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Roman Occupation on Cathedral Site

1st Century AD

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Archaeological evidence around and underneath the Cathedral indicates that there was once a Roman occupation on this site. A building with a boundary ditch and monumental stonework was discovered. These may indicate a substantial building, possibly a temple or monumental arch. The huge amount of Roman pottery found in an archaeological dig in 2016 would agree with this theory. If this building was a temple, it is interesting to speculate whether it was later rededicated as a church when the Romans became Christians. Durobrivae, the nearest major Roman town, has examples of early Christian conversion. A carving at the site, previously thought to be Saxon, has now been identified as Roman. The carving possibly depicts fates or spirits.





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Vikings Raid the Abbey

870AD

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Peterborough monastery is said to have been attacked and destroyed by Viking invaders in 870. These were most likely to be a group known as the ‘Great Heathen Army’. They were led by ‘Ivar the Boneless’ and also invaded East Anglia in this year. Some scholars have disputed the violence of this event, but other local monasteries were also attacked at the same time. Therefore the Viking attack in Peterborough seems more credible. A relic of this original monastic church is the ‘Hedda Stone’ displayed in the Cathedral today.





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The Great Fire of Peterborough

1116

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Most of the town was destroyed in the Great fire of Peterborough, including the castle. It is claimed the church tower burnt for nine days. It possibly started from from an unattended fire in the Abbey's bakery. The Anglo- Saxon Chronicle says “all the minster of Peterborough burned, and all the buildings except the chapter-house and the dormitory; and besides, the most part of the town also all burned. All this happened on a Friday; that was 4 August…”  





The Building of the Current Cathedral

1118

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The current Cathedral building started in 1118 with the rounded apse at the east end, which still survives today. The construction took 120 years – about 5 generations of stonemasons and workmen would have helped with the construction. The men who started the work would have known that they or their sons would not live to see the church’s completion. The Cathedral has a rare example of some of the original winding gear used in the building work still surviving inside the West Front.





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Market Makes a Medieval New Town

1143

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King Stephen visited and stayed at the monastery in 1143, granting a market charter. This allowed Abbot Martin de Bec to create a new market area to the west of the monastic precincts. He was then able to bankroll the building of the new monastic church. The monks created new commercial streets around the outside, leading to the first ‘new town’ development in Peterborough and effectively the street plan which still exists as the city centre today. The market square was later infilled with St John's church and the Guildhall or Buttercross. This almost halved the market square, but provided a religious centre for the townspeople.





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Abbey Church Spectacular Wooden Ceiling

1238

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The new abbey church was consecrated in 1238 and the structure of the building has remained essentially as it was on completion. Most significantly the original wooden ceiling still survives in the nave. It is the only ceiling of its type in the whole country. Furthermore, it is one of only four wooden ceilings of this period surviving in the whole of Europe. It was completed between 1230 and 1250 by skilled painters working by hand, which is not easy at that height. The ceiling has been over-painted twice, but retains its original style and pattern.





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Peterborough Revolts!

1381

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An assault was made on the monastery by local rebels during the Peasants’ Revolt. The rebels were put down by the intervention of troops commanded by the Bishop of Norwich, as described in a contemporary account by Henry Knighton: “Likewise at Burgh (Peterborough) the neighbours and tenants of the abbot rose against him and proposed to kill him – which they would have done without redress had God not laid his restraining hand upon them at the last moment. For help came in the shape of Lord Henry Despenser, bishop of Norwich, who arrived with a strong force. He prevented the malefactors from carrying out their aims and scattered the mob, paying them back as they deserved. Sparing no one, he sent some to death and others to prison. Some were struck down with swords and spears near the altar and others at the church walls, both inside and outside the building. For the bishop gladly stretched his avenging hand over them and did not scruple to give them final absolution for their sins with his sword”  





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Katharine of Aragon

1536

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Katharine of Aragon, Spanish princess, first wife and queen of Henry VIII, is buried in the monastic church. Katharine died at Kimbolton, where she was living after her marriage to Henry had been annulled, on 7 January 1536, most likely of cancer. She was ordered to be buried at Peterborough Abbey as the nearest great religious house that befitted her status, whilst not giving her a burial in London where she might have been politically embarrassing. Her funeral was held on 29 January 1536. The heart of the funeral cortege included a coffin wagon covered with black velvet, as were the six horses pulling it; Heralds and fifty servants in black carrying torches; four banners in crimson taffeta and four golden standards. At the door of the abbey church the body was received by four bishops and six abbots and placed under a canopy lit by a thousand candles. Today Katharine is remembered annually by a commemorative service and series of events at the Cathedral and elsewhere in the city around the anniversary of her burial, 29 January. Many visitors place pomegranates – her heraldic symbol – on her tomb.





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Creation of a Cathedral – and a School

1541

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To increase his control over the church in this area Henry VIII created a new bishop (the former abbot John Chambers) and Peterborough Abbey church became a Cathedral by letters patent. The foundation charter of the Cathedral, formally established on 4 September 1541, constituted a chapter of a dean (appointed by the crown) and six canons. In addition the charter established six minor canons, a deacon, sub-deacon, eight singing men, and eight choristers, two schoolmasters serving 20 scholars and six almsmen. Henry also created a grammar school in the precincts, the foundation of the King’s School.





Cromwell Comes to Stay

1643

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The Cathedral was ravaged during the English Civil War when Peterborough, a town with Royalist sympathies, was taken by Colonel Oliver Cromwell. Nearly all the stained glass windows were destroyed and the altar and reredos, cloisters and Lady Chapel were demolished. Much of the Cathedral’s library was destroyed by Cromwell’s troops, by being burnt in the cloisters. The Royalist newsbook ‘Mercurius Aulicus’ describes it thus: ‘It was advertised this day from Peterburgh, that Colonell Cromwell had bestowed a visit on that little City, and put them to the charge of his entertainment, plundering a great part thereof to discharge the reckoning, and further that in pursuance of the thorow Reformation, he did most miserably deface the Cathedrall Church, breake downe the Organs, and destroy the glasse windowes, committing many other outrages on the house of God which were not acted by the Gothes in the sack of Rome, and are most commonly forborn by the Turks when they possesse themselves by force of a Christian city.’  Cromwell spent a month in Peterborough, lodging in the Vineyard at the back of the Cathedral Precincts, allegedly with concussion from having hit his head whilst galloping under a low gateway. Recent archaeological evidence has been found of Cromwell’s troops being camped in the Cathedral grounds.





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