Visit Peterborough by Mouse
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Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire is on the western end of the Fens 85 miles north of London, 37 miles north of Cambridge, and 40 miles northwest of Ely, also discussed on this web site. Like Ely, it is a cathedral town, and we went there primarily to see its cathedral. It was worth the trip.
The cathedral is a very fine example of Norman cathedral architecture along with the cathedrals in Durham and in Ely. Started as an abbey, it was rebuilt in Norman style starting in 1118 AD. It is a stunning example, as we think you will agree after seeing the photos. You first see the west front with its three round arches upon going through the gate to the cathedral close which is right off the main street in Peterborough. It's sudden appearance is both very pleasing and startling. You could be satisfied just standing there and taking it in. However, our advice is to proceed inside for continued delightful sights, especially of the decorated wooden ceiling over the central nave, the rounded arches of the clerestory and triforium, and the fan arches of a side nave.
Scholars think that the first really important event that figured in the preservation of the cathedral was the burial of Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon there in 1536. Although the King dissolved the monasteries and destroyed many churches after the Pope refused him a divorce from Catherine, he left this church alone because she was buried here. Instead, it was favored by the King and allowed to become the first cathedral of the new diocese of Peterborough. Before he went on his marrying adventures with his subsequent six wives, he exiled Catherine to a castle near Peterborough. After her death, still not wishing to acknowledge her as his legitimate wife he thought it the right thing to do to inter her in the Cathedral as the widow of his brother, to whom she had been married before his brother's death. If you ever get there and stand before her tomb, think about how very important she was in the history of Great Britain. It could be said that her person was as responsible as any other factor in Britain being Anglican today and not Catholic. Sure, Henry started the process of breaking with Catholicism, but had the Pope in Rome, the other important person in this drama, granted him the annulment from Catherine, or had she died while giving birth to one of her six children--many women did die in childbirth then--there would have been no reason at that time for the reformation to get started.
The next important development in the history of the cathedral was the English civil war. Parliamentary forces severely vandalized it in 1643 as they did in other cathedrals and churches. This one must have been a special target because it had much of the symbols from its Catholic existence in such good repair. The Puritan forces made a point of pulling down statues, breaking noses and feet, breaking stained glass, damaging or removing stone altars, pulling up bronze inlays from the floors to smelt them down for arms--in short, doing their best to make the church as plain as possible. Much of the damage was repaired and restored in later years. Today, the cathedral is in great shape.
We have a short letter to offer, a page of photos and a slideshow
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