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Blackburn Cathedral
Cathedral Church of
St Mary the Virgin with St Paul
Blackburn Cathedral - - 6125935.jpg
The Cathedral from the west
Blackburn Cathedral is located in Blackburn town centre
Blackburn Cathedral
Blackburn Cathedral
Location in Blackburn town centre
53°44′50″N 2°28′53″W / 53.7473°N 2.4813°W / 53.7473; -2.4813
Location Blackburn, Lancashire
Country England
Denomination Church of England
Consecrated 1977
  • John Palmer
  • W.A. Forsyth
  • Laurence King
Style Gothic Revival
Years built 1820–1967
Diocese Blackburn (since 1926)
Province York

Blackburn Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral Church of Blackburn Saint Mary the Virgin with St Paul, is an Anglican (Church of England) cathedral situated in the heart of Blackburn town centre, in Lancashire, England. The cathedral site has been home to a church for over a thousand years and the first stone church was built there in Norman times.


With the creation of the Diocese of Blackburn in 1926 (taken from the Diocese of Manchester), the impressive parish church of St Mary the Virgin was raised to cathedral status. The church, which was built in 1826 and designed by architect John Palmer, now forms the cathedral's nave. It replaced the parish church that was demolished in 1819–1820.

In the early 1930s, fundraising began to enlarge the cathedral so that the building complemented its newfound importance. By 1938, enough money had been raised and work began on enlarging the new cathedral. Although work was interrupted by the war, it was resumed afterwards and continued through the 1950s and into the early 1960s. After the death of architect W.A. Forsyth in 1950, architect Laurence King joined the project and designed the distinctive lantern tower. The lantern tower, which consists of 56 different panes of coloured glass, with a modernist slender aluminium spire, was completed in 1967.

The cathedral was finally completed in 1977 and what had been built over the past decades was finally consecrated as Blackburn Cathedral that year.

The north transept contains eight misericords dating from the 15th century. It is not known at what time they arrived at the cathedral, but they are believed to have originated at Whalley Abbey. This could mean that they were removed to a builder's yard after the Dissolution, but with the cathedral not being built until the 19th century, this allows for the possibility that they had lain unused for some 300 years.

On 17 April 2014, the cathedral hosted the Royal Maundy service. In keeping with tradition, Elizabeth II handed out Maundy money to 88 men and 88 women. It was the Queen's first visit to the cathedral.

It was reported in The Treasury, a Presbyterian Church of Wales publication, that a historic sharing agreement between the chapter of Blackburn Cathedral with a local Welsh Presbyterian congregation of the lady chapel will take place in 2023. This is believed to be the first covenant of its kind between a cathedral and non Anglican denomination.

Dean and chapter

Blackburn Cathedral 2
The exterior, with the rebuilt lantern tower and distinctive aluminium spire

As of 30 November 2020:

  • Dean — Peter Howell-Jones (since 25 March 2017 installation)
  • Vice Dean & Canon Missioner — Rowena Pailing (since 5 May 2018 installation)
  • Diocesan Canon — Gary O'Neill (Interim Canon Precentor)
  • Residentiary Canon — vacant since 31 August 2022 resignation of Philip North


The organist and director of music is John Robinson and the organist in residence is John Hosking.


The cathedral has seven choirs — Cathedral Choir of Boys and Men, Girls, Children's, Lantern Voices, YPC (Young Peoples' Choir), Renaissance Singers (Formally the Bach Choir) and Cathedral Consort (alternate Thursday Evensongs). On Sundays the Parish Communion is sung by the YPC and the Eucharist and Evensong by the Cathedral Choir.


The organ for the new church was designed by John Gray and Frederick Davison. Its debut was on 28 February 1828, with a concert of works by Handel including extracts from the Messiah, Israel in Egypt and his Occasional Overture, played by the new organist Joseph John Harris. This organ was replaced in the 1870s by an instrument designed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.

The third, and present organ at Blackburn was built by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd and completed in 1970. Funding was provided by William Thompson, a Burnley-based benefactor of the cathedral. The organ was restored at the end of the 20th century by Woods. It is considered a world-class instrument, and is used for recordings, concerts, recitals and organ meditations throughout the year.


Since 2019 the organist and director of music has been John Robinson. Previous organists have included Henry Smart, Richard Henry Coleman, Charles Hylton Stewart, Herman Brearley, Thomas Lucas Duerden, John Bertalot, David Anthony Cooper, Gordon Stewart and Richard Tanner. The organist in residence (since 2022) is John Hosking.


The first mention of bells in the old parish church was in 1552 when the vicar and churchwardens purchased five bells from the Royal Commissioners for £26-12-1. A new peal of six bells was cast in 1737 from the metal of the existing bells and it was this ring of six that was moved over to the west tower of the new church in 1832. Four bells were added during 1851–52 to form a ring of ten.

In 1949, while extension work was being carried out in the cathedral, the current ring of ten bells was installed. All ten bells were cast by John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough. The tenor bell weighs 25-1-14 (1,289 kg) is tuned to D and has a diameter of 52 inches (1.32 metres).

Recent developments

In 1998 the lantern tower underwent restoration, being rebuilt in natural stone. The original 1960s tower had been constructed in concrete. The windows were also replaced.

Further work was carried out in 2000–01 to re-build the east end roofs and parapets and blend them into the existing structures. Upon completion of this work, the cathedral was finally deemed to be finished after over 70 years of construction.

As well as this rebuilding, a new piece of art was commissioned for the exterior of the building. The sculpture by Mark Jalland, The Healing of The Nations, measuring 35 by 26 feet (10.7 m × 7.9 m), is an abstract steel and copper circular piece containing thousands of interwoven fibre optics that create ever-changing patterns of light at night. It is deemed by many to be one of the most innovative pieces of modern sculpture at any English cathedral.

In 2009 the flagpole was replaced with one carved by Mark Bridges. It is topped with a bishop's mitre finial, painted and gilded in gold leaf with the Lancashire Rose emblem. The majority of the funding came from a bequest by Harold Thornber, who had worked at the cathedral as a warden and archivist

The cathedral still forms an important part of the community. It is open to visitors and has a gift shop and café as well as hosting numerous events. In February 2011, the cathedral exhibited the Quaker Tapestry from Kendal.

In 2021, the crypt of Blackburn Cathedral was used as a major public vaccination centre against COVID-19.


See also

  • Listed buildings in Blackburn
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