Building the cathedral

Since at least 1259, the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin has been located in the centre of the busy port of Truro. It had been rebuilt twice, first in 1504 in the fashionable Perpendicular Gothic style, and then it was re-modelled in 1768, in a Georgian style with a 39metre tall spire.

 When Truro was chosen to be the cathedral city, it was assumed that the Parish Church would be completely demolished to make way for the cathedral. However, the architect John Loughborough Pearson, argued and eventually gained permission to keep at least part of it. The final services in St Mary's were held on Sunday 3 October 1880, and it was soon after demolished, leaving only the south aisle, which would be cleverly incorporated into the design of the new cathedral. ‘St Mary’s Aisle’ still serves as Truro’s central parish church.

 The site available for the cathedral was cramped. St Mary’s was already an irregular shape with a small churchyard. So several buildings and properties on the northern side of the church had to be bought and demolished. You can see the results of this in the cathedral today as the choir and nave are on different axes.

 Two foundation stones were laid. As well as the traditional North East corner foundation stone, another was laid in what was then the churchyard of St Mary’s. This second stone was an act of faith and gave people something to aim for; if sufficient money were raised,  it would be incorporated into the cathedral as the granite base of the column in the nave. You can see this today.

 Between 1880-1887 a temporary wooden building was constructed where the west end of the nave now stands. This acted as a temporary cathedral during the building works.

 However, in 1898, the money did indeed run out, although not before the completion of the quire, transepts and crossings. Fortunately, fund-raising re-started almost immediately, and eleven years later work re-started leading to final completion in 1910. (cathedral timeline)

 Different stones were used in the cathedral’s construction; Mabe granite, St Stephens granite, Bath stone, and Polyphant stone. Stone has been used for the roofs of the famous three spires, whilst slate has been used for the rest of the roofs of the cathedral except at the west end of St Mary’s Aisle where a copper spire sits over the bell tower.

 The architecture of the cathedral is often likened to that of Lincoln cathedral and French cathedrals like that at Caen: a mixture of Early English (Lincoln and Salisbury) and French Gothic. Pearson [link] had been appointed architect of Lincoln Cathedral to design and restore the north transept, part of the south-west tower, the chapter-house and cloister. While the three simple spires are reminiscent of a French cathedral. Truro is only one of four cathedrals in the UK with three spires.

 The cathedral is vaulted throughout, its magnificent gothic arch drawing your eye up to the roof on entering the building. British sculptor Nathaniel Hitch created the decorative sculpture, including the exceptional reredos.

 Truro Cathedral was finally completed in 1910. John Loughborough Pearson did not live to see the completion of his masterpiece, dying in 1897, although his son, Frank Loughborough Pearson, saw the project through to completion. 

 The architect’s original plans show that he would like to have been able to create a ‘proper’ cloister in the style of a medieval monastic cathedral, but the money was not available. The south side of the cathedral has a number of exposed joints which both hint at his ambition and act as a conceit that the cathedral has medieval origins.

 A chapter house, which opened as a restaurant in 1967, was designed by John Taylor In the architectural style of the day.