A reflection: Manchester Cathedral

The first church in Manchester goes back to the 7th century probably to near to the site of today’s St Annes Church, a few hundred metres from today’s cathedral.

‘. . . the medieval church of St Mary, St Denys and St George on the banks of the River Irwell was, for centuries, one of the largest (and wealthiest) parish churches in the land.’ (Simon Jenkins, England’s Cathedrals page 165)

The Doomsday Book records a church dedicated to St Mary being on the site. The *collegiate church of St Mary, St Denys and St George was founded by Baron Thomas de la Warre, a priest with a French heritage. Perhaps that is why the patron saint of France, St Denys, is included in the dedications for the collegiate church along with St George the patron saint of England.

  • Collegiate Churches: A collegiate church is where daily prayers, the daily office, is said or sung. This pattern of worship was not maintained by a monastic community but rather by a secular community.The collegiate church in Manchester was granted a royal charter in 1421 and had a college with a warden, eight fellows, four singing clerks and eight choristers.


    The parish church was largely rebuilt in 1421 along with the college. ‘In the 17th century, this college became Chetham’s School and Library and is now a leading music academy.’ (Simon Jenkins page 165)

Manchester Cathedral’s web page has a useful timeline where you can trawl through its long history. Click on the link below to go back in time and move through its 600-year history.


Manchester as a Diocese came into being with passing of the Bishopric of Manchester Act 1847, the collegiate church of St Mary, St Denys and St George was elevated to cathedral status at the same time.

Architecturally, Manchester stands as have the widest nave in England and the Tudor choir stalls. It also once had eight chantry chapels.

Photographs by Michael D Beckwith – Public Domain Dedication


There is much to admire and take inspiration from within this urban, city centre cathedral. A place of worship and service. The skill of the wood carvers, the beauty of the stained glass windows. The cathedral experienced the bombing of the second world war and that of later terrorism. Much of the glass was replaced between the 1960’s and the 1990’s. Three examples are given below.

The St Mary’s Window
Photo Charlesdrakew – Public domain


Revelation Window
Alex Liivet – Public Domain


The Healing Window
Marc A Gibbs Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0



Voices from the 19th century

In August 2014 the cathedral staged a performance of Joshua Brookes and the Missing Grooms, It was part of a series entitled ‘Voices from the Past’.

‘Joshua Brookes was chaplain of the church from 1790 until his death in 1821. The years of his chaplaincy saw the workforce of Manchester grow from 17,000 to 180,000. As one of the few churches for miles around, this meant that many of his services – particularly baptisms, marriages, and funerals – were conducted in mass ceremonies, and he baptised, married and buried more persons than any other clergyman in England. He was infamous for his eccentricity and bluntness – if he did not like the name of a baby presented to him for baptism he frequently changed it to one of his choosing. If husbands-to-be dallied too long in the alehouse he would not delay the wedding service; an unsuspecting male would be pulled from the congregation to stand next to the bride and the missing groom would be married by proxy.’
(Association of English Cathedrals)

The Industrial Revolution which created wealth for some brought poverty for others. The area surrounding the Cathedral was not immune from the consequences of this Revolution.

Adjacent to the Cathedral in Chetham’s Library a philosophical Revolution was being developed. In 1845 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels met to develop their own response to what they were witnessing.

Engels had been sent to a Salford mill in Salford by his Mill owning parents. Engel was to described an area close to the River Irwell as containing ‘unqualifiedly the most horrible dwellings which I have yet beheld’. (Simon Jenkins quoting Engels)


21st Century Eco Improvements

Marc A Gibbs – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

One 21st century improvement to the cathedral is felt rather than seen and required a creative response to replacing the outdated and inefficient heating system whilst maintain a visible presence for worship and the spiritual life of the Cathedral. Above is the result, the Cathedral in the Street. This temporary wooden church opened in Manchester in 2013 ahead of work to install a new heating system in the city’s Anglican cathedral, featuring ‘church-style’ windows with coloured glass and was surrounded by an urban garden with a playground and community allotments. It enabled the cathedral’s regular and Sunday morning services to continue whilst the Cathedral installed a new green heating system, ground source heat pumps use natural energy stored in the earth to heat the cathedral. It will come to be one of the greenest cathedrals in England and also probably one of the warmest cathedrals as well.

The Bombings

In June 1996 the centre of Manchester was rocked by a 1,500kg bomb set by the Irish Republican Army. This is the second time the cathedral was rocked by a bomb. the fist was during the 2nd World War. The 1996 bomb was planted in a lorry outside the Arndale Shopping Centre. More than 200 people were injured in this act of terrorism. There was also significant damage to the Cathedral, early estimates put the figure in the hundreds of thousands to repair the cathedral with the cost of hundreds of million pounds to redevelop this part of the city.

The Saturday after the bombing ‘the Cathedral was open for an ecumenical service for the whole community. Two thousand people attended.‘ (Anglican Communion New Service)

On the 22nd May 2017 within walking distance of the Cathedral another terrorist bomb was detonated killing over 20 people. An evening of live music at the Manchester Arena was changed in a moment to one of death and devastation.

A ‘Glade of Light’ is a memorial commemorating the victims of the 22 May 2017 terrorist attack at Manchester Arena. It was designed to be a living memorial, a tranquil garden space for remembrance and reflection. Its peaceful surroundings are intended as the setting for commemorative events in the city relating to the attack.
It is located between Manchester Cathedral and Chetham’s School of Music in what is now called the Medieval Cultural Quarter.
The Cathedral responded to these events by doing what it does so naturally, it opens its doors, is there and gives people space. There were services and memorials these were important but by far the most important aspect is the cathedral’s presence, the sacred space where people meet remains and is accessible to all.


Time of reflective prayer

Pause and Reflect
2nd week of Advent


Slow down, breath calmly
and relax.


Opening Prayer for cathedrals.

Loving God, draw us on the journey
to the places of holiness, the places of peace,
the places of encounter, the places of beauty,
the places where faith has been lived, your love made known,
your hope held out in the past, for the present, into your future. Amen

Collect for second week of Advent

Almighty God, purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ comes again as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him, who is our Lord and our God. Amen

Words from the prophet Isaiah (40.1-5)

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

Read through these verses again and ponder these closing words:
. . . the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

In our prayers we welcome those who are searching for faith.

Let us draw into our circle of prayer our:
Family and Friends
Local church and its leaders
wider community
widening our circle to include:
those in government and positions of authority
those who are oppressed, those who are hungry and homeless
those who are ill, those facing death
Merciful Father, accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

When asked about how to pray Jesus gave these simple but profound words, so let them be our prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name;
Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil. Amen

Closing Prayer

Adapted from Bury Mission Community Prayer (Diocese of Manchester)

Loving God,
Jesus called his disciples to seek your kingdom and follow him.
You summon us to share work of our Pilgrim Community
Open our hearts to hear his invitation to be his disciples in this generation.
Grant us courage.
Strengthen us by your Holy Spirit.
Give us compassion, wisdom and resilience.
Pour on us your endless grace that we may flourish, and our parishes grow in faith and love, service and compassion,
Through Christ our Lord. Amen


We close our time of reflective prayer with A Voice Cries Out By Michael Joncas


+ In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

You may wish the finish this time of reflective prayer sitting silently and enjoying a peaceful moment or two. You may also think about listening to some music that has touched you or a favourite hymn or song. Enjoy these moments! God bless!


Fr. Derek Akker

(Derek is a retired Anglican Parish Priest and a member of the congregations of All Saints & St James. Prior to his ordination he was accredited as a Methodist Preacher in 1968 and served within the Methodist Church until returning to the Anglican Church in the mid 1980’s)
Parish of Kirklees Valley, Bury, (All Saints, Elton & St James, Woolfold) – In the Diocese of Manchester


Opening prayer from the Association of English Cathedrals
Collect -The Archbishops Council 2004
Candle Image – G-Fotografie-Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication

Manchester Cathedral Photograph: Robert Cutts from Bristol, England, UK – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0