[Thursday - 10/27/94] We had driven past Ripon Cathedral several times thus far but hadn't actually planned to stop in. At the time, we hadn't known of its connection to St. Cuthbert or the significance of the place itself. But, this evening, we decided to stop in. It was already dark and the place was beautifully illuminated both inside and out. Also, it was Susan's birthday and she really wanted to see it. So, we decided to park the car and go inside. Thank God!
What we discovered was a beautiful secluded Sacred Space. Unlike so many of Britain's religious buildings, this one eluded the touristy feel that some gain. It helped that the place was all but empty and it was evening. It gave the whole place a feeling of such holiness that we couldn't help but be moved. The pews were lined with wonderfully embroidered kneeling cushions and we even found the ones reserved for Pilgrims. I, of course, had to stop and pray.
A priest stopped by and we told him about our trip and he motioned us towards the crypt. The original church's founder, St. Wilfrid had the crypt constructed in 672 AD to duplicate (in his mind) the tomb of Christ. Pilgrim's would enter the tomb on their knees (which some of us did!) and pray before a piece of the True Cross held there. The experience was profound.
From as early as the mid-7th century, there has been a church on this site. The original stone church of Abbot Wilfrid was dedicated to St Peter in 672 AD and served the local people as a minster. However, in 950 the Anglo-Saxon church was destroyed and all that remains to be seen today is the marvelous old crypt, once sited beneath the high altar.
The second church was built quite soon afterwards, but it too suffered a similar fate when it was laid to waste by the Normans in 1069 AD. By 1080, the first Norman Archbishop of York had begun work on the third church at Ripon, and a fine example of the building from this period can be seen in The Chapel of Resurrection. This vaulted undercroft, beneath the Chapter House, has been beautifully restored for use on a daily basis.
It has been recorded that, on Christmas Day in 1132, a group of monks from York came to Ripon to worship here before continuing on their way to found Fountains Abbey.
By the late 12th century, Ripon had received a substantial sum of money to enable it to be reconstructed and enhanced in the Norman Transitional style. During the next 100 years, a Chapter House was added, an impressive West Front, and the East End was enlarged. A further two disasters befell this little church which significantly changed its appearance. In 1450 part of the central tower collapsed, and rebuilding was never completed and, finally, in 1660 the central spire fell through the roof. Subsequently, the spires on the west towers were removed.
Despite the destruction and disasters that Ripon has suffered over the centuries, there is such an abundance of beauty and outstanding craftsmanship to be seen here. From the richly carved choir stalls, with amusing misericords beneath, to the delightful ceiling bosses depicting Biblical scenes. Tall, graceful arches and clustered columns with carved stone capitals and corbels, and a superb example of early 14th century stone tracery in the colorful east window.
Visiting Ripon, I was awed with the luxuriance and majesty of this relatively small cathedral situated on the edge of a quiet, market town. Its unassuming appearance certainly belied the treasures it holds within its hallowed walls! We also learned that St. Cuthbert's body had been hidden here for a time before it made its way to its final resting-place in Durham, which we had already visited! Seeing this wonderful cathedral and learning of its wonderful past made us feel especially blessed. Filled with contentment, we headed back to Jervaulx Hall to celebrate Susan's birthday with a strawberry shortcake the hotel had made especially for her!
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