Lichfield City is a pleasant half-hour train ride north out of Birmingham in the Staffordshire countryside, and home to one of England’s great old cathedrals. With its unmistakable three spires (“Three Sisters”), Lichfield Cathedral is a magnificent sight to behold as you approach the historic city center. The environs of the cathedral are a pleasure to explore as is an unhurried walk through the cathedral itself. Lanes leading to the cathedral offer welcoming small-scale cafes, restaurants, and other inviting businesses and attractions, such as museums honoring Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, and Samuel Johnson, compiler of an important early English dictionary. There is a lovely pond you can stroll beside, pubs offering traditional refreshment, and a village market outside St. Mary’s Church, all just minutes from the cathedral by foot.
The exterior stonework of the cathedral is an imposing dark reddish hue. Its three sky-piercing spires are a unique feature among English cathedrals. It’s easy to spot many interesting and intact gargoyles mounted at various levels on the outer walls of the church, particularly at the east end. Watch out for an especially horrifying one of Medusa’s head. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear a session of change-ringing in the bell tower, the cascading sound of bells mightily rolling around upon themselves with subtle, ever-shifting changes of bell sequence. Change-ringing is one of the aural wonders of English cathedrals and never fails to give me goosebumps and make time seem to stand still. Have a seat on one of many benches placed along the perimeter of the cathedral and enjoy gazing upon any of the many different views of this grand edifice.
A wander through the interior will provide you with several hours immersion in a serene yet historical and awe-inspiring cathedral environment. Lichfield Cathedral traces its origins back to the legend of St. Chad in the 600’s. The present cathedral took about 150 years to build and is largely Gothic. It contains all the major styles within that broad category of time stretching from the 1200’s through the 1300’s and beyond. The crossing and western end of the choir date from 1200 and show both Norman Transitional and Early English work. The Lady Chapel and eastern choir are in the Decorated style, and there are examples of Perpendicular style.
The cathedral suffered much damage at the hands of Henry VIII and during the English Civil War so had to undergo quite a bit of rebuilding in subsequent ages, which continues to the present day. Lichfield and the cathedral close were a battleground during the Civil War in the 1600’s. If you look closely at the many carved heads decorating the side aisles in the nave, you can see slash marks on some of them where swords were sharpened during that upheaval!
History washes over you as you explore this ancient building and marvel over the monuments, effigies, stained glass windows, tiled floors, organ pipes, chantry chapels, massive doors, iron and metal-work, the complex tracery, and myriad of architectural features from the smallest detailed wood and stone carvings to the soaring arches, breathtaking ceiling vaulting, and herculean pillars. One of the cathedral’s treasures is the St. Chad Gospels, an eighth-century Gospel Book with 236 surviving folios, eight of which are illuminated. Priceless exhibits such as this along with the vast cathedral fabric that envelopes and transports you make for a profoundly rewarding experience.
There are two cathedral gift shops. Purchases benefit the cathedral and help you remember your lovely sojourn at Lichfield’s “Three-Sisters” cathedral.
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