Whatever your age or interest, we hope you will find something in this beautiful building to capture your imagination. We have highlighted a number of significant features to be found within the Cathedral - but there are many more to discover.
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. The story of our iconic ceiling is available in the excellent book Heaven's Above, by Jim Palmer, available from the cathedral's Welcome Centre.
The throne or seat – ‘cathedra’ – of the Bishop in any Cathedral is the feature that gives the building its name. The present throne is on the south side of the choir adjacent to the stalls. It is in the same style as the stalls and was designed by the architect G E Street. It was installed in 1880 in the same position of earlier ones. The throne is decorated with the coat of arms of Bishop Harvey Goodwin (1869–91).
The East Window dates from c.1350, and was put in as part of the rebuilding of the Cathedral after the 1292 fire. It is over 50 feet high and has been attributed to Ivo de Raghton. Some of the original stained glass towards the top - depicting the last judgement of Christ - survives in the very fine tracery. The lower part of the window, depicting the life of Christ, is the work of Hardman & Co and dates from 1861. It was done in memory of Bishop Percy.
The Brougham Triptych was made in Antwerp in about 1520, and bears the trademark of the Antwerp Guild of Woodcarvers. It may have been in a church in Cologne before it was bought in the 1840s by Baron Brougham & Vaux to decorate St Wilfred’s Chapel, Brougham. Although it lacks two doors to make triptych wings, it is a fine example of its type. The altarpiece portrays Christ’s passion and includes infancy and resurrection themes.
The Gondibour screens - both in curvilinear style - sit on either side of the Welcome Centre. They take their name from Thomas Gondibour, Prior of St Mary’s Cathedral Priory between 1465 and 1500. Gondibour’s initials are incorporated into the carving on the door. The two screens have been heavily restored, which probably occurred in the 18th century when they were moved from their original positions between the pillars of the choir.
Each of our 46 choir stalls incorporates a misericord, a tip-up seat which enables a Canon at worship to stand, sit or perch in a position good for singing. Typically misericords incorporate ornate carvings on their underside, with designs which are usually not religious, except for an occasional angel. The designs often incorporate mythical beasts, birds or animals. These misericords and choir stalls date from 1400-1419. In the course of repair, they were found to have a thin wash of gold paint.
On the back of the choir stalls are four sets of painted panels. One depicts the 12 apostles, each with a section of the Creed. The other three illustrate the lives of St Anthony of Egypt, the founder of monasticism, St Augustine of Hippo, considered to be the founder of the Augustinian Canons, and St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, who visited Carlisle in the years 685 and 686. The texts of the lives of these saints are written in Anglo-Saxon. The panels were painted in 1485–90, and one of them bears the monogram of Prior Gondibour.
Although the Regimental Chapel was only formally established in 1949, that area of the west end of the Cathedral has had an assembly of war memorial and personal military memorials, dating back to 1856; and regimental colours dating back to 1745. They reflect the transition of the local regiment from the 34th Regiment of Foot to the Border Regiment, the King’s Own Regiment; and the present Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. Memorial books of the First and Second World Wars onwards are displayed, from which names are formally read out each Friday.
Of just 17 Scandinavian runic inscriptions in mainland England, two - both dating from the 12th century - have been found in the Cathedral. One was discovered in 1855 just inside the main door, when paint and plaster were being removed from the walls. It is now behind glass and reads: ‘Dolfin wrote these runes on this stone.’ The second, found in 2008 in the south transept triforium (first floor) level, is the single name ‘Reginald’, carved into a stone that was moved from its original position in the early 13th century to block a disused doorway.
The Salkeld Screen is so-called because it bears the initials of Lancelot Salkeld, Dean of Carlisle, who became Dean in 1541, and the arms of Henry VIII, who died in 1547. The screen stands out in style as distinctly renaissance in a predominantly Romanesque and Gothic building. The design incorporates very fine carvings of 12 heads, six on each side. Most of the characters bear some relation to Henry VIII. Some are in contemporary dress, others in Roman style.
Tait Memorial Window
The Tait Memorial Window in the north transept commemorates the five daughters of Dean Archibald Campbell Tait and his wife Catherine. Aged between 10 years and 18 months, they died in a 33 day period from 6 March to 8 April 1856. Even in those days of high infant mortality, their deaths caused a sensation. The children were all buried in Stanwix graveyard, where there is a memorial to them. Two other children escaped infection. Dean Tait was soon afterwards appointed Bishop of London, so he and his wife and surviving children did not have to return to the Deanery
The excavation of this area in 1988 was an important archaeological dig, and exposed several Viking graves. The Treasury Exhibition was opened by the Duke of Gloucester with the aim of safeguarding and displaying the ‘treasures’ of the parishes of the diocese and of the Cathedral. It also contains a series of illustrated panels which tell the story of the history of Christianity in Cumbria from the beginning to the present day. The proceeds of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant and of the Viscount Whitelaw Memorial Fund financed an upgrade of the display cases and panels.
For our younger visitors, ask at the Welcome Centre for Brother Herbert’s free activity sheets to guide you around the Cathedral. As well as discovering some of our key features, you can also try the Mystery Trail which will guide you round the Cathedral precinct.