suitable for wheelchair users.

    The toilets do not require a key and there is a monitored pull cord distress alarm call system installed in each of the dedicated toilets for disabled users. The hand dryer is 80 cm from the ground. The basin is 75 cm from the ground and has lever taps. The toilet seat is 37cm above floor level and has a cushioned back-rest. There are grab rails, wall-mounted and drop-down rails. There is a separate baby change facility in the toilet block.


    Location : Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre, 10 Cateaton Street, Manchester, M3 1SQ

    Transport: Manchester Victoria (National Rail) then 6 minutes. Metrolink: 5 Exchange Square. Bus routes 42, 49, 59, 113 and 135 stop close by.

    Opening Times: Daily 09:00 to 17:00. Cathedral Hours see above.

    Tickets : Free (Donations Welcomed).

    Tel: 0161 826 8018