As we turned left into the lane up Stag Hill, Guildford Cathedral welcomed us in all its glory. The imposing building on top of the hill is an awe-inspiring sight redolent of former times. Medieval cathedrals usually used similar locations. They were the result of communal effort and took a lifetime to build. Although it is from the 20th century, Guildford Cathedral is also the result of the community’s effort and sacrifice driven by the architect’s vision of a modern Gothic building.
Construction work started in 1936, but building and other restrictions during the Second World War put a stop to it. Once the war was over and the restrictions lifted, construction could go on, except they had limited funds. The local community was keen to finish their cathedral, though. In 1954, the “Buy-a-Brick” fundraising campaign was launched. People could buy a brick made from Stag Hill clay for 2s 6d (2 shillings and a sixpence in old money, the equivalent of £237.38 today) inscribed with their name.
Many people from Guildford, Hampshire, Surrey, and even the rest of the country, including the Queen, collaborated. I first heard the story of the cathedral bricks when I took a guided walk of Guildford. Our guide told us that her family also bought a brick. I thought it was a wonderful link between family and community, and that it gives one a tremendous sense of belonging. Although the Cathedral was consecrated in 1961 in the presence of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Archbishop of Canterbury, among other notable people, the building was completed only in 1966.
Despite having visited Guildford many times over the years, I’d never been to the cathedral. We took a detour on our way back from Wales so we could pop in for a visit. My husband sang here with his choir when he was a child, so it was nice for me to see a place tied to his childhood.
Inside Guildford Cathedral
Glass guardian angels welcome visitors at the west entrance. Light filtering through the windows fills the decluttered nave with light. It lends an ethereal quality to the silent church. I’m fascinated by the kneelers. Embroidered by volunteers, every single one is different and meaningful.
The Treasury contains ecclesiastical objects used through the centuries from the 12th to the 21st. It’s a compact but very interesting collection.
As in every cathedral in the land, there is a regimental chapel. This one is dedicated to the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment. The flags tell the story of the battles the regiment has fought since its inception in 1661. It’s very moving, of course, but not as heart-rending and poignant as the Children’s Chapel, dedicated to “the children who have been loved, lost and commended to God.”
Some of my favourite features were the John Clark’s maps of all the churches of Surrey and two magnificent embroideries donated by ladies from the parish.
The outdoor tour
The simple, almost austere, brick exterior is filled with religious symbols. The different carvings depict a chalice held by two hands -a symbol of the Holy Communion-, the Hand of God -a celebration of creation-, the seven Christian virtues -Charity, Hope, Faith, Courage, Temperance, Prudence and Justice-, St. Hubert, St. John the Baptist, and other saints as well.
Guildford Cathedral recognizes the contribution of women from its early stages. This recognition is expressed in carvings on the doors representing women’s occupations: milking, harvesting, nursing, teaching, spinning, and mothering. It is also a sign of the times. Nowadays, the occupations would be slightly different, I should think.
A large wooden cross made from timber from HMS Ganges was erected in 1933 to mark the site of the new Cathedral. It is called the Ganges Cross. The Garden of Remembrance faces the cross. Its tranquility invites to reflection. The Children’s Garden helps children explore feelings of loss throughout its four areas, one for each cycle of life.
The top of Stag Hill commands sweeping views of Guildford and the surrounding countryside. That’s probably the most unforgettable experience of all.
About Guildford Cathedral
Admission is free. Guided tours are £4 and take place every Thursday and on the first and third Saturday of the month.
The cathedral has accessibility features.
The cathedral shop opens Monday to Saturday 9.30 am to 4 pm.
The cathedral café opens Monday to Sunday 9 am to 4.30 pm.
Guildford Cathedral was one of the locations of horror film The Omen (1976)
Hi, I’m Ana. I’m originally from Argentina but I’m currently living in Dallas (USA) with my British husband. I’d like to share my experiences as an expat and as a traveller.