On the 7th November 2008 the Al Mahdi Mosque was officially opened in the centre of Bradford. It's a sign of the changing times and reaffirms the fact that Bradford is a multi cultural city with a huge Muslim population. This Mosque is a magnificent building, clearly visible from afar, standing like a palace against the skyline. I happened by chance to be in Bradford on the date of the Mosque's inauguration but by a rather spooky coincidence I was actually in Bradford to see a much older place of worship - its Anglican Cathedral.
To begin with I had quite a bit of trouble locating the Cathedral. I knew that there was one and I knew that it was fairly central but despite easily finding the City Hall and other landmarks I seemed to have walked around in a large circle before I eventually spotted a sign pointing down a narrow alleyway.
For most of its long life Bradford's Cathedral was the Parish Church of St Peter. It stands on Stott Hill in an elevated position overlooking the city below. It seemed surprising at first that it could be hidden from view when you are at street level but when you examine it carefully you will note that its main tower is quite short. This tower is also square, that is to say that there is no steeple so despite its location it is less prominent than many Cathedrals in other cities that I have visited.
A fancy archway on the street marks the entrance to the Cathedral but again this is somewhat misleading. At the top of the steps I had expected to find myself inside the building so I had turned off my mobile phone in preparation yet when I reached the top of the stone steps instead I myself on the edge of a lovely landscaped garden with the Cathedral still quite some distance away in the background. The view from here was lovely and even in November the flowerbeds were full of flowers in the most amazing colours. There are several wooden benches in this garden and I would imagine that many people come here simply to chill out. There was no graffiti, everything was very neat and tidy and it was very peaceful and tranquil.
At first I thought that the doors to the Cathedral were locked as I pushed the large wooden doors in front of me but then I saw a sign pointing towards the main entrance and realised that the entrance was at the other side of the building. It was around then, just before I stepped inside that the clock struck eleven and the loud bells of its towers rang out across the city. Slightly startled I stepped back and had another look up at the tower.
I have mentioned before that I am not a religious person but I do enjoy visiting old churches. The current church dates largely from the 15th century although it stands on the site of a much older place of Christian worship. We know that a wooden church stood on this site shortly after the Doomsday Book of 1089 for written records tell us that it was burnt down by invading Scots. The church that replaced it was also largely destroyed by a different set of invading Scots three centuries later.
The remains of two Saxon preaching crosses that were found here date from around 800AD leading many historians to believe that there may have been a Christian place of worship here as early as the year 627AD. This would make it one of the earliest known Christian worship sites in Britain. In 627AD Paulinus came on a Christian mission from Northumbria and it is known that he preached in nearby Dewsbury so it is not inplausable to think that he might have also brought his faith to Bradford too.
First impressions always go a long way in my opinion and although I had been quite impressed by the exterior of the building as I stepped inside two things immediately struck me as being out of place. Firstly instead of rows of wooden pews I saw row upon row of rather cheap looking plastic chairs that reminded me of being back at school and looking upwards it was obvious that the roof was quite new. Its replacement was obviously a necessity but sadly it had not been replaced in a sympathetic manner and looked odd on top of an otherwise very aesthetically attractive church.
First impressions aside however I was immediately struck by the impressive stained glass windows and the wonderful arch of the original 15th century nave. I had only been inside the Cathedral a few minutes when one of the Reverends appeared and asked me if I wanted any help. It must have been obvious that I was here as a tourist rather than to find solace and I said that I was just having a look around. He told me that guided tours are available but that there wasn't one that day. However if I had any questions I just needed to give him a shout.
The guided tour includes a trip up into the tower. I would have enjoyed going up there but unfortunately it was not to be. The tower stands around 35 metres high and its stone walls are about 4 metres thick; its quite incredible to think that this tower was completed in 1507 and has been barely touched since. Or at least not since it survived the attacks of 1642 and 1643 when it was bombarded by the army of King Charles 1. This clock tower houses 12 bells and its outer face contains Bradford's first public clock.
Back inside the Cathedral one of the most interesting stained glass windows is The West Window. This window features all of the famous Biblical women, close to here there is a Tudor canopy and an ancient stone font. On the wall behind the font there is a list of all of the Vicars from the 13th century through to the present day.
Most of the stained glass windows are relatively modern including one that depicts the battles of the First and Second World Wars. One of the panes shows the various battles that were fought by the 6th Battalion Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment. Beneath this window there are plaques commemorating two of Bradford's citizens that were awarded the Victoria Cross and at the side of this there is a sculpture made out of sand from the beach at Dunkirk.
The walls of this Cathedral are covered in memorials. There are memorials to some of the Vicars that served the parish and there are also memorials to three of Bradford's most famous residents. Known as the North Wall Memorials these celebrate the lives of Samuel Lister, an inventor and manufacturer, Joseph Priestley, the engineer of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and Abraham Sharp an astronomer and mathematician.
One of the things that I liked about this Cathedral was the way that it managed to combine the old with the new. I am not referring to the modern chairs or roof, which I still maintain were fundamentally wrong I am referring to things like the war memorials and another memorial to those that lost their lives in the Bradford football fire tragedy of 1985. This simple stone stands next to ancient Celtic stones.
Within the Cathedral there are two small chapels. The Chapel of the Holy Spirit and The Lady Chapel. These were both open during my visit but they felt rather sacred so I didn't step inside.
Finally The Bishop's Throne is not to be missed. This Throne (or Cathedra) from which the Cathedral name derives is richly carved with items that are symbolic to St Peter. These include a Pelican (a symbol of self sacrifice) as well as fishing nets and fish. It was in 1919 the status of a Cathedral was given to the Parish Church of St Peter so I assume that this throne was created around this date.
If you are planning a visit to Bradford's Cathedral it is open daily throughout the year and access is free.
1 Stott Hill
Telephone: (01274) 77772
Fax: (01274) 777730