There has been a stone church on the site since 672 when Saint Wilfrid replaced the previous timber church of the monastery at Ripon (a daughter house of Aiden’s monastery at Melrose) with one in the Roman style. This is one of the earliest stone buildings erected in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. The crypt dates from this period.
People have been coming to worship and pray at Ripon for more than 1,350 years. The Cathedral building itself is part of this continuing act of worship, begun in the 7th century when Saint Wilfrid built one of England’s first stone churches on this site, and still renewed every day. Within the nave and choir, you can see the evidence of 800 years in which master craftsmen have expressed their faith in wood and stone.
Today’s church is the fourth to have stood on this site. Saint Wilfrid brought stonemasons, plasterers and glaziers from France and Italy to build his great basilica in AD 672. A contemporary account by Eddius Stephanus tells us:
“In Ripon, Saint Wilfrid built and completed from the foundations to the roof a church of dressed stone, supported by various columns and side-aisles to a great height and many windows, arched vaults and a winding cloister.”
Saint Wilfrid was buried in this church near the high altar. Devastated by the English king in AD 948 as a warning to the Archbishop of York, only the crypt of Wilfrid’s church survived but today this tiny 7th-century chapel rests complete beneath the later grandeur of Archbishop Roger de Pont l’Evêque’s 12th century minster. A second minster soon arose at Ripon, but it too perished – this time in 1069 at the hands of William the Conqueror. Thomas of Bayeux, first Norman Archbishop of York, then instigated the construction of a third church, traces of which were incorporated into the later chapter house of Roger’s minster.
The Early English west front was added in 1220, its twin towers originally crowned with wooden spires and lead. Major rebuilding had to be postponed due to the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses but resumed after the accession of Henry VII and the restoration of peace in 1485. The nave was widened and the central tower partially rebuilt. The church’s thirty five misericords were carved between 1489 and 1494. It is worth noting that the same (Ripon) school of carvers also carved the misericords at Beverley Minster and Manchester Cathedral. But in 1547, before this work was finished, Edward VI dissolved Ripon’s college of canons. All revenues were appropriated by the Crown and the tower never received its last Perpendicular arches. It was not until 1604 that James I issued his Charter of Restoration.