History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: Saxon crypt built by St Wilfrid
I came around a corner in the road, not thinking of anything other than reaching my destination, miles to the north, in the Yorkshire Dales. Rising up ahead of me like an unexpected guest who jumps out from behind a door and shouts 'surprise!' was a gorgeous church, practically towering over me. I craned my neck as I drove past, and caught a glimpse of beautifully carved west front with statues decorating small niches above a wide door. My destination forgotten, I pulled into the nearest side street, grabbed my camera, and hurried back to explore this unknown treasure.
That was my first glimpse of Ripon Cathedral. I didn't even realise it was a cathedral, nor had I any notion of its historical significance, I just knew that it was an amazingly beautiful historic building and I was drawn to it like a honey bee to a flower.
The foundation of Ripon Cathedral is a mix of myth and history, and it is sometimes hard to separate the two. A minster church was founded here by Celtic monks from Melrose Abbey around 660 AD, on land granted by Alchfrith, a sub-king of Deira. But Alchfrith must have changed his mind about the style of worship he wanted to encourage, for he granted the monastery to St Wilfrid a short time later. The monks from Melrose packed up and left, leaving the field to Wilfrid.
Wilfrid formed a Benedictine monastery on the site and built a large stone church. He hired craftsmen from Europe to build the church, starting around 672 AD. When Wilfrid died in 709 AD his body was brought to Ripon for burial. The crypt of Wilfrid's church still survives and can be visited; its quite an experience, too. Descending into trhe dim depths of the earth it feels like you are going back through time and will start to hear monks chanting at any moment. The crypt was supposed to be built in imitation of Christ's tomb, and is very simple, with whitewashed walls with small niches for candles, and a simple altar table. The large niche on the east wall may have been made to hold the relics of saints brought back by Wilfrid from Rome. Now it houses a 14th century alabaster carving depicting the resurrection of Christ. The carving was part of a hidden stash found beneath the Dean's stall in the choir during Victorian restoration work. It was probably hidden to protect it from damage during the Reformation, when many works of religious art were destroyed.
St Cuthbert served for a time as guest master at Ripon, and is said to have entertained an angel, not realising who his guest was.
In 1604 James I refounded Ripon. but it was dissolved under Cromwell's Commmonwealth, only to refounded again under Charles II in 1660. It served as a parish church until Ripon Diocese was formed in 1836, when the church was raised to the status of a cathedral. The minster church was heavily restored when it was made a cathedral, so at Ripon you really have three churches in one; the ancient monastery of St Wilfrid, the Victorian improvements and restoration, and making up the bulk of the building, the medieval college.
I've mentioned the Saxon crypt, but there are numerous other Saxon remains in the church, including a late 9th century cross head, an 8th century grave marker, a 7th century altar pillar and cross base in the crypt, late 8th century string courses in a corner of the north transept, and a 7th century carved capital in the Chapel of the Ressurection.
The chapter house is probably 13th century, though it could perhaps be Norman. Most of the remainder of the church is in glorious early Gothic style from the period 1154-1255. Theere is an exquisite 14th century sedilia, a 14th century library above the chapter house, and 15th century pulpit. The library was originally a chapel, but now houses the cathedral Treasury. Among the Treasury items on display is The Ripon Jewel, a Saxon roundel discovered near the cathedral in 1976. This lovely circular ornament is made of gold inlaid with garnet and amber. Among the memorials inside the church is a table tomb to Sir Thomas Markenfield (d. 1398) with a beautifully carved effigy, somewhat marred by Reformation iconoclasts.
As you can tell, I loved Ripon Cathedral. It deserves more public notoriety, if that's the right word, as the wonderful historic building that it is.
About Ripon Cathedral
Address: Minster Road, Ripon, Yorkshire, England, HG4 1QS
Attraction Type: Cathedral
Website: Ripon Cathedral
Phone: 01765 603 462
Fax: 01765 690398
OS: SE316 712
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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13th century (Time Period) - 14th century (Time Period) - 15th century (Time Period) - 7th century (Time Period) - 8th century (Time Period) - 9th century (Time Period) - Celtic (Architecture) - chapter house (Architecture) - Charles II (Person) - Cromwell (Person) - Gilbert Scott (Person) - Henry II (Person) - Henry VIII (Person) - James I (Person) - Medieval (Time Period) - Norman (Architecture) - Reformation (Historical Reference) - Restoration (Historical Reference) - Saxon (Time Period) - Victorian (Time Period) -
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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