The St. John’s with St Peter’s Heritage Project aims to save two of Chester’s most sacred and historically vital spaces for the community and the nation, by opening up access and making them exciting places to be.

In 689AD St John's was founded by Æthelred king of Mercia, the uncle of St Werburgh, and this famous church has had a varied and colourful history. In fact, there is a high level of probability that it may date back to at least 285AD as a Roman Christian site, as it is strategically positioned next to the Amphitheatre. But that is just one of the many stories that St John's, as a building, has to tell.

In 973AD King Ædgar the Peaceful came to St John’s following his coronation in Bath, to receive homage from eight (or six… nobody is quite sure) vassal kings from North-western Britain, who proclaimed him King of the English (Rex Anglorum)

In 1075, following the Council of London of 1070 and the directions of Archbishop Lanfranc of Canterbury and King William, Bishop Peter de Leya moved his See from Lichfield to Chester and chose St. John's as his cathedral. He pulled down the great Saxon minster and began to rebuild the church in Norman style – it has been said that St John’s is the finest example in Europe of the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic.

Since the Reformation St John's was for a considerable period in a state of tragic decline, but this has been reversed; it is regarded by many as the hidden gem of Chester.

St Peter's, (The Chapel of Ease of St John’s and the Guild Church of Chester) is located at the ancient heart of the City where all the roads meet, is on the site of the original Roman Principium.

In medieval times St Peter's became an important centre of activity. Built onto its original structure was a building called the Pentice. Records show that the Pentice was at the Cross from as early as 1311. The Pentice stood as an administrative and justice centre for the City. It was the seat of the Mayor of Chester and also contained the courts of justice and the stocks and whipping post.

Like St John’s, St Peter’s is a Saxon foundation but much later (907); being founded by Æthelfleda 'Lady of the Mercians', the daughter of King Alfred the Great. This link between the churches has remained strong throughout the centuries and today they stand as part of the same Parish - St Peter's with St John the Baptist.
Over the centuries there have been many legends around St John's:

- It is an ancient Christian site linked to martyrdoms in Chester's Roman amphitheatre.
- From the 12th to the 16th Century (the Reformation) it was the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St John the Baptist and the Holy Cross. (The Holy Rood).In William Langland’s famous medieval poem Piers Plowman he swears by the Holy Rood of Chester and this was fairly common place in medieval times. Pilgrims came from as far away as France to kneel before the Rood in St John’s and during the reign of Edward I, the Welsh nobility of Gwynedd were required to come to St John’s and swear on the Rood that they would not be in rebellion against the English King. There has been more welsh poetry written about St John’s than about any other Church in England and at least 10 of 30 poems Chester poems are to the cross at Chester – that is, the gilt crucifix in the church of St John the Baptist said to contain that piece of the true Cross of Christ. 'The Poem to the Cross at Chester', by Maredudd ap Rhys, is typical of the ‘cross’ poems in attributing healing powers to the relic: most of the Welsh poems to the cross mention its potency as a magnet for the sick and disabled, travelling to Chester to seek a cure.*

* © Mapping Medieval Chester

- It was to St John’s that the great medieval processions on Corpus Christi came from their starting point at the Church of St Mary on the Hill (adjacent to Chester Castle)

- It is the oldest Church in Chester and was described by Sir Neil Cousins, Chairman of English Heritage in 2007, as the hidden 'gem' of Chester.

-It was until the Reformation the administrative centre of Ecclesiastical life in Chester and the surrounding area. It was the seat of the Bishop (not always resident) the Archdeacon’s court was held in St John’s and the place of ordination to the ‘secular’ clergy. Abbots of St Werburgh (now the Cathedral) would come to St John’s on election for an Episcopal Blessing. The Minstrels Court was held in St John’s on 24 June each year when following a tradition dating back to the 12th century the Minstrels of Cheshire would come to Mass and receive their licences to ply their trade without fear of arrest as rogues and vagabonds.

- It is a Norman Cathedral - the original Chester Cathedral - described by historian Sir Niklaus Pevsner as '...like walking back into the early twelfth century'. It is the oldest Norman building in the City disguised within a Victorian shell

- It is the site of the Homage of the Kings in 973AD.

- It has also been suggested that King Harold - rather than dying at the Battle of Hastings - escaped to Chester and lived out his years in the Anchorite cell attached to St John's.

- A number of Arthurian legends relate to the fact that Chester, (Caerleon- the City of the Legions) was the capital of Powis; and the most important City in the fight against the Saxon invaders. Arthur may have been crowned in Chester! Was St John's Arthur's coronation church?

- It also houses the magnificent organ being built in London at the time of the death of King William IV, for St John’s and used at the Coronation of Queen Victoria in Westminster Abbey, and later shipped by barge to Chester.

In 2008, the Parish launched the St John's with St Peter's Heritage Project (referred to as 'the Project'). The key reasons for launching the Project were to open up the buildings to all members of the community; make them financially sustainable, and conserve these national assets for future generations. The Project has recruited around forty volunteers from all sectors of the community and is run by the community to save these historic buildings. One of the most exciting developments within St Peter's is the uniquely placed internet cafe which has already received media attention and positive user numbers.


On July 3rd 2010 we launched Facebook.

Not only are we on Facebook, we are also on Twitter.

It was Michael Bartlett, Project Director who started this project in 2008 and he now has a powerhouse of a dedicated team of volunteers working on the project working through him to the Rector, The Revd David Chesters and the Parochial Church Council.

St John’s was the first church in Chester to receive the NW Multi Faith Tourism Associations Marque of Excellence Award as a welcoming place to visit ;this is due in no small part to the dedication of the Parish, helpers, volunteers and friends of the church.

We need £10 million to repair, restore, preserve and re-order St John’s. We will be looking at ways of enhancing and costing further work at St Peter’s.

We have Fair Trade goods both at St John's and St Peter's.

We have a free internet cafe in St Peter's.

The project is so BIG that there over 40 volunteers on the St John's Project (If you would like to volunteer, please go to our Facebook Page in Volunteer)


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Parish of Chester
August 2010