There is a legend that one thousand Christians were martyred around 300 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the location of Lichfield Cathedral. Venerable Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People states that Lichfield was a holy site and this is why Saint Chad chose it as the seat of his holy see when he became Bishop of Mercia in 669 AD. Bede credits St. Chad with bringing Christianity to the Kingdom of Mercia. The first Anglo-Saxon church was built on the site in 700 AD to house the bones of St. Chad.
Construction of a Norman Cathedral began in 1085 and lasted until a Gothic cathedral was begun in 1195. Sandstone from a quarry on the south side of Lichfield was used to build the church. The choir dates from 1200, the Transepts from 1220 to 1240 and the Nave was started in 1249. The Chapter House was completed in 1249 and houses the Cathedral’s library with its greatest treasure, the Lichfield Gospels. This is an 8th C. illuminated Latin manuscript of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and the early part of Luke. The library also contains a 13th C. tiled floor.
Another addition in the 13th C. was the St. Chad’s Head Chapel. The Sacrist’s Roll of 1345 mentions that St. Chad’s skull and an arm bone was kept here in a casket. Pilgrims would come to view the relics. The nave was completed in 1285 in the Geometric style and is considered one of the finest in the country. The walls of the nave have a noticeable bend, due either to the weight of the stone used in the ceiling vaulting or possibly due to a curve in the bedrock.
The Cathedral began to experience damage during the Reformation under King Henry VIII. It suffered further brutal damage during the English Civil War. During several sieges, cannonballs were fired at the Cathedral, there were holes in the roof and the central spire destroyed. All of the stained glass was broken, statues and monuments were smashed and carvings were defaced. After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, a slow process of repairs began. By the end of the 18th C. these repairs needed attention. The architect James Wyatt renovated the interior of the Cathedral including removing 500 tons of stone from the vaulting of the nave to keep the walls from collapsing.
In 1803, Sir Brooke Boothby purchased stained glass from an abbey in Lieges and sold it to Lichfield. They restored some of the windows in the Cathedral with this glass which dated from 1530. Once again a restoration project was started that lasted until the end of the 19th C. By 1900, the Cathedral had been restored inside and out and preservation efforts are ongoing to this day. Lichfield is the only Cathedral in England that has three spires.