Carlisle's imposing Cathedral occupies a central position in the heart of the city's ‘historic quarter'.
Carlisle Cathedral is the second smallest of England's ancient cathedrals and has a long and turbulent history. It started life as a Norman Priory Church in 1122, becoming a cathedral in 1133. Notable features include figurative stone carving, a set of medieval choir stalls, the largest window in the 'flowing decorated Gothic' style in England and he Brougham Triptych - a Flemish altarpiece dating from the 16th century.
But it perhaps the unique Choir Ceiling for which the Cathedral is best known. While the Cathedral was first built in the 12th century, the ceiling's main timbers date from 1400 - put in place following a devastating fire in 1292. The decorative scheme dates from Ewan Christian’s restoration of the Cathedral 1853-6. The style follows the medieval original, but the detailed design and colour (angels and stars) was the work of Owen Jones (1809-1874), one of the great decorative artists of the day. The ceiling was last repainted in 1970.
In 1133, King Henry I formed the Diocese of which Carlisle was the centre. The area, close to the Scottish border, was unruly and the King wished to impose his authority. A Cathedral was a perfect symbol of that authority. Over the intervening 900 years Carlisle’s cathedral has seen dramatic changes in the life of the nation, reflecting the turbulent history of the Borderlands. Thankfully the cathedral is more peaceful nowadays and this house of God continues to serve its original purpose.
There have been a number of archaeological excavations at Carlisle Cathedral. The Cathedral Treasury houses a permanent display of items recovered from the excavations in 1988. Highlights include the 13th century ‘Carlisle Crucifix’ made from Whitby jet, and coins and artefacts from pre-cathedral times.