Carlisle Cathedral Church and Priory of St Mary

Has been described as a Possible Fortified Ecclesiastical site

There are major building remains

NameCarlisle Cathedral Church and Priory of St Mary
Alternative Names
Historic CountryCumberland
Modern AuthorityCumbria
1974 AuthorityCumbria
Civil ParishCarlisle

Carlisle Cathedral started life as the church to St Mary's Priory, a house of Augustinian Cannons, founded in 1122 by Henry I. In 1133, Henry I established the Diocese of Carlisle and the Priory Church as its Cathedral. The priory was dissolved in 1540 and a year later the Cathedral was re-founded, and re-dedicated to the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

The current building dates from the early 12th century with various rebuildings until the early 15th century, with alterations of 1652 to the west end; minor alterations of 1764, and 1846 (by Thomas Nelson), restorations of 1853-57 by Ewan Christian, and 1950s restoration. The oldest parts are constructed of mixed red and calciferous squared sandstone blocks; the remainder is red sandstone ashlar, heavily restored, on a chamfered plinth, with stepped buttresses carried up as pinnacles; string courses, dentilled cornices and solid parapets, battlemented on the tower. There are steeply pitched lead roofs, copper on the south transept and a flat roof on the tower.

The early 12th century nave was originally of seven bays but most of its was pulled down in 1645 and it now comprises two bays with a fragment of the third bay remaining as buttresses; the nave is aisled with a north vestry. The south transept is also of 12th century with a 13th century chantry chapel (dedicated to St Catherine) whilst the north transept is late 14th century and incorporates part of a 12th century structure (the original transept is thought to have been destroyed when the tower fell in 1380 during a great storm). The tower was rebuilt in the late 14th/early 15th century. In around 1500 the Prior's tower was built providing fortified accommodation for the prior. (PastScape)

Gatehouse Comments

Brooke writes there is little evidence of security within the church itself although closer examination of the church does suggest that elements of defence were included at the design stages ie most windows are positioned well above ground level. The claustral buildings were fortified with a perimeter wall and gatehouse and a strong frater, as well as two pele towers for the bishop and prior. There is a considerably bibliography for the cathedral but little reference to the building as potentially defensive. All monastic houses had to have some element of cutting off the community from wider society whilst also maintaining links with that society, particularly so for monastic houses attached to cathedrals. So precinct walls and gatehouse were usual although most these gave passive defence, rather than being active fortifications. In Carlisle both genuine concerns about high levels of lawlessness and Scottish warfare and a local building tradition of solid stone buildings meant the claustral defences are likely to have been stronger than usual elsewhere, although the cathedral was within the city walls.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law

Historic England Scheduled Monument Number
Historic England Listed Building number(s)
Images Of England
Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceNY399559
Latitude54.8946189880371
Longitude-2.93874001502991
Eastings339900
Northings555960
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Photograph by Matthew Emmott. All rights reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow All Rights Reserved
Copyright Dave Barlow All Rights Reserved

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Books

  • Brooke, C.J., 2000, Safe Sanctuaries (Edinburgh; John Donald) p. 273-279
  • Perriam, Denis and Robinson, John, 1998, The Medieval Fortified Buildings of Cumbria (Kendal: CWAAS Extra Series 29) p. 78 (plan of Priory Gate)
  • Pevsner, N., 1967, Buildings of England: Cumberland and Westmorland (Harmondsworth: Penguin) p. 88-94
  • Billings, R.W., 1840, Architectural Illustrations History and Description of Carlisle Cathedral (London: Thomas and William Boone) online copy

Antiquarian

  • Speed, John, 1611-12, The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain online copy

Journals

  • Perriam, D.R., 1987, 'The demolition of the Priory of St Mary, Carlisle' Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Vol. 87 p. 127-58 online copy