A Day in…Chichester

By | Category: Travel destinations

Chichester Cathedral

Chichester Cathedral


To people outside the south east of England, Chichester is one of those places that sounds like many others. If anyone has heard of it then it is probably due to the fact that it is where a theatre festival is held, because it is near Glyndebourne or because it is the county town of West Sussex. For those more local it is a well visited centre for day visits either because of the shops, the cathedral or the nearby Roman ruins at Fishbourne (the largest Roman palace yet discovered in the UK) where one of the finest mosaics is to be found. Being on the coast, it also houses sailing clubs who can use the inshore areas. For those more experienced, the channel awaits.

If you’re going to explore just the town then a car’s not essential. Trains connect to London, Portsmouth and Brighton. To go further afield say to Goodwood, Arundel, Fishbourne, the racing at Fontwell or the South Downs then a car needed.

5.7 million visitors come to the area every year so picking a quiet time isn’t easy. Even then in the middle of August it didn’t seem too crowded. Most of the visitors are day trippers like me with only about 700,000 staying overnight.

From the station if you turn left you’re in the middle of town of town in about 10 minutes. If you go the other way, there is a four mile walk along the towpath (but with two pubs to stop at!) from the canal basin down to the marina and Chichester harbour. But it is the cathedral and the bell tower that dominate the town. The bell tower is separate having been built to relieve the cathedral of the weight of the bells so having a structure close to it looks a bit odd. From the outside the cathedral is squat and you would be tempted just to stay outside and enjoy the gardens. After all isn’t one cathedral like almost any other?

Not so Chichester’s.

Chichester Cathedral - Tudor Artwork

Chichester Cathedral - Tudor Artwork


How many have a mosaic that you can see under the main floor? How many have such gardens to sit in? But above all, how many have such art?
Inside there are some features not to be found in every cathedral you might visit. There are the two wooden panels, one containing the monarchs of England and the other, the bishops. Both are painted onto wood and both were created in the time of Henry VIII by Lambert Barnard one of the earliest English painters. He also created two other panels and decorated parts of the ceilings in a 20 year link with the cathedral. Now, some of these panels need attention and an appeal to raise £250,000 to restore and preserve them was announced earlier this month. That these are so rare is enough to send you to Chichester to see them but don’t miss a stained glass window by the great painter, Marc Chagall. Chagall came to stained glass late in his artistic life and Chichester is one of the few places in this country where you can see an example. (although all the windows in All Saints Church in Tudely in Kent are by him as well.)

Chichester Cathedral artwork by Marc Chagall

Chichester Cathedral artwork by Marc Chagall

But there’s more artwork to be found. A painting by Graham Sutherland (he painted the Churchill portrait that was so disliked that Lady Churchill burnt it) and a tapestry by John Piper. But I found the most striking thing to be a tapestry called The Reconciliation by Ursula Benker-Schirmer. It’s huge, bold and colourful.

Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

The cathedral has a tradition of encouraging modern art. One of it’s deans, Walter Hussey , commissioned the works mentioned and also created an art collection of his own which is now found in the Pallant House Gallery which houses one of the great collections of modern British art. Currently there is a surrealist exhibition on and visitors might notice how surreal it is to see a modern designed gallery tucked next to a traditional eighteenth century Georgian house. The gallery has a stained wooden front; the house is painted a refined light blue. If not surreal, then incongruous is this coupling. This should be your second visit of the day after the cathedral. On Tuesday’s its half-price but otherwise quite pricey at £8.25 for an adult.
And just those things took the day. The walk to the harbour with lunch at a pub, the cathedral and the gallery in the afternoon. So maybe Chichester is a short break destination rather than day trip next time.

http://www.visitchichester.org/

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