A familiar sight to anyone who has graced the streets of Truro, Truro Cathedral towers above the city’s rooftops and punctures the sky with its soaring spire. A masterpiece of Gothic Revival Architecture, it is both an architectural triumph and a much-loved symbol of the city.
London of Southwest
With roots dating back to the Norman times, Truro originally featured a small settlement set up around a castle built between 1139 and 1140 (now the site of the Truro Courts of Justice). Certainly not the oldest of Cornwall’s towns, it became an important port and stannary town over the centuries and boasted a central role in the county’s booming trades, including mining and transportation.
Flourishing and prosperous, it was peppered with attractive Georgian and Victorian townhouses and squares and became known as the “London of the South West”. With the Diocese of Truro established in 1876, the city put in a bid to become the home of the county’s first cathedral. Competing against Lostwithiel, Launceston, Bodmin, St Germans and St Columb, Truro was ultimately chosen, and St Mary’s parish church became the new cathedral.
The Birth of Truro Cathedral
Although St Mary’s had not long been rebuilt in 1768, its Georgian fashioning was deemed too modest for a cathedral and plans were created for a new, larger building. Enlisting John Loughborough Pearson, a leading architect with a great deal of experience in cathedrals, foundation stones were laid on 20th May 1880 by the Duke of Cornwall, later King Edward VII, and work began thereafter.
A truly ambitious project, the birth of Truro Cathedral was particularly special because it was the first time an Anglican cathedral had been built on a new site for nearly 700 years. Not since Salisbury Cathedral, built in 1220, had anyone attempted to emulate the great cathedral builders of the medieval era. Despite this, and difficulties financing the project, the central tower was finished by 1905 and the cathedral completed in 1910.
Visiting Truro Cathedral Today
Located in the centre of Truro, Truro Cathedral is less than a 10-minute walk from Merchant House Hotel. Usually open between 10am and 3pm Monday to Saturday and 1pm and 3pm on Sunday, it is well worth a visit (and hard to miss!). As well as striking façade, inside the cathedral you should keep an eye out for the beautiful stained-glass windows, designed by Clayton and Bell. Intricately detailed, they depict the Holy Trinity, stories from the Bible and the history of the English church.
Also notable is the Pieta carved by Breton monks in the 14th Century from Caen granite, the reredos behind the High Altar incorporating the themed sculpture of Christ sacrificed and the cathedral’s two foundation stones (the first visible from the outside in the northeast corner, and the second in the southern side of the nave). In the baptistery and chancel, the magnificent mosaic floor was helped laid by the Italian craftsman Antonio Bertolucci. Having travelled to Truro from Lucca, Italy, he fell in love with a local girl and stayed in Cornwall to marry her. He was also known for his delicious ice cream!
Nine Lessons and Carols Service
The famous Nine Lessons and Carols Service, held in Anglican churches at Christmas all across the world today, was actually started by the first Bishop of Truro, Bishop Edward White Benson in 1880. In a bid to curb unruly behaviour emerging in local pubs, it is said that the Bishop devised the service to encourage a more humble kind of festive cheer!
First conducted in a temporary wooden building as the cathedral was being built, it was attended by 400 people and held in the same structure for a further 6 years until the building was completed. These days, the service is held twice on the 23rdand 24th December each year, with one service featuring the girl choristers and adult singers, and the other featuring the boy choristers and adult singers. Each has a different musical programme and is attended by audiences of 1,000 strong.
If you would like to find out more about Truro Cathedral, visit their website here.