History in Structure

Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Mary and St Boniface

A Grade II Listed Building in Plymouth, City of Plymouth

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Latitude: 50.3737 / 50°22'25"N

Longitude: -4.1515 / 4°9'5"W

OS Eastings: 247104

OS Northings: 54862

OS Grid: SX471548

Mapcode National: GBR R8T.DQ

Mapcode Global: FRA 2861.SK4

Plus Code: 9C2Q9RFX+F9

Entry Name: Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Mary and St Boniface

Listing Date: 1 May 1975

Last Amended: 14 January 2014

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1386510

English Heritage Legacy ID: 473897

Also known as: Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint Boniface
Cathedral of Saint Mary and Saint Boniface

ID on this website: 101386510

Location: Cathedral of St Mary and St Boniface, Pennycomequick, Plymouth, Devon, PL1

County: City of Plymouth

Electoral Ward/Division: St Peter and the Waterfront

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Plymouth

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

Church of England Parish: Plymouth St Peter and the Holy Apostles

Church of England Diocese: Exeter

Tagged with: Gothic Revival Catholic cathedral

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Roman Catholic cathedral. 1855-58 by J A and C F Hansom for Bishop Vaughan; the local builder was named Roberts. The spire added to tower in 1866. Reordering of 1920-7 by F A Walters, with further major work in 1972, and in 1994 by Harrison Sutton of Totnes. The style of the cathedral is Middle Pointed, with Early English lancets.


MATERIALS: Plymouth limestone rubble with limestone dressings. The steep slate roofs have coped gable ends, the chancel roof having a polygonal end; the tower has a very steep and slender stone spire.

PLAN: five-bay nave with clerestory; four-bay chancel with canted east end; north and south lean-to nave aisles and chancel aisles; north and south transepts with chapels in the angles between transepts and chancel aisles; small-plan square tower to the north near the west end, with stair tower to the side.

EXTERIOR: the windows are mostly paired lancets, those facing east having quatrefoil or round plate tracery above; at the west end of the nave is a rose window with trefoil tracery over triple lancets and there are similar windows to the transepts. A roll-moulding runs beneath the windows. The two-stage tower is very slender, with clasping buttresses: the south doorway is a moulded pointed arch with two orders of engaged shafts; a statue is set in a trefoil-headed niche above. There are planked double doors. The second stage has a round window above four lancets with engaged shafts to each side, and there are tall two-light windows to belfry. The broached spire has lucarnes with Decorated two-light windows. The west door of the south transept has a pointed moulded arch to west door of south transept. The west end and main entrance has a doorway of two Caernarvon arches on engaged shafts with cushion capitals, fitted with new doors. The entrance is now enclosed by a covered way or narthex with a series of steeply pitched gables supported on cruciform concrete posts; this feature is of lesser interest. The covered way links the cathedral with the Cathedral Centre standing immediately to the west, which retains as its façade a portion of the former Convent of Notre Dame (1865, by J A and or C F Hansom), which was otherwise destroyed in the Plymouth blitz.

INTERIOR: the five-bay nave has chamfered arches of two orders set on octagonal granite columns with bell capitals. The four-bay chancel has chamfered arches of two orders set on marble columns with fine foliate capitals to ambulatory, with trefoil-headed recesses articulated by shafts with foliate capitals to the east end. The chancel arch is of two chamfered orders set on shafts with foliate capitals; there are arches with engaged columns and capitals to the organ chamber, south-east chapel and transepts, those to the transepts being taller with foliate capitals. The scissor-truss roofs are supported by corbels; the chancel roof has painted panels. The cathedral has undergone considerable internal change and reordering during the course of its history, most notably as to conform with the liturgical practice of Vatican II. The altar, dating from the refitting of 1994, now stands on a hexagonal dais at the crossing of the nave and transepts, and is approached by a granite walkway called the 'Pilgrim Way' which marks out the main routes through the cathedral. The new ambo or lectern stands near the west end, the original pulpit in the chancel having being removed; the original stone font stands to the north-west, in front of the aumbry with beaten copper doors in Art Nouveau style. The new seating in nave and chancel faces inwards, towards the walkway. At the east end of the chancel, the presbyterium contains the new cathedra (Bishop's chair) and clergy seating are backed by a timber screen with a hanging rood or crucifix above, dating from F A Walters's work of the 1920s. Behind this, the Lady Chapel in the apse has a decorative tiled floor set with memorial plaques to the bishops of Plymouth whose remains are interred beneath; the chapel is lined with trefoil-headed sedilia, flanking a carved reredos depicting the Taking Down From the Cross and the Coronation of the Virgin, with figures of the saints above on engaged columns, and a central figure of the Virgin and Child; an altar on marble shafts stands below. To the east of the south transept is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament containing a carved reredos with gilt decorative canopy, placed here in the 1920s; the chapel is protected by decorative wrought-iron screens. In the south transept, a brass monument with recumbent figure by Hardman & Co. to Bishop William Vaughan, d.1902. The north transept forms the Sacred Heart Chapel, with carved panels and niches, with the chapel to the east now containing the organ, a replacement of 1997. The north-east chapel, with decorative tiled floor, and trefoil-headed picina, is now the Peace Chapel of Saints Patrick and George, and contains the First World War memorial. In the south-east chapel, the Pietà, a sculpture of the Virgin holding Christ taken down from the Cross, inspired by Michelangelo's sculpture in St Peter's, Rome. The north porch, separated from the nave by a glass screen, is now the Chapel of Reconciliation. The sacristy, to the north-east, adjoining the Clergy House, contains a C18 Flemish altarpiece. Around the walls of the nave are Stations of the Cross carved in Beer stone by Joseph Cribb of Ditchling (who had been apprenticed to Eric Gill) dating from 1958. The Cathedral contains a number of stained glass windows by Hardman.

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 26 October 2017.


During the C18, the development of Plymouth Dock led to the arrival of a large number of Irish Catholic workers, and in 1793 a small chapel was established by Father Thomas Flynn in the Dock area over a stable building attached to an inn. Shortly afterwards, in 1806-7, a chapel dedicated to St Mary and St John the Evangelist was built under the direction of the French émigré Abbé Louis Guilbert in the Stonehouse district near the Naval Hospital. The Catholic Emancipation Act was passed in 1829, and following the Restoration of the English Hierarchy in 1850, by which Pope Pius IX established the hierarchy of England's Roman Catholic Church under Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman, twelve new dioceses were created, none corresponding to Anglican dioceses. The new Diocese of Plymouth took in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, and Dr George Errington was appointed as the first Bishop; Errington was raised to the rank of Archbishop in 1855, and the task of building Plymouth's new Catholic Cathedral fell to Bishop William Vaughn. The purchase of a meadow in Fivefields was made possible by Edmund Bastard of Kitley, and an appeal was launched for further funds. The architects engaged were Joseph Aloysius Hansom, distinguished particularly for his work for the Catholic Church, and his younger brother Charles Francis Hansom, also a prolific church architect; Plymouth Cathedral was the first of the Hansoms' many churches in the South West. The Hansoms also designed the adjoining Bishop's House (1857) and, it is thought, the school to the south, as well as the Convent of Notre Dame (1865) to the west. The Cathedral's foundation stone was laid in 1856, and despite the collapse of the roof and clerestory during construction, the Cathedral opened its doors for worship on 25 March 1858. The completion of the tower and the addition of the spire, also to the Hansoms' design, was delayed until 1866. In 1920-7 major reordering was undertaken by F A Walters, when the Lady Chapel was remodelled to become the diocesan war memorial, with the insertion of a triple-arched screen. This was removed in 1972, together with the low stone screen which formerly separated the chancel from the nave, when reordering was undertaken as a result of the Second Vatican Council, which required that the elevation of the Host during Mass should be seen by the whole congregation. Further work in 1994 by Harrison Sutton Partnership saw the introduction of the 'Pilgrim Way' marking the principal routes through the Cathedral, as well as the introduction of the covered way linking the west end of the Cathedral with the new Cathedral Centre.

Reasons for Listing

The Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Mary and St Boniface, of 1855-58 by J A and C F Hansom, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a dignified and coherent design by the prominent Roman Catholic church architects Joseph and Charles Hansom, its soaring spire making a significant contribution to the skyline and townscape;
* Interior: despite considerable alteration, the lofty interior retains much of its essential decoration including the columns in local granite and marble with carved capitals, together with a number of interesting fittings, some original and others later;
* Group value: the Cathedral forms a historical group with the adjacent clergy house and school, also listed at Grade II.

External Links

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