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Shrewsbury Cathedral | by Aidan McRae Thomson
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Shrewsbury Cathedral

It's easy for visitors to forget that the fine old town of Shrewsbury has a cathedral, it has large and impressive medieval churches that are a prominent feature of the townscape, but the cathedral fits none of these criteria, it is tucked away in a quiet side street, has no lofty spire or even tower and appears to be no larger than an ordinary church. Dating back only to the 1850s, it is small wonder that this apparently low-budget cathedral gets overlooked, but this is nevertheless undeserved, for it is a little known gem.


The Roman Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury was founded in 1851 and with the generosity ofJohn Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, plans for a new cathedral were made. The great A.W.N.Pugin himself was initially commissioned, but he died in 1852 having made only a few preliminary drawings, so his son Edward Pugin took over the project, and the church we see today is mostly his vision. The site was a challenging one, there was never room to be too ambitious, and to make matters worse the ground on this cramped hillside site was found to be too insecure to allow the building of the lofty steeple that was originally planned at the south west corner, thus the building fails to register it's presence on the skyline.


The church consists of a five-bay aisled nave culminating in a lofty chancel flanked by chapels, largely unaltered since it opened in 1856, except the chapel on the south side with it's vaulted apse being an exuberant creation of a later architect, Edmund Kirby, in 1901. The original decoration has been reduced over the years but many of Pugin's furnishings remain, along with the inevitable sequence of Hardman windows in the aisles.


However the most notable artworks here are of a later period, being the superb collection of Arts & Crafts stained glass windows by Margaret Rope (1882-1953), amongst her first commissions and of superb quality, filled with wonderful detail and richly rewarding of study. There are seven in the cathedral altogether (one is hidden away in a sacristy), the largest being the six light west window portraying the English Martyrs.


The cathedral isn't open as regularly as some, but is normally accessible and visitors are warmly welcomed.

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Taken on July 30, 2012