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St John's, Chester
Visiting the Gothic Ruins in Chester
If you're visiting the city of Chester, one of the must-see places to visit is St John's Church. These incredible gothic ruins are captivating, with a rich history and haunting ambience. This guide contains everything you need to know about St John's, Chester!
Ever since moving to Cheshire in 2009, I have loved going into the Roman city of Chester, and my absolute favourite thing to do whenever I pop in is enjoy a walk along the River Dee, before heading up through the park and sitting in the gothic ruins of St John's Church. As a writer and artist I find it very inspiring, particularly as I am a great lover of gothic architecture. Read on to learn all about the history and features of the Chester gothic ruins!
Photo Credit: All photos on this page are the copyright of the author unless otherwise stated and may not be used without permission.
The Church of St John the Baptist, Chester
Chester is home to many beautiful buildings, including its impressive cathedral. But this church, found near to the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, was actually Chester's first cathedral.
From the front, you see a Victorian-style sandstone church. But go exploring beyond, and you will find incredible gothic ruins!
St. John's Church
is one of the oldest Christian sites in Europe, and still functions as a church today. It is in the midst of a restoration project, seeking to raise funds over ten years to keep the building open and save it from falling into disrepair.
The History of the Church of St John the Baptist
The absolute origins of this holy site are vague, but it is thought that the first church to stand here was Saxon, founded by King Aethelred of Mercia in around 689AD.
The church was rebuilt and enlarged in the early 10th century by the Earl of Mercia, as part of a major enlargement of the area's walls and the founding of the city of Chester. By 1066, St. John's formed part of the Saxon manor of Redcliff.
After the fall of the Saxons and the arrival of the Normans, the church was replaced by a great cathedral in 1075, erected by the Bishop of Lichfield. This was Chester's original first cathedral.
Chester Living History Promo at St John's Church, Chester
Further History of St John's Church, Chester
The building of the cathedral proceeded over several years, with the choir, the great tower arches and the nave arcading erected. Alas, the Bishop would never get to see the finished building, as in 1082 he died and was laid to rest in the unfinished choir.
Robert de Limesey inherited the project but was less enthusiastic about it, The work resumed on and off but did not approach any kind of completion until the late 13th century. The building was not considered stable or suitable and eventually the Norman Benedictine Abbey of St.Werburgh became the city's cathedral instead. St John's became a parish church in 1571 and this gothic part of the church was abandoned forever more.
St John's suffered numerous grievances - the central tower fell twice, first in 1468 and again in 1572, while the west tower collapsed in 1574, destroying four bays of the Norman nave. The west tower was built again in the 16th century but fell again in 1881.
For a complete history of St John's, visit A Stroll Around the Church of St John the Baptist, which forms part of the Chester Walls website.
St John's Chester Photo GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
St John's: A Curious Past
There are numerous plates around the ruins, nicely blended into the natural landscape. They give glimpses into the history and stories of the church, as well as providing images of what it looked at during different stages of its past.
In addition to its history as a church, there was also a large house built on part of the site in the 18th century, called Priory House. It was originally owned by the mother of author Thomas de Quincey.
In 1808, it was also lived in by Robert, Earl Grosvenor whilst he was Mayor of Chester. The house was demolished in 1871.
Essential Links for St John's, Chester
- St John's Chester at the Parish of Chester
Website for the Diocese of Chester, with information on the restoration project for St John's church
- History of St John's, Chester
The Chester Walls website provides a full and detailed history of St John's Church, Chester
- St John's, Chester Wiki
Factual information about St Johns courtesy of Wikipedia
- St John's, Chester Photo Gallery
Gorgeous gallery of pictures from St Johns, courtesy of the Chester Tourist website
St John's Medieval Chapel and Coffin
My favourite area of the ruins is one of the medieval side chapels, built to replace the original Norman chapel and the most intact part of the ruins, with the walls surviving almost to full height.
A chantry chapel built in memory of the Lord of Thornton, Sir Peter Roter, for his contributions towards repairs, it had two priests in service here.
After the Choir was demolished, the chapel became living accommodation for minor clergy, and looking up, you can see the remains of a chimney and fireplace, and holes for the floor joists.
The most intriguing thing about this part of the ruins is the spooky-looking coffin set into the wall! Look up at the right-hand side of the top of the arch and you will see a coffin inscribed with "Dust to Dust". It is a medieval oak coffin that was unearthed in the 19th century and set high into the wall so that people could see it from outside the walls.
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
Gothic Church Ruins - Yes or No?
Do you like gothic churches?
I always find walking around the ruins very inspiring. It is easy, especially on a dark and gloomy day with a thunderous sky, to imagine a Poe-esque gothic story unfolding amidst the crumbling chapels, or dark angels perched atop the mighty arches!
I often like to sit here, absorbing the energy and making notes for stories, or sketches for art. What inspires you when you visit places such as this?
Read up on St John's, Chester and other Gothic Churches
Other Things to do Nearby in Chester - Why not experience...
* The Roman amphitheatre (pictured above)
* A boat trip on the River Dee
* The city walls
* Shopping on The Rows
* Chester Cathedral
* Chester Racecourse
* Grosvenor Museum
* Fortress Deva - A History of Roman Chester
Have you been to St John's, Chester? Would you like to visit?
Do you love old gothic churches? Share your thoughts here!