Portsmouth Cathedral

Portsmouth Cathedral lies in Old Portsmouth, just off the Portsmouth High Street. The history of Portsmouth Cathedral dates to 1180 when a wealthy Norman merchant and lord donated land to the monks of the Southwick Priory. Jean de Gisors intended that they should build a chapel, 'in glorious honour of the martyr Thomas of Canterbury, on .... the island of Portsea.' The new house of worship would serve two purposes. Not only was it a testament of the lord's piety but also provided for the spiritual needs of a growing population. The final result would also prove the monastery's power.

Construction of the Portsmouth Cathedral began in 1185 with a mixture of stones including Caen and Binstead Stone. By 1188, the medieval building in Portsmouth had a central tower and a cruciform shape. By the end of the 12th century, the chancel, nave, transepts, altars and churchyard were consecrated. Unfortunately, the nave was lost to posterity when the Parliamentary Forces attacked Portsmouth in the Civil War. Some 40 years later, the nave and tower were reconstructed.

In architectural style, the Medieval Church dates to the Transitional period, (the intermediary of the Norman and Early English styles). Although much has been lost, enough remains as evidence of the grandeur of this early church in Portsmouth. You'll notice the Norman features of the transepts with their lancet windows and arched recesses. Within the chancel, some of the original Purbeck marble piers have been reconstructed.

Less than ten years after the construction of the chapel of St. Thomas at Portsmouth, it was seized by the crown. King Richard I (sometimes deemed to be the originator of the Robin Hood myth) saw a jewel to be picked. Portsmouth Harbour was the ideal location from which his fleet could set sail for France. He already had a royal residence in Portsmouth, the King's Hall to the South of St Thomas and with Royal Treasuries at Winchester and Caen, Portsmouth was simply the missing link. In 1194, he seized control of Portsmouth punishing the de Gisors with betrayal in their loyalty to his brother Prince John. On his return from the 3rd Crusade, Richard I was held captive by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor who demanded a ransom of 150,000 marks. As this was double the annual income of the crown, the sum was raised with a harsh tax on clergy and laymen at a staggering quarter of the total value of their property while the gold and silver treasures of the churches was simply confiscated.

From its modest early foundations, the chapel of St. Thomas survived a French raid on Portsmouth in 1337 and went on to be granted parish status in the 14th century. St. Thomas was closed in 1449 when local sailors murdered the Bishop of Chichester outside the Royal Garrison Church. Portsmouth and its inhabitants were excommunicated for 50 years.

1685 saw more drama at the St. Thomas parish church when a brawl broke out during the church's Sunday service. Having topped up at a nearby pub, a bunch of Irish troops decided to take their frustration out here. Having arrived in England with Catholic James I, they were now disgruntled with their lack of pay. When James I fled to France, they were left high and dry and the situation soon escalated to a full blown riot. It would bring reforms in their treatment and instead of being forced to live with local families who were also forced to house them, they were now moved into barracks.

In the 20th century, St Thomas Church was made into Portsmouth Cathedral. However, WWII would interrupt its construction and it remained incomplete for some 60 years. Portsmouth Cathedral was consecrated in 1991. Portsmouth Cathedral is a significant landmark in Portsmouth which is easily spotted from the sea. On your visit to Portsmouth Cathedral, keep an eye out for the memorial to the sailors aboard the Mary Rose and the original copy of Charles II marriage certificate.

Address: Portsmouth Cathedral, St Thomas Street
Postcode: PO1 2HH
Town/city or near: Portsmouth
County: Hampshire

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