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Bristol Cathedral

Bristol Cathedral has a history that spans nearly 9 centuries. Its unique architecture is world famous. The building was originally designed as a convent church but underwent extensive alterations in the 19th century to arrive at its current form: a medieval building with a Victorian facelift.

The architecture is a unique example of a hall church, meaning that the nave, chapels and chancel are all of the same height. The western towers and the nave are from the 19th century, while the chapter house –the oldest part of the cathedral– dates back to the 12th century. It was built in Roman style by order of the wealthy landowner Robert Fitzharding. The stone walls are adorned with complex engravings. This section alone makes the cathedral one of the most important structures of its time.

The cathedral dominates the Bristol skyline
The cathedral dominates the Bristol skyline

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A construction project spanning 7 centuries

The cathedral was originally an Augustinian Abbey on the edge of a wealthy trading town. Even before this abbey was built, the hill was a spiritual place of refuge. Followers of the Cult of the Holy Jordanus gathered here in the earliest days of English Christianity. A stone from that time has been preserved and incorporated into the cathedral, a worthy tribute to its early history.

The cathedral has played a role in various historical events in Bristol. In 1831, for instance, the building was attacked by rebels protesting a parliamentary reform law, during which the bishop’s quarters were destroyed and the chapter house extensively damaged. A fire in the library also resulted in the loss of numerous valuable archives.

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The cathedral on College Green in the heart of Bristol

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College Green, Bristol

A fortunate find

The riots of 1831 also led to a lucky coincidence: during the restoration, a large stone panel depicting the descent of Christ into hell was found under the damaged floor. It is one of the best examples of Anglo-Saxon sculpture. The object, ‘The Harrowing of Hell’, is considered Bristol’s most important work of art from before the Norman Conquest of England.