Norwich Cathedral

Norwich Cathedral is a Church of England cathedral built in Norwich, Norfolk, dedicated to the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

The cathedral was started in 1096 and constructed out of flint and mortar and faced with a cream coloured Caen limestone. A Saxon settlement and two churches were demolished to make room for the buildings. The building was finished in 1145 and had the fine Norman tower, that we see today, topped with a wooden spire covered with lead. Several periods of damage caused rebuilding to the nave and spire but after many years the building was much as we see it now, from the final erection of the stone spire in 1480.

The large cloister has over 1,000 bosses including several hundred carved and ornately painted ones. The buildings are on the lowest part of the Norwich river plain and surrounded on three sides by hills and an area of scrubland, Mousehold heath, to the fourth and North direction. This means that the Cathedral could be seen from just about any location in the city.

It is also one of the Norwich 12 heritage sites.


The structure of the cathedral is primarily in the Norman style, having been constructed at the behest of Bishop Herbert de Losinga, and retains the greater part of its original stone structure. Building started in 1096 and the cathedral was completed in 1145. It was built from flint and mortar and faced with cream coloured Caen limestone. A Saxon settlement and two churches were demolished to make room for the buildings and a canal cut to allow access for the boats bringing the stone and building materials which were taken up the Wensum and unloaded at Pulls Ferry, Norwich. It was damaged after riots in 1270, which resulted in the city paying heavy fines levied by Henry III, rebuilt by 1278 and re–consecrated by Edward I. It has the finest Norman tower in England with the original spire being made of wood and covered with lead. The spire was blown down by a hurricane in 1362 and was replaced.

A large cloister with over 1,000 bosses was started in 1297 and finally finished in 1430 after black death had plagued the city. The building was vaulted between 1416 and 1472 in a spectacular manner with hundreds of ornately carved, painted and gilded bosses. In 1463 the spire was struck by lightning and caused a fire to rage through the nave which was so intense it turned some of the creamy Caen limestone a pink colour. In 1480 the Bishop of Norwich, James Goldwell, ordered the building of the stone spire which is still in place today, with flying buttresses later added to help support the roofs.

The total length of the building is 461 feet (140 m). Significant alterations from later periods include the 315 foot (96 m) spire and a two-storey cloister, the only such in England, as well as the vaults of the nave and chancel. Standing at 315 feet, the cathedral's spire is the second tallest in England, and dominates the city skyline — only the spire of Salisbury Cathedral is higher at 404 feet. Along with Salisbury and Ely the cathedral lacks a ring of bells which makes them the only three English cathedrals without them. One of the best views of the cathedral spire is from St. James's Hill on Mousehold Heath.

The bosses of the vault number over 1,000. Each is decorated with a theological image and have been described as without parallel in the Christian world. The nave vault shows the history of the world from the creation; the cloister includes series showing the life of Christ and the Apocalypse.

The precinct of the cathedral, the limit of the former monastery, is between Tombland (the Anglo-Saxon market place) and the River Wensum and the Cathedral Close, which runs from Tombland into the cathedral grounds, contains a number of interesting buildings from the 15th through to the 19th century including the remains of the infirmary.

The grounds also house the King Edward VI school, statues to the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Nelson and the grave of Edith Cavell.

17th century: hard times

The cathedral was partially in ruins when John Cosin was there at Grammar School in the early 17th century, and the former bishop was an absentee figure. During the reign of King Charles I, an angry Puritan mob invaded the cathedral and destroyed all Catholic symbols in 1643. The building, abandoned the following year, lay in ruins for two decades. Norwich Bishop Joseph Hall provides a graphic description from his book Hard Measure:

Only at the Restoration in 1660 would the cathedral be restored under Charles II.

Modern works

In 2004 the new award-winning visitor centre (National Wood Awards 2004), by Hopkins Architects and Buro Happold opened on the site.

Work on the new Hostry site started in April 2007 and the Cathedral Inspiration for the Future Campaign had finally reached its target of £10 million.


Norwich Cathedral has a fine selection of 61 misericords, dating from 3 periods - 1480, 1515 and mid-19th century. The subject matter is varied, mythological, everyday subjects and portraits.


There are two gates to the cathedral grounds, both on Tombland (the pre-Norman marketplace). In 1420 Sir Thomas Erpingham, benefactor to the city, had the gate which bears his name built, sited opposite the west door of the cathedral leading into Cathedral Close.

The Cathedral Chapter

The Very Rev Graham Smith - Dean of Norwich

Rev Canon Jeremy Haselock - Precentor and Vice-Dean

Rev Canon Richard Capper - Canon Pastor

Rev Canon Dr Peter Doll - Canon Librarian

Rev Canon Philip McFadyen - Non Residentiary Canon (Priest in charge, St George, Colegate)

Dr Bryony Falkus - Lay Canon

Mrs Susie Furnivall - Lay Canon

The Cathedral Choirs

The Cathedral Choir is directed by David Lowe with David Dunnett as the organist. The Cathedral Choir consists of boys, girls and men. The boys of the Cathedral Choir hold places for around 16 boys aged from 7–13 years. The boys all attend Norwich School in the Cathedral Close, with at least 50% of their fees being paid by the Norwich Cathedral Endowment fund. With the men of the choir, the boys sing at six services a week and often more during special times of year such as Easter and Christmas. There are 12 men of the choir, six of them being choral scholars (often Music students from the University of East Anglia). The men of the choir sing with the boys' choir, but also sing fortnightly with the girls' choir at Tuesday evensong.

The girls of the Cathedral Choir were introduced in 1995 to give girls the chance to contribute to the musical life of the cathedral. It has places for 24 girls, who are older than the boys, at the secondary age of 11–18 years. The girls do not all attend the same school, instead coming from a wide variety of schools around Norwich and Norfolk. They sing evensong once weekly (alternately on their own and with the men of the Cathedral Choir) and at least one Sunday Eucharist a term. The girls sing more often during busy times of the year such as Easter and Christmas.

The choir sing at other churches around the diocese and further afield, release choral CDs, and go on music tours (sometimes all together and at others separately) - recent locations including the United States of America, Malta, Holland, and Norway,

Organists and Masters of the Music
Assistant organists
  • St William (of Norwich), Child Martyr (d 1144)
  • John de Gray, Bishop of Norwich (1200–1214)
  • Pandulf Masca, Roman ecclesiastical politician, papal legate to England and Bishop of Norwich (1215–1226)
  • John Salmon, Lord Chancellor of England and Bishop of Norwich (1299–1325)
  • Henry le Despenser, Bishop of Norwich (1370–1406)
  • Richard Nykke, last Roman Catholic (before the Henrician reform) Bishop of Norwich (1501–1535)
  • John Hopton, Bishop of Norwich (1554–1558)
  • John Salisbury (bishop)
  • John Parkhurst, Bishop of Norwich (1560–1575)
  • John Overall (bishop), Bishop of Norwich (1618–1619)
  • Richard Montagu, Bishop of Norwich (1638–1641)
  • Edward Reynolds, Bishop of Norwich (1660–1676)
Notes and references


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