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Ancient Ripon Cathedral (the Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Wilfrid, to give it its full name) is the most famous sight in Ripon, North Yorkshire.
This guide shares what you need to know before you visit Ripon Cathedral, including how much it costs to visit, what to see, how to take a tour of Ripon Cathedral, and where to stay in the city.
What To Know Before You Visit Ripon Cathedral
The tiny city of Ripon has one of the oldest cathedrals in the UK. No visit is complete without taking in this glorious sight (and you really can’t miss it).
This guide gives you everything you need to know before visiting Ripon Cathedral, from opening times and ticket prices to what to wear and where to take the best photographs.
Ripon Cathedral Ticket Prices
Whether you plan to visit to worship, listen to the excellent Ripon Cathedral Choir (you really should!) or enjoy exploring the Cathedral’s art and architecture, your visit will be 100% free of charge.
It costs thousands of pounds every day to run the cathedral, so there are places where you can leave a discrete (discretionary) donation.
Ripon Cathedral Opening Times
Regular opening times are from 8.15 am until 6.00 pm from Monday to Saturday and from 7.45 am until 5 pm on Sundays.
Opening hours can change when there are special events at the Cathedral. You can check this via the Cathedral website, where you’ll also find details about the regular Ripon Cathedral lunchtime concerts.
Getting to Ripon
While Ripon no longer has a train station, there are several ways to reach the city (and the Cathedral) by public transport and road.
Here are the quickest and easiest bus routes, which have good onward train connections:
- From Leeds via Harrogate. The #36 bus takes 1 hour and 30 minutes from Leeds or 30 minutes from Harrogate. The bus is very comfortable, with leather seats and free wi-fi charging points. Grab a seat upstairs for the spectacular views! You can check the Leeds to Ripon bus timetable here.
- From York via Boroughbridge. The #22 bus takes from 1 hour and 20 minutes.
You can also take an Uber to Ripon from Harrogate; however, given the distance (13 miles), this could be expensive unless you travel in a group.
Alternatively, driving to Ripon is easy, as the city is around 14 minutes (7.4 miles) from the A1M motorway (London to Edinburgh). Ripon Car Parks are relatively inexpensive. The St Marygate car park is the most convenient for visiting the Cathedral.
History of the Cathedral
Known initially as Ripon Minster, the building was designated a cathedral in 1836, but its history starts far earlier.
Ripon Cathedral was one of the first to be built in England when Christianity was introduced to England in the 7th century. The surviving 7th-century crypt is the oldest in the country. The rest of the cathedral ‘only’ dates to the 11th century!
In 672 AD, (Saint) Wilfrid returned from Rome, became abbot and built a new Minster church. He influenced the Synod of Whitby to adopt the Roman form of Christianity, replacing the Celtic form previously followed in the area.
Saint Wilfrid died in 710 and was buried near the high altar; however, his shrine was destroyed during the Reformation.
Turmoil followed as the Danes destroyed Wilfrid’s church in the 10th century, leaving only the crypt intact. A new Minster was raised, but William the Conqueror destroyed this during the Harrying of the North. The current cathedral dates from the 12th century.
The intact west end was completed by 1220 and is an excellent example of the Early English Decorated style. Sadly, the central tower collapsed in an earthquake in 1450, damaging much of the nave; however, the transepts escaped. Subsequently, the nave was rebuilt in the Perpendicular style, with the clerestory and side aisles added at the same time.
Highlights of the Cathedral
The splendid Cathedral has a Gothic twin-towered west front.
The remarkable tall lancet windows cast multi-coloured light into the cathedral through beautiful stained glass.
While the stone windows are medieval, little medieval glass remains, as the original windows were smashed during the Reformation. The ten current stained glass windows are late Victorian.
Great East Window
At the east end of the cathedral, tall lancet windows contrast sharply with the massive window and buttressed wall turrets; however, the remaining central crossing tower is quite squat.
The magnificent interior is revealed as you pass through the west door entrance. Multiple tall pillars soar up to pointed arches, a walkway above and plain glass clerestory windows that flood the nave with light.
Pulpitum (Medieval Stone Screen)
The original round Norman crossing arch has a medieval stone screen (pulpitum) at its base. This pulpitum is beautifully decorated with painted figures of Kings of England and bishops in elaborate pinnacle arches.
Above these figures, you’ll see tiny painted statues of people who were important in the history of Ripon and the Cathedral. While these statues appear old, they date from the middle of the 20th century.
The beautifully carved medieval floor-standing pulpit is next to the stone screen. It may originally have been placed on top of the screen; however, the organ is now above it.
Arts and Crafts Pulpit
The elaborate bronze-covered Arts and Crafts pulpit dating from 1913 is attached to a nave pillar and stands high on green marble legs. The small figures on the sides of the pulpit are Anglo-Saxon saints: Chad, Cuthbert, Hilda and Ethelreda.
Two medieval tombs are found in the north transept. The oldest of the two is better preserved and shows Sir Thomas Markenfield in a suit of armour. He died in 1398.
The second tomb against the north wall has the effigy of his descendant, another Sir Thomas, who died in 1497. He lies above a beautifully carved chest with shields around the base.
Medieval Misericords in the Quire (Choir)
Perhaps the most atmospheric part of the cathedral is the incredible medieval Quire, with its intricately carved choir stalls, the beautiful high altar and the Great East Window.
Separated from the nave by the stone screen and the organ, the quire is a serene and magical place.
The woodcarvings (misericords) decorating the choir stalls are believed to have inspired Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), the author of Alice in Wonderland.
Carroll’s father was canon at the cathedral, so the young child would have been familiar with the carvings. Here, he would have seen the misericords, which have images that seem to appear in Wonderland.
One misericord has a carved griffin chasing a rabbit down a hole – could this have inspired Carroll to write about Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole?
Another has a misshapen character resembling Alice when she followed the ‘drink me’ instruction and shrank. It’s great fun to spend time looking at all of the mythical beasts in the carvings.
The Crypt of Saint Wilfred
The most ancient part of the cathedral is the 7th century crypt of St Wilfrid, beneath the floor of the medieval cathedral.
This tiny place of worship is reached via a steep staircase and a claustrophic passageway.
Inside, the simple altar and white-washed walls bely the significance of this place – the first Christian church in the ancient Kingdom of Northumbria.
The crypt was designed as a place of pilgrimage, and 1350+ years later, it’s still visited by modern pilgrims.
Ripon Cathedral Organ and “The Hand”
There has been an organ at the Cathedral since at least 1447 when the organist was also the priest. Today’s magnificent organ was made by Harrison and Harrison, as a rebuild of the original 19th-century instrument.
The intricate casework of the cathedral’s organ is within the Norman arch, above the stone screen.
PRO TIP: Look out for the golden hand in the middle of the organ loft! This hand was used by the organist as a signal to the choir at important points in services!
The North Side or the “Place of the Devil”
Traditionally, the northern parts of English churchyards are free of graves. This is because the coldest winds come from the north and they were regarded as the place of the devil. Occasionally, suicides, criminals, and babies who had not been baptised were buried in unconsecrated land north of churches.
Ideal Plan for Visiting Ripon Cathedral
I have to admit that I have visited the Cathedral a lot – and I find something new every time!
The Cathedral is worth exploring, and I recommend taking at least an hour to see the beautiful stonework, statues, crypt, and incredible choir stalls.
PRO TIP: You will get the most from your visit by working your way around the Cathedral anti-clockwise from the main entrance.
Personal Tips for Visiting Ripon Cathedral
Ripon Cathedral Dress Code
While there are no specific rules of conduct for the Cathedral relating to how to dress when visiting, modest attire is recommended and respectful. Bare-backed shirts, crop tops, miniskirts, skimpy shorts, and low-cut clothing are inappropriate.
You’ll want comfortable shoes for the tour, and if you are heading down to the crypt, be aware that the steps are small and steep.
Facilities at Ripon Cathedral
There is neither a café nor any toilets at Ripon Cathedral. However, both are available just a few steps from the main entrance.
Invest in a Cathedral Tour
I highly recommend booking a guided Cathedral tour, as the volunteer guides are so knowledgeable and passionate!
There’s plenty to see inside Ripon Cathedral, and your guide will share lots of information to make your visit special.
Taking Photos at Ripon Cathedral
Ripon Cathedral is stunning, with plenty of photography opportunities inside and out.
However, there are a few rules to be aware of regarding photography:
- You can’t use tripods or selfie sticks inside the Cathedral and shouldn’t use flash photography during services.
- While photographing inside the church, please also respect the privacy of those praying and lighting candles.
PRO TIP: The lighting inside the cathedral isn’t kind to photographers! It’s too bright in some places with plenty of dark spots! Be sure to get comfortable with your camera’s manual settings before your trip!
Outside the Cathedral
Unlike most other cathedrals worldwide, Ripon is rarely busy: you’re unlikely to find people posing for their latest Instagram shot!
If you visit in the winter, the worst part about the exterior of the Cathedral will likely be the weather! Pack warm outer layers for your trip, as it can be bitterly cold, windy, and wet.
PRO TIP: Take time to wander around the Cathedral, to see it from different viewpoints, and to see the old churchyard. https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/7011632.bones-plague-children-christian-burial/
The Cathedral remains in use, with people worshipping and praying there. Please keep noise to a minimum during your visit.
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) is renowned as the War Poet of the First World War. He used poetry to speak out for the men in his care and to show the Pity of War. Owen’s poetry is unashamed, realistic, lyrical, and just as relevant today as when he wrote it.
Owen spent the most productive and creative period of his short life in Ripon in 1918. Poignantly, he spent his last afternoon in the Cathedral before returning to the trenches, where he lost his life.
Cafes, Bars, and Restaurants
Ripon Cathedral has a central location, so if you’re looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat or drink, there are good affordable options nearby.
The Cathedral View Café, opposite the Cathedral, is tiny but fabulous! Everything is homemade, and the cakes are beyond delicious. I had tea with dangerously good ‘snickers crunch cake’ for less than £5! Highly recommended!
Where to stay: The best hotels for a visit to Ripon
While Ripon is very small, it’s located in Nidderdale – a stunning, rural part of North Yorkshire with many options for places to stay.
I’ve written a complete guide on the best places to stay in Ripon, where you can check out the best options to suit your budget and preferences.
Ripon Cathedral FAQs
Is Ripon Cathedral free?
Visiting the cathedral is free unless you join one of the inexpensive guided tours.
Who is buried in Ripon Cathedral?
The most famous tombs are those of the Markenfield knights.
What religion is Ripon Cathedral?
The cathedral is a High Anglican church, so you should expect the full “smells and bells” experience during services.
What’s Ripon famous for?
The cathedral, Ripon Hornblower and nearby Fountains Abbey are the most famous things to see in Ripon.
Is Ripon Cathedral open for visitors?
The cathedral is open daily for visitors, with regular choral services to enjoy.
Wrap Up – How to Visit Ripon Cathedral
There are many valuable things to know before you visit Ripon Cathedral parish to see this beautiful Cathedral on your trip to Yorkshire and the UK. This guide helps you plan your visit to this awe-inspiring ancient place!
While whole dynasties of monarchs have come and gone, and England has seen tumultuous change, Ripon Cathedral remains one of the most distinctive landmarks in Yorkshire.