A church was recorded in Blackburn, possibly on the same site as the Cathedral, as early as 596AD. The parish church of St Mary the Virgin was erected in Norman times and enlarged throughout the mediaeval period, but the expansion of Blackburn in the 19th century resulted in a completely new church being erected on the site in 1820-26, designed by John Palmer.
In 1926 the Diocese of Blackburn was formed and the church became elevated to Cathedral status. Plans were put in place to enlarge it so that it could perform its new duties, and work began in 1938, but was not completed until the 1970s. The distinctive lantern tower, in the shape of a crown, was designed by Laurence King after the death of the original architect W A Forsyth.
The tower and nave survive from Palmer’s original church, and are in the Decorated Gothic style. For its date, these are remarkably faithful to the mediaeval form. The transepts, chapels and chancel are in a more spare 20th Century Gothic, but the lantern, with its slender aluminium spire, is unashamedly modernist.
Inside the church, the immediate impression is one of space and light: all the glass in the nave is clear, and the interior is whitewashed throughout. The rib vaults of Palmer’s elegant nave and aisles are picked out in gold and red, to stunning effect.
Furnishings are mostly modern: the high altar is situated beneath the lantern, surmounted by a corona (hanging crown) and on the west wall is the huge sculpture of Christ the Worker; both are by John Hayward, who also designed the striking stained glass of the lantern and south transept window. The only old furnishings are a set of 15th century misericords in the north transept, thought to have come from Whalley Abbey. The west window in the south transept also has some fragments of mediaeval glass. The church has a number of other modern religious sculptures and paintings.
Beneath the church is a crypt with a very popular café. The church is open to visitors every day, and has a cycle of daily services (see website).
Cathedral Close, Blackburn BB1 5AA