The Duke of Gloucester will visit Peterborough Cathedral next week as the building marks another milestone in its preparations for a major celebration. The Duke will be present at the dedication and opening of the new West Front Porch, which is part of a large scale heritage project at the Cathedral ahead of its 900 year anniversary in 2018.
The Duke of Gloucester will cut the ribbon as a fanfare is played on the organ, and this will signal the official opening of the West Front Porch. At the start of that ceremony, on April 23rd, the Bishop of Peterborough, the Right Reverend Donald Allister, will say prayers of dedication.
There will then be a special service which the Duke will also attend. The ceremony will also mark the end of the first phase of the Cathedral’s major heritage project, Letting It Speak For Itself, which aims to increase participation and learning in the ancient building through making it more easily accessible for everyone, and by encouraging more people to get involved in the past and present of the Cathedral.
The Duke of Gloucester launched the campaign in 2011. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project, which the Duke will be marking on his visit, has involved adaptations that will present visitors with a view of the spectacular interior of the Cathedral before they have even stepped inside. New glass doors have been put in which will allow the Great West Doors to remain open most of the year, meaning that those visiting will catch a glimpse of the medieval masterpiece before crossing its threshold.
Later stages of the Letting It Speak For Itself project will see conservation work on listed buildings in the Cathedral’s precincts, which will allow them to be turned into a Heritage and Education Centre. There will also be interpretation panels added to the Cathedral to help tell its story more vividly and, in particular, bring its past alive for younger visitors.
There has been a church at this spot in Peterborough since around 655 AD when the king of south Mercia, Paeda, founded a place of worship there as Christianity began to spread throughout early Anglo-Saxon England. The building which sprang up there was ransacked by the Vikings in the ninth century and rebuilt, however it was destroyed by fire in 1116. Almost immediately, plans to build another religious building on the site began, and in 2018 it will be nine centuries since the foundation of the new church there.
Peterborough Cathedral also has two very poignant royal connections. In 1587 the body of Mary, Queen of Scots was laid to rest there following her execution at nearby Fotheringay Castle. Her son, James I, later had her reburied at Westminster Abbey.
However, visitors to Peterborough can still see the tomb of another famous Queen of the Tudor era. Catherine of Aragon was buried here in 1536 with the honours of a Dowager Princess of Wales – the only title Henry VIII said she was entitled to. Her tomb was restored with the help of donations many years later, and now visitors come from around the world to leave flowers and pomegranates – her royal symbol – on it.
When they get there they see a different epitaph from that decided upon by her husband. It reads Katharine, Queen of England. The stories of these famous royal women are just two of the moments in history that the Letting It Speak For Itself project will hope to bring alive, as it aims to make the Cathedral more accessible in every sense of the word over the coming years. To help them, the Duke of Gloucester will again lend his support as he visits Peterborough this April.