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Carlisle Cathedral Church and Priory of St Mary

In the civil parish of Carlisle.
In the historic county of Cumberland.
Modern Authority of Cumbria.
1974 county of Cumbria.
Medieval County of Cumberland.

OS Map Grid Reference: NY39905596
Latitude 54.89462° Longitude -2.93874°

Carlisle Cathedral Church and Priory of St Mary has been described as a probable Fortified Ecclesiastical site.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


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)

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.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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PastScape   County HER   Scheduling   Listing   I. O. E.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:32

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