In 681, Saint Wilfrid brought a mission to spread Christianity to Sussex and established a cathedral in Selsey just south of Chichester. After the Conquest of 1066, it was Norman policy to move cathedrals from small communities to larger population centers. In 1075, the Council of London founded the See of Chichester and a year later the building of the present cathedral began under Bishop Stigand who was the last Bishop of Selsey. Construction was completed and the building was dedicated in 1108 by Bishop Luffa. After a devastating fire in 1114, Luffa restored the cathedral, extending it to the west. There was another destructive fire in 1187 that destroyed much of the town along with the timber roof and the arcade stonework.
During the restoration, stone vaulting was introduced to replace the wooden ceiling and support was given from the inside by stone shafts and Purbeck marble shafts. Flying buttresses were added to the exterior. The style of the retro-choir was completely changed and columns of Purbeck marble were substituted for the Norman stone piers. The cathedral was re-consecrated in 1199.
Additions in the thirteenth century included a central tower and chapels which were added to the nave aisles which formed double aisles in the style of French cathedrals thereby making Chichester one of the widest English cathedrals. In 1262, Bishop Richard of Chichester, who had died nine years earlier, was made a saint by Pope Urban IV. In 1276, his remains were translated from the original burial place in one of the chapels to a shrine in the retro-choir. This shrine was an important pilgrimage center up until the Reformation. The fourteenth century saw the extension of the Lady Chapel completed with windows in the ‘decorated’ style. In 1315, Bishop John Langton rebuilt the south wall of the south transept including a large seven light window.
In 1402 the spire was completed and a free-standing bell tower was constructed north of the west end. The bell tower was built at some distance from the cathedral because there was an issue with subsidence and the Norman towers. The south-west tower collapsed in 1210 and had to be rebuilt. The north-west tower fell in 1635 but wasn’t rebuilt until 1901.
During the Reformation the shrine of Saint Richard was destroyed and the building lost much of its medieval stained glass. The Cathedral underwent a siege by Parliamentary troops during the English Civil War causing great destruction, especially to the library. The spire was repaired in the seventeenth century by Sir Christopher Wren. Lightning struck the spire in 1721 but it survived. There was a long period of neglect until restoration was begun in the 1840’s. The work was interrupted when on February 21, 1861 the spire fell in on itself. Fortunately there were no deaths. Fundraising began for the needed repairs and Queen Victoria herself donated. The spire was rebuilt a few feet taller in just five years. This spire can be seen for many miles across the flat meadows of Sussex and Chichester is the only medieval cathedral that can be seen from the sea.
For the past thirty years, much has been done to clean up and ensure the stability of the structure of the cathedral. The interior stonework has been scrubbed and the ceilings restored. Friends of the cathedral donated to have up-lighting installed to enhance the beauty of the ceiling. However, crucial restoration work still remains to be accomplished.