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Writing the history of Manchester’s Collegiate Church and Cathedral

This introductory chapter puts the book in the context of previous histories and highlights its main themes and approaches. ‘A perpetual college’ is a phrase taken from the first charter of 1421, which envisaged the Collegiate Church lasting for ever. The chapter argues that while national and even international factors had a vital bearing on the institution’s history right from the start, what was also crucial was its role in the local community. Manchester’s Collegiate Church and Cathedral also has a number of idiosyncratic features which means that this volume brings some new facets to the genre of ‘cathedral history’. Most strikingly, it allows us to examine a multi-organizational and multi-functional structure over six hundred years. The Collegiate Church was an extension of an existing parish church before being upgraded to become a Cathedral in 1847. Manchester’s history is thus unusual in that very few collegiate churches survived the Reformation, and it was one of only four collegiate churches to be elevated to cathedral status in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

in Manchester Cathedral
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Manchester Cathedral is one of the most rewarding and significant medieval buildings in north-west England, reflecting the ambitions and achievements of aristocratic and mercantile patrons in national, rather than merely local contexts. The survival of the original domestic building of the college is remarkable, while the architectural, stylistic and artistic influences and connections are worthy subjects for further research. In addition, the story of rebuilding, repair, and restoration represents a fascinating record of changing attitudes, practices and perceptions over succeeding centuries. This chapter explores the architecture from 1421 onwards, including nineteenth and twentieth century repairs and developments.

in Manchester Cathedral

This chapter examines the history of the Cathedral from the outbreak of the First World War until the 1980s, a period in which it faced major challenges. The first was that the city was changing shape, with its centre of gravity moving away from the Cathedral. A number of inter-war commercial buildings were much taller than the Cathedral, while the civic quarter expanded with the construction of the Central Library (1934) and Town Hall Extension (1938). This separation was exacerbated first by the bombing of the Cathedral area in the Second World War and then by the depredations of town planners, who almost choked the Cathedral by surrounding it with large modern buildings. A second problem afflicted the city as a whole: its loss of national and international influence. Many of the things that had made Manchester internationally famous – cotton, free trade, Liberalism – were in terminal decline by the inter-war period. A third obstacle was the general decline in religious observance that occurred in Britain between 1914 and 1983. However, none of these obstacles was insuperable, and successive deans and canons proved resourceful at finding ways of remaining a ‘rallying point’.

in Manchester Cathedral

Bringing the story of Manchester Cathedral into the early twenty-first century, this chapter explores the contradictions in the city’s changing fortunes – resurgence and rebuilding coupled with persistent poverty and social deprivation. It explores how the role of the Cathedral evolved through this period, asking whether the institution adapted successfully to the rapidly changing world around it. In doing so, it considers the 2007 furore surrounding the use of the Cathedral in the video game Resistance: Fall of Man, the picketing of the Cathedral in 2009 by the British National Party, and the Cathedral’s role in the city’s mourning in the wake of the 2017 Manchester Arena bomb. It is arguable that, amongst English cathedrals, Manchester has been particularly successful in offering itself as an example of a historic ‘great’ church which has been able to maintain a broad, representative function for the city alongside its more strictly religious function. It can function not just geographically and socially as the historic centre of the city, but as a resource for the Manchester city and region. At the same time, it has not ceased to develop its spiritual life and mission.

in Manchester Cathedral

Until 1828–29, the special position of the Established Church in relation to the state was still intact in legal terms both at the national and local level. The clergy of the Collegiate Church of Manchester and their lay officials still appeared to be the chief ecclesiastical authority in the town. They also frequently took the lead in local affairs. The clergy moved from their suspect Tory Jacobite associations of the earlier eighteenth century to the uncompromising loyalism of the 1790s onwards. This strengthened the alliance of Church and State, and in the 1790s ‘Church and King’ became a potent war-cry for suppressing political reformers and smearing Dissenting associations. But the Church’s control in Manchester was not absolute. The demise of Church and King mobs, the growth of non-Anglican churches, congregations and schools and of absenteeism from Church tell their own tale, as do the voices of critics, the failure of Sabbath discipline, and the increasing recourse to voluntary persuasion. The cracks in the ruling edifice were deepened by the reaction against Peterloo. The erosion of Establishment begun with the emancipation of Dissenters and Roman Catholics in 1828–29 continued during the following decades.

in Manchester Cathedral

This chapter shows that the foundation of the College and its development in the following century were signs of the vitality of the late medieval Church. The dedication to St George and St Denys locates Manchester’s Collegiate Church within the reign of Henry V. Fifteenth-century religion was once assumed to have been moribund and unpopular, but recent research has uncovered a church which was remarkable in its energy, commitment, popularity, and versatility. Its founders intended for the Manchester Collegiate Church to offer the best possible religious provision for the community, as well as providing prayers for the souls of its benefactors. The chapter demonstrates how the founding ideals of piety, educational provision, and community service continued after the Reformation. The Edwardian closure of the college and the Marian re-founding illuminate Diarmaid MacCulloch’s vision of a religious cultural revolution under Edward and the reconceptualization of Marian Catholicism by Eamon Duffy and others. The chapter argues that, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the history of Manchester’s Collegiate Church is a history of the English church in miniature.

in Manchester Cathedral

This chapter tackles issues of Church reform, the transfer to Cathedral status and the emergence of Tractarianism in Manchester in the late nineteenth century. The circumstances of Manchester Cathedral’s creation and the legacy of its former incarnation rendered its early history sui generis, involving disputes of peculiar intensity and unexpected complications. Opinions on the Collegiate Church’s value to ‘Cottonopolis’ differ, but it was unequivocally a Manchester institution, whereas the Cathedral would be mother church to a diocese stretching north of Lancaster. The Collegiate Church was also Manchester parish church. As the city’s ecclesiastical map evolved through church-building and parochial subdivision, how should its dual role be reflected in the allocation of the burgeoning financial resources generated from its property and services by the dynamic urban economy? The process by which ‘th’Owd Church’ (which the Collegiate Church was affectionately referred to after new churches were built in Manchester from the early eighteenth century) metamorphosed into a cathedral would be far from straightforward. This chapter argues that loyalty to ‘th’Owd Church’ was ultimately one of the distinctive strengths of Manchester Cathedral, giving it a wider resonance than many other cathedrals had.

in Manchester Cathedral
A history of the Collegiate Church and Cathedral, 1421 to the present
Editor: Jeremy Gregory

Founded in 1421, the Collegiate Church of Manchester, which became a cathedral in 1847, is of outstanding historical and architectural importance. But until now it has not been the subject of a comprehensive study. Appearing on the 600th anniversary of the Cathedral’s inception by Henry V, this book explores the building’s past and its place at the heart of the world's first industrial city, touching on everything from architecture and music to misericords and stained glass. Written by a team of renowned experts and beautifully illustrated with more than 100 photographs, this history of the ‘Collegiate Church’ is at the same time a history of the English church in miniature.

Between the Reformation and the Restoration Manchester Collegiate Church was dissolved twice, in 1547 and 1649, restored twice, in 1556 and 1660, and all but dissolved twice, in 1559 and 1609, requiring two further re-foundations, in 1578 and 1635. This confused history reflected a national church in which there was no agreed role for a collegiate church like Manchester. That uncertainty had a profound effect on the institution and its personnel, for even when the college was not facing the immediate threat of dissolution, it was never placed on a secure footing for long. This chapter helps us understand the nature of the Elizabethan and early Stuart Church, the character of ‘puritanism’, and the role of Manchester’s Collegiate Church in the Civil War. The chapter also aids our understanding of mid-seventeenth century events, where the Manchester Presbyterian classis evolved from within rather than from outside the religious establishment. Most collegiate churches and cathedrals were badly damaged during this period as a result of Cromwellian iconoclasm, but Manchester’s Collegiate Church was almost totally unscathed, and, as the chapter notes, Manchester is the only example where a ‘Cathedral-type foundation led the Parliamentarians’.

in Manchester Cathedral
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Funerary memorials provide important insights into a community’s religious beliefs and observances, as well as the wider social and political attitudes of the times in which they were created. What is evident from this chronological overview of the memorials in Manchester Cathedral is that only a relatively small number of memorials were ever installed inside the building. This is due to a number of factors, including the limited floor and wall space available and the actions of those who controlled those spaces. Building and restoration work, especially since the nineteenth century, further reduced the available space and resulted in the removal of memorials. The funerary monuments were not only small in number but in their form essentially derivative. Brass memorial plaques were mostly conventional in design and characterised by a calligraphy that was pleasing but typical. Changes in more recent decades may warrant a more positive assessment, but for those visiting the Cathedral it is usually other features of the exterior and interior rather than the historically revealing memorials that attract their attention.

in Manchester Cathedral