Peterborough Cathedral was built on the site of a monastic settlement in 655, by King Peada, Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia, and was one of the first Christian centres in central England. Destroyed by the Vikings in the 9th century it and its church was rebuilt and developed over the years. Suffering damage during the revolt of Hereward the Wake in the 11th century the church was to be destroyed by fire in 1116. In 1536 it was to become the burial place of Catherine of Aragon, the wife of Henry VIII, and it was Henry who made it a Cathedral in 1541, possibly due to Catherine being buried there. Also buried there at one time, was Mary Queen of Scots before her body was transferred to Westminster Abbey.
Peterborough Cathedral, or to give it its official title the Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew, is also known as Saint Peter's Cathedral.
There has been a church on this site at Peterborough since the middle of the 7th century when in 655 King Peada, Anglo-Saxon king of Mercia, founded a monastic settlement, one of the first Christian centres in central England. The settlement which included the church existed until it was destroyed by the Vikings around 870.
In the middle of the 10th century, a Benedictine Abbey was founded, and the remains of the church were incorporated into a new church which included the western aisle and tower.
The church was damaged shortly after the Norman invasion due to local resistance under the leadership of Hereward the Wake who attacked it in 1069, which necessitated repairs. It was destroyed in 1116 by a fire and was rebuilt in the Norman style. Additional work was carried out at the end of the 12th century and through to the middle of the 13th.
With the construction of the West Front Portico in the 13th century the style of the church changed to Gothic. The central arch has a slight lean, although it is not known if that is due to subsidence or if it was constructed that way in order to make it stand out. The front has a slightly asymmetric appearance. The central tower, as it stands today, has been rebuilt twice. The original tower was completed around 1160 and had a couple of floors above the level of the nave roof. This proved to be too heavy for the foundations, resulting in the tower being taken down and the provision of new foundations. The tower was then rebuilt as it had been prior to dismantling.
At the side of the cathedral are the remains of the Cloisters which date from 12th century. There have been three cloisters, Norman, Early English and Perpendicular. The one at the West wall is the oldest surviving structure above ground level in Peterborough and was part of the second abbey and dates from around 1100. Part of the Ancient wall of the Great Cloister is visible
The cathedral contains a lantern tower, which rises above the junction of the four arms of a cruciform church, these have openings through which light from outside can shine down to the crossing below. This tower was higher in the 12th century but had to be lowered in the 1370s due to its instability. In 1880s it needed to be dismantled and rebuilt.
The grounds to the north, east and south of the cathedral have been used as burial places for centuries and a number of tombstone can be seen around the sides of the cathedral.
The West front was completed in 1238 and has a statue of St Peter in the gable in the centre of the top. At the feet of St Peter is a fisherman’s net due to Peter having been a fisherman. The front is also known as “the Galilee” and it is one of the finest examples of Early English Gothic architecture. Although the whole building incorporates some beautiful architecture and each of the facades should be seen.
Entry through the West front leads into the Nave with its unique wooden ceiling which was completed around 1250.
At the head of the nave on entry is found the font which dates from the 13th century, with its bowl being made of Alwalton marble with fish and lilies depicted in the decorative carvings.
Further down the nave hangs a modern crucifix, made in the 1970s, it is made of gilded aluminum. At the bottom is an inscription in Latin which translated means “The Cross stands whilst the world turns”.
The North Transept contains some of the finest Norman architecture in Britain. Within the North Transept is the vestry and a treasury and contains some fine medieval Benedictine screens which were moved from the nave towards the end of the 18th century.
The spires were added to the Norman Towers in order to tie them in with the Gothic style, and two new towers were added creating a continuous frontage. A new building was constructed around the end of the Norman eastern apse, between 1496 and 1508.
The New Building, situated at the far end of the nave at the east end of the cathedral, lies behind the High Altar, this contains the wonderful fan vaulted ceiling known as Perpendicular-style architecture.
Located here is the Hedda Stone which originates from the original building. Its’ origins are not clear, but it was used as a grave marker for the mass grave used to bury the Abbot and Monks killed in a Viking raid in 864 and is believed to have marked the shrine of an Anglo-Saxon saint. The stone shows the central figure of Jesus with Mary on the left and St Peter with the keys of Heaven to the right.
In 1536 Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), the wife of Henry VIII was buried in the cathedral and her grave can be seen in the North Aisle marked as "Katharine Queen of England", a title she was denied at the time of her death. It has been suggested that Henry’s decision to make the Abbey a Cathedral in 1541 was due to Katherine being buried there.
In 1541, following Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the relics held in the cathedral were removed and lost.
In 1587, the body of Mary, Queen of Scots, was initially buried in the South Aisle of the cathedral after her execution at nearby Fotheringhay Castle. It was later moved to Westminster Abbey by her son, King James I.
During the English Civil War (1642–1651) the cathedral was vandalised by Parliamentarian troops resulting in the destruction of the high altar, the medieval choir stalls, the cloisters, Lady Chapel and most of the stained glass windows and monuments, Although some of the damage was repaired in the 17th and 18th century a major restoration project was begun in 1883 on the choir and interior pillows and the complete rebuilding of the west front.
The work also included new choir stalls - which are located where the stalls of the Benedictine abbey’s stalls had once been.
The original choir stalls which were destroyed by Parliamentarian troops in 1643 were replaced in 1734. These were used as the Bishop’s Consistory Court to hear cases of adultery, divorce and clergy discipline.
Within the choir is the Eagle Lectern. The lectern was given to the Abby in the late 15th century. It has a hole in the eagles front to place candlesticks to help the reader see the text.
At the same time as the choir was constructed a new pulpit was installed together with the bishop’s throne and high altar.
Apart from the High Altar, the cathedral has seven other altars, which are located chapels in the South Transept and South Aisle.
The apse is one of the earliest parts of the present building and was consecrated in 1140, although all the furnishings date from the late 19th century.
The cathedral was damaged by a fire started deliberately on 22 November 2001 resulting mainly in superficial damage due to smoke and water, although it did require a complete rebuilding of the organ. The current William Hill organ has over 5,200 pipes.
In July 2006 a programme of repairs began on the west front concentrating on the statues in the niches as these had been so badly affected by pollution and weathering.
Todays the cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Peterborough offering ministry, pastoral care and Christian teaching.
The Bishop’s Chair is called the cathedra from which the word cathedral comes, It is the Bishop’s seat. Made of oak in the 1890s at the same time as the choir stalls. The carvings show a number of past abbots, bishops, and saints including St Hugh of Lincoln.
At the end of the Nave is the High Altar. The ciborium, which is the sculpted canopy over the High Altar was built in 1894 and is a copy of the one in the church of St Maria de Cosmedin in Rome.
Within the cathedral are a number of displays holding artifacts, books and dress related to the cathedral and its clergy.