Truro Cathedral

Coordinates: 50°15′51″N 05°03′04″W / 50.26417°N 5.05111°W / 50.26417; -5.05111
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Truro Cathedral
Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Truro Cathedral is located in Cornwall
Truro Cathedral
Truro Cathedral
Location within Cornwall
50°15′51″N 05°03′04″W / 50.26417°N 5.05111°W / 50.26417; -5.05111
LocationTruro, Cornwall
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
TraditionHigh Church
Former name(s)The Parish Church of St Mary's, Truro
Architect(s)J. L. Pearson
StyleGothic Revival
Years built1880–1910
Number of towers4
Number of spires3
Spire height76m (crossing), 61m (western)
DioceseTruro (since 1876)
Bishop(s)Hugh Nelson, Bishop of St. Germans and acting Bishop of Truro [1]
DeanSimon Robinson (dean-designate)
PrecentorSimon Griffiths
Canon ChancellorAlan Bashforth
Canon(s)2 vacancies
Director of musicJames Anderson-Besant
Listed Building – Grade I
Official nameTruro Cathedral
Designated29 December 1950
Reference no.1205377

The Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a Church of England cathedral in the city of Truro, Cornwall. It was built between 1880 and 1910 to a Gothic Revival design by John Loughborough Pearson on the site of the parish church of St Mary. It is one of only three cathedrals in the United Kingdom featuring three spires.[a]

History and description[edit]

A stained glass window depicting the founding of the cathedral

The Diocese of Truro was established in December 1876, and its first bishop, Edward White Benson, was consecrated on 25 April 1877 at St Paul's Cathedral.[2]

Construction began in 1880 to a design by the leading Gothic Revival architect John Loughborough Pearson. Truro was the first Anglican cathedral to be built on a new site in England since Salisbury Cathedral in 1220. It was built on the site of the 16th-century parish church of St Mary the Virgin, a building in the Perpendicular style with a spire 128 feet (39 m) tall.[3] The final services in St Mary's were held on Sunday 3 October 1880 and the church was demolished that month, leaving only the south aisle, which was retained to serve as the parish church.[4] From 24 October 1880 until 1887 a temporary wooden building on an adjacent site served as the cathedral. The seats were free and unappropriated, accommodated fewer than 400 people and was extremely hot in summer and cold in winter. It was in this building that Benson introduced the new evening service of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve, 1880.[5]

The choir and transepts were complete by October 1887. The service of consecration took place on 3 November, performed by E. W. Benson, by then Archbishop of Canterbury. His successor as Bishop of Truro, George Wilkinson, and twenty other bishops were also present, together with civic representatives and diocesan clergy, and about 2,000 other people.[6] The central tower was finished by 1905 and the building was completed with the opening of the two western towers in 1910. J. L. Pearson died in 1897 and his son Frank took over the project. Frank Loughborough Pearson's other works include St Matthew's, Auckland in New Zealand.

The Cathedral across the Truro River
Looking west from the choir, towards the nave and the west rose window

Pearson's design combines the Early English style with certain French characteristics, chiefly spires and rose windows. Its resemblance to Lincoln Cathedral is not coincidental; Pearson had been appointed as Lincoln Cathedral's architect and the first Bishop of Truro, Edward Benson, had previously been Canon Chancellor at Lincoln. The central tower and spire stands 250 feet (76 m) tall, while the western towers reach to 200 feet (61 m). Four kinds of stone were used: Mabe granite for the exterior, and St Stephen's granite for the interior, with dressings and shafts of Bath and Polyphant stone. The spires and turret roofs are of stone, except for a copper spire over the bell tower at west end of St Mary's Aisle. The other roofs are of slate.[7] The cathedral is vaulted throughout.[8] Nathaniel Hitch was responsible for the decorative sculpture, including the reredos.

The original south aisle of St Mary's Church survives, incorporated into the south-east corner of the cathedral and known as St Mary's Aisle. It still functions as the city centre's parish church. Three brasses were described by Edwin Dunkin in 1882: those of Cuthbert Sydnam (1630), Thomas Hasell (1567) and George Fitzpen, rector of the parish. As the cathedral is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, it has no Lady Chapel. A Jesus Chapel and the Chapel of Unity and Peace are reserved for quiet and prayer throughout the day. There was no chapter house until 1967, when the opportunity to enlarge the building on the south-east arose. The architect of the new building was John Taylor.[3]

Upon the foundation of Truro Cathedral, Bishop Benson was authorised to establish 24 honorary canonries. In 1878 a new act of Parliament authorised the bishop to establish residentiary canonries. In 1882 an existing canonry was transferred to Truro from Exeter whose income enabled the provision of two canonries at Truro. In 1906 the office of sub-dean was endowed, but the position of dean was still held by the bishop, at least until 1925. This remained the case until it became possible to fund the office of dean.[9] The Victorian acts of Parliament which apply to the cathedral are as follows: the Bishopric of Truro Act, 1876; the Truro Chapter Act, 1878; and an act to amend the latter.[10] Preaching duties in the cathedral are shared out among the bishop, residentiary canons and honorary canons.[11]

The Royal Maundy Service was held in the cathedral in 1994 when Queen Elizabeth II presented 134 Cornish people with the traditional Maundy money.[12]


The two western towers

In 2002 the cathedral embarked on what was hoped to be a fifteen-year project to restore the east end, the west front and the central tower and spire. Each of the projects would be undertaken as funds allowed. The east end restoration repaired stonework and damage to the iron work on the stained glass windows. From 2004, a year-long project saw the restoration of the massive west front and towers. In 2009 and 2010 work on the central tower and spire began.

Restoration work is being carried out by W. R. Bedford; Stuart Aston, managing director, said that the problem is the Bath Stone used on the more decorative areas of the cathedral, has not stood up well to the salts and sand in the maritime climate of Cornwall. Erosion of the stonework has left much of the exposed stonework in such a damaged condition that it resembles honeycomb. Funding for the restoration of the tower and spire has been partly met by grants from English Heritage, Friends of Truro Cathedral, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Tanner Trust, the cathedral itself and by public subscription. The "Save Our Spire" campaign has raised nearly £50,000 towards the cost.[citation needed]


A plan of Truro Cathedral, 1900

The cathedral is governed by a three-tier structure as set out in the Cathedral Measure and Statutes. The chapter (comprising the dean, three residentiary canons and three chapter canons), the cathedral council and the college of canons.

Dean and chapter[edit]

As of 3 October 2022:[13]

  • Dean — Simon Robinson (interim since October 2022, announced as permanent dean 17 August 2023) to be installed in Autumn 2023.[14]
  • Canon chancellor — Alan Bashforth (since 2014 installation)
  • Canon precentor — Simon Griffiths (since 2016 installation)
  • Canon missioner — vacant since 2014
  • Diocesan canon — vacant since April 2020; Barley was canon pastor and priest-in-charge of Tresillian and Penkevil and rural dean of Powder[15]


The organ

The Father Willis organ of 1887 is widely regarded as one of the finest instruments in the country. "It is not easy, even today, to think how the magnificence of the Willis organ in Truro Cathedral could be improved" wrote W. L. Sumner in his 1952 book The Organ. It was built in 1887 in London and arrived in Cornwall by boat. It has an almost identical specification to the organ he built a year earlier for the then parish church of St Michael, Coventry (later Coventry Cathedral). Both instruments have the standard Willis hallmarks—tierce mixtures on Great and Swell, characterful gedackts on the Choir, and a small but telling pedal division.

Apart from the addition of the electric blower in the 1920s, no major work was done until 1963, when the grandson of the original builder carried out a conservative restoration, at a cost of some £17,000. Before this time, the organ console was situated high up within the main case of the instrument, necessitating a walk of two or three minutes up a spiral staircase in the north transept. The action was a mixture of Barker lever, pneumatic and tracker. There were very few playing aids and contact between the organist and choir, some 40 feet (12 m) below, would have been almost impossible. In 1963, the organ committee decided to keep the original tonal scheme and voicing, and move the console over on to the south side in a new gallery placed above the choir stalls to a design by the architect John Phillips. Here the organist can hear the instrument properly, and maintain close contact with the choir.

The other main organ in the cathedral is a two-manual instrument in St Mary's aisle, the sole remnant of the former parish church. It was originally built by Renatus Harris and was installed in Truro in 1750 by John Byfield.[16] It was re-installed in the temporary church in 1880, but was significantly rebuilt and reduced in size in 1887 for installation in its current location.[17] There is also a four-stop continuo organ by Kenneth Tickell.[18]

In 2012, Tim Rice backed the 125-year anniversary appeal to support Truro Cathedral's choir and music.[19]


Organist and Master of the Choristers
Assistant Organists
Organ Scholars
  • Luke Bond 1998–1999 (later Assistant Organist 2008–2017)
  • Christopher Teel 1999–2000
  • Andrew Senn 2000–2001
  • Nicholas Wearne 2001–2002 (later Assistant Organist at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh)
  • Michael Phillips 2002 (later director of music and organist at St Luke's Episcopal Church, Dallas, currently Organist at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Austin, U.S.A.)
  • Tom Wilkinson 2003–2004 (currently Organist at University of St Andrews)
  • Claire Cousens 2004–2005
  • Tom Little 2005–2006
  • David Moore 2006–2007 (later assistant director of music at Hampstead Parish Church, London)
  • Shiloh Roby 2007–2008 (later organ scholar of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin)
  • Joshua Hales 2008–2009 (later organ scholar at Exeter College, Oxford)
  • Donald Hunt 2009–2010 (currently assistant organist at St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh)
  • Sachin Gunga 2010–2011 (currently Sub-Organist at Portsmouth Cathedral)
  • Edward Symington 2011–2012 (afterwards organ scholar at Westminster Cathedral)
  • Harry Meehan 2012–2013 (afterwards organ scholar at The Queen's College, Oxford)
  • Rachel Mahon 2013–2014 (currently Director of Music at Coventry Cathedral)
  • James Orford 2014–2015 (later organ scholar at St Paul's Cathedral)
  • Joseph O’Berry 2015–2016
  • Käthe Wright Kaufman 2016–2017
  • William Fairbairn 2017–2018
  • Carolyn Craig 2018–2019
  • Manuel Piazza 2019–2020
  • Alden Wright 2021–2022
  • Tom Dilley 2022–2023


A ring of ten bells was cast in 1909 by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough: the tenor bell weighs 33cwt-3qr-10lb (3790lb).[25] Four further bells, also cast by Taylor, were installed in 2011: two completing the original ring to twelve, and two smaller ones to give the option of a lighter sound.[26] In addition there are six bells in the Green Tower, previously in St Mary's Parish Church, of which five form a chiming peal. A planned great bourdon bell for the south-west tower was never made.[27][28]


Truro Cathedral has had an unbroken choral tradition dating from 1876. The present-day choir has twelve adult singers who are either lay vicars or choral scholars, accompanied by either eighteen boy choristers or eighteen girl choristers. After the closure of Truro Cathedral School in 1982, the cathedral no longer has a dedicated cathedral school. Instead, the choristers are awarded bursaries to attend Truro School.[29][30]

Girl choristers were first admitted to the cathedral choir in 2015.[31] On International Women's Day in 2017 they appeared for the first time in a broadcast of the BBC Radio 3 programme Choral Evensong. The service included the first performance of two new works, namely a set of canticles by Dobrinka Tabakova and a set of responses by Sasha Johnson-Manning.[32] The cathedral's girl choristers were also among those selected to sing at the coronation of Charles III and Camilla in 2023.[33]

The choir appeared on the 2019 season of Britain's Got Talent.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The other two being Lichfield Cathedral and St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh. Lincoln Cathedral too had three spires, originally, but the centre spire collapsed in 1549.


  1. ^ "Who we are". Truro Diocese. 30 October 2023.
  2. ^ "Consecration of the Bishop of Truro". Church Times. No. 744. 27 April 1877. p. 245. ISSN 0009-658X. Retrieved 26 December 2016 – via UK Press Online archives.
  3. ^ a b Pevsner, Nikolaus; Enid Radcliffe (1970). Cornwall. p. 234.
  4. ^ "Closing Services In The Old Parish Church Of St Mary, Truro, The Pro-Cathedral". The Cornishman. No. 118. 14 October 1880. p. 5.
  5. ^ Brown, H. M. (1976) A Century for Cornwall. Truro: Blackford; pp. 32–33, 38
  6. ^ Brown (1976); pp. 33, 43
  7. ^ Historic England. "Truro Cathedral (1205377)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  8. ^ Pevsner, Nickolaus; Enid Radcliffe (1970). Cornwall. p. 233. ISBN 978-0-14-071001-4.
  9. ^ Cooper, Canon (chancellor) "The restoration of the Cornish bishopric", in:The Cornish Church Guide. Truro: Blackford, 1925; pp. 30–50 (the bishop was still dean in 1925)
  10. ^ The Cornish Church Guide Truro: Blackford, 1925, p. 48
  11. ^ The Cornish Church Guide. Truro: Blackford, pp. 48–49
  12. ^ "Mary Ann Winn 1925–2006". St Tudy (parish website). Archived from the original on 23 March 2012. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  13. ^ Truro Cathedral — Governance & Chapter Archived 1 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 1 January 2021)
  14. ^ "Ellen and Lynda".
  15. ^ "New Dean of Truro Announced".
  16. ^ "Organ of St Mary's Truro". Cambridge University.
  17. ^ "Organ of St Mary's Truro". Cambridge University.
  18. ^ "Organ of St Mary's Truro". Cambridge University.
  19. ^ "Sir Tim Rice supports Truro Cathedral's choir". BBC News Cornwall. 28 November 2012.
  20. ^ Cornishman; Wednesday 28 April 1920
  21. ^ Scholes, Percy A. (1970) The Oxford Companion to Music, 10th ed. London: Oxford U.P.; p. 123b (afterwards organist of New College Oxford; Durham Cathedral; and St Paul's Cathedral; knighted 1968)
  22. ^ "Cathedral News". Dean and Chapter of Truro. Archived from the original on 6 February 2005.
  23. ^ Thornsby, Frederick W., ed. (1912) Dictionary of Organs and Organists. Bournemouth: Logan; p. 339
  24. ^ Thornsby (1912); p. 336
  25. ^ Dove's Guide for Church Bell Ringers. 2000. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  26. ^ "Truro Cathedral bells ring again". BBC News. 27 May 2011. Archived from the original on 3 February 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  27. ^ Dove, R. H. (1982). A Bellringer's Guide to the Church Bells of Britain and Ringing Peals of the World (6th ed.). Aldershot: Viggers; p. 111.
  28. ^ Brown, H. M. (1976) A Century for Cornwall. Truro: Blackford; p. 54
  29. ^ "Music: Truro Cathedral Choir". Archived from the original on 23 December 2004.
  30. ^ "Girl Choristers for Truro Cathedral Choir". Diocese of Truro. 5 August 2014. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
  31. ^ "First girl choristers for Truro Cathedral". BBC. 11 October 2015. Archived from the original on 13 January 2019. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  32. ^ "BBC Radio 3 – Choral Evensong, Truro Cathedral on International Women's Day". Archived from the original on 10 March 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2018.
  33. ^ Royal Family, "New music commissions for the coronation service at Westminster Abbey", 17 April 2023. Retrieved 9 May 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Cooper, Sydney, Canon of Truro (1925) "The Restoration of the Cornish Bishopric". In: Cornish Church Guide. Truro: Blackford; pp. 30–50
  • Henderson, Charles (1925) "Truro St Mary V." In: Cornish Church Guide. Truro: Blackford; pp. 209–10

External links[edit]