Over its six hundred years, the site of Manchester Cathedral has seen it all, from the first fatality of the English Civil War, to a Nazi blitz, to the solemnity of the Manchester Arena bombing and its commemorative aftermath. Whenever Manchester has been in the thick of things, the Cathedral has been there, centre stage…
“The Collegiate Church which was established by 1421 and the Cathedral in 1847; its history goes back six hundred years and really does remind us what a huge contribution this institution has made to the life of this city and Greater Manchester” says Manchester Cathedral Dean Rogers Govender, who is currently presiding over events commemorating the anniversary which were postponed due to the recent COVID pandemic.
“It is quite nostalgic but at the same time we are aware of the changes in the city region” he adds pensively “It’s evolved and we as a cathedral need to evolve with it in one way or another.
“The Cathedral is in good heart” he explains “We worked very hard to raise our profile in the life of the city region through our engagement with the community in a variety of ways…in climate change work, in promoting unity work, in interfaith work, in challenging hate work, and spiritual work with our own community as a house of prayer; as a place where the community can gather when the nation as well as the region is mourning on issues around major disasters and so on.”
The recent opening of the Glade of Light memorial to those killed in the Manchester Arena terrorist attack is a shining example of this but the Cathedral has also seen big rallies for social justice over the last decade, including Jeremy Corbyn standing up for Post Office workers rights in 2015 with an audience of five thousand people, both inside and outside the Cathedral; and John McDonnell speaking at a packed People’s Assembly Against Austerity meeting two years later. These were stand-out events very much in the past Cathedral tradition of hosting ‘rebels’…Thomas Clarkson and his anti-slavery message, and Bonnie Prince Charlie who took stock of his Jacobite volunteers in the building.
The Cathedral is full of historical essence, including, it is said, the grave of the first fatality of the English Civil War, John Percival…
“We don’t know that for sure but what we do know is that the entire Cathedral is essentially a graveyard including the grounds outside, so it’s a very sensitive site” the Dean explains “When we excavated the floor to put in a new hydraulic platform, we discovered seventeen coffins in that space, literally under our feet. We don’t have full records of who is buried there but if we search in the archives we can find out. It does say something about the dead as well as the living.”
The Dean doesn’t just work and pray at the start of the A56 stretch, he also has his residence off Bury New Road, in Broughton, almost across the road from the Bishop of Manchester…
“Where I live is also the heart of the orthodox Jewish community and my neighbours are constantly on the Road walking to or from one of their local synagogues” he notes “So I often say to my wife that we live in one of the most prayerful places in the city. When they go to synagogue, they are going to pray to Yahweh, and Yahweh is the God we believe in the Old Testament, which is part of our own scriptures.
“So people are constantly praying, young and old, and that feels like a very spiritual place, and Bury New Road is part of that spiritual space in geographical terms” he adds “There’s also all the churches – St Paul’s Church, the old St John’s Church down the road, St Mary’s up the Road; you’ve got the Catholic Church…a fair number of churches and synagogues. So I think it is a very spiritual place, a very prayerful place.”
The Dean also lists the array of cultures and outlets along the Road, together with its proximity to Manchester town centre, the M60 at Prestwich and the countryside a ten minute drive away…
“You’ve also got the new Manchester College at the end of the Road, so there’ll be hundreds of new people there, and then the Asian shops, the prison, and the casino with people trying their luck, plus retail, car sales….essentially a fascinating story when you analyse the Road and its usage, and I guess there’s a modern take on heritage…I love living where I live, it’s a good place to live, a great place…”
And Manchester Cathedral, with its incredible history and place within the community, is set to continue to be at the centre of events for the next six hundred years…
Manchester Cathedral – 600 Years of prayer, politics, war and peace – click here
Chetham’s Library – the oldest public library in the English speaking world – click here
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