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St John's, Chester

Updated on January 6, 2014

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 Gallery

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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.

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

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Gothic Church Ruins - Yes or No?

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Gothic Inspirations

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?

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!

What do you think of St John's, Chester? - Please Leave your Comments and Feedback here!

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    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 3 years ago from Perth UK

      Chester is a very interesting place - It's a real magnet for visitors because you really know you're in the UK when you visit Chester -It has it all. Lovely lens. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 6 years ago from So Cal

      These are only things that I will see in pictures but what a wonderful lens to savor.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      I'd like to visit Chester again, if only to see the gothic church of St John's. Love your photos. Leaving an angel blessing brought to you by the letter 'C' ;)

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 6 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I've never been to St. John's Chester. The old gothic churches intrique me - so amazing to someone from the US to have such historic buildings. Thanks for sharing the photos and fascinating story of St. John's Chester. ~blessed

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 6 years ago from England

      I'd never heard of this but I love to travel to various parts of the UK and Chester is now on that list! Blessed by a Squid Angel ;)

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 6 years ago

      I haven't been but love old the US the "old" only goes back so far, I know I'm missing out by not traveling to the many countries that have been around for thousands of years. Wonderful pictures

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 6 years ago

      I can see why you love it. I too love old architecture. Thanks for sharing.

    • traveller27 profile image

      traveller27 6 years ago

      My husband and I visited Chester a number of years ago..very nice old town..I remember walking along the historic wall.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      @marigoldina: Never been to St John's but now I want to - great photos! Blessed

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 6 years ago from France

      I love your portrait of this ruined church. Great idea.

    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 6 years ago

      I've been! The Roman Amphitheatre was a great find.