There are many distinctive aspects to Lichfield Cathedral which has a complex history and there is much to fascinate. It is the only English medieval cathedral to have three spires, known locally as the 'Ladies of the Vale' and these have been an essential part of the cathedral's survival because they were used as a navigational marker by the Luftwaffe. If the pilots reached the spires they knew they were at the limit of their fuel.
The Cathedral Close is regarded as one of the best formed in the country with walls on three sides and water on the other. This easily defended position became part of the reason that the building suffered so much destruction during the English Civil War having been used by both the Roundheads and the Royalists. The Restoration (1660) found the cathedral and Close in a state of ruination, because the Roundheads had destroyed statues, monuments, documents, carvings and left very little roof. Lichfield suffered more than any other cathedral during this period.
The cathedral is built of sandstone from a quarry on the south side of Lichfield. It is a material in danger of crumbling and for this reason the windows were recently removed and restored. They are now fitted in a new zinc housing and installed inside isothermic glass to make them double glazed.
It is one of the world's rarest collections of stained glass windows and originated from the Abbey of Herkenrode in Belgium which was stripped of its monastic responsibility during the Napoleonic Wars. Purchased by a local landowner Sir Brooke Boothby (Joseph Wright of Derby painted a famous portrait of him) they were later installed in the cathedral Lady Chapel.
Among the cathedral's many other treasures, are the exquisite 8th century sculpture of the 'Lichfield Angel' and the St Chad Gospels.
Recovery and Restoration
Lichfield enjoyed a period of lively recovery partially due to the presence of Erasmus Darwin (also of Breadsall Priory), whose house is in Lichfield and open to the public, and the Midlands Enlightenment. In turn there was a major and sympathetic restoration of the building by Sir George Gilbert Scott (Midland Hotel at St Pancras Station, Albert Memorial and many other buildings) and his son, Oldrid.
For the celebrations in 2000 to mark the 1300th anniversary of the first church dedicated to St Chad, Harrison & Harrison completed a restoration of the organ installed at the time of Scott. The organ is distinctive because it is tuned sharp C - 540.
There is a cafe in the close and just the other side of the defensive water is a restaurant that provides excellent food and affords a fine view of the cathedral.