Truro Cathedral, Cornwall

Truro Cathedral was built in the 19th century on the site of a 16th century parish church (St Mary the Virgin) to a design by church architect John Loughborough Pearson, heavily influenced by Gothic architecture. Truro Cathedral has three massive towers and spires. The central tower and spire is 250 feet tall, the western ones are 200ft. This was the first cathedral to be built on a new site in England since Salisbury Cathedral in 1220. It is estimated that half a million people visit during the year.

Other venues were considered for Cornwall's Cathedral. Bodmin had been the medieval ecclesiastical centre of Cornwall, the original Cornish See of St Germans , and the church at St Columb. Eventually a Bill was passed by Parliament establishing the Diocese of Truro on the 11th August 1876. The site chosen was where the16th century parish church of St Mary the Virgin stood. The South Aisle of the parish church was incorporated into the design and today this is called St Mary's Aisle. To build a large building on this site meant that a number of properties on the northern side of the proposed development had to be bought and demolished. This was done by 1880.

Truro Cathedral architect was John Loughborough Pearson, who said 'my business is to see what will bring people soonest to their knees'. As the cathedral was built in the middle of an existing city and space was at a premium, Pearson built the nave at an angle of 6 feet and this bend can be clearly seen.

In 1880 the city was bedecked to welcome HRH The Prince of Wales for the laying of the foundation stones. The Masonic Provincial Grand Lodge of Cornwall were involved in the ceremony which was conducted by the Prince of Wales (who appeared in public in his masonic regalia) , also the Grand Master of the Order, and gave Masons throughout the county the opportunity to come together publicly, demonstrate their loyalty and make a major contribution towards the costs of erecting this new symbol of Cornish identity.

The first part of the cathedral was consecrated in 1887, and finally completed in 1910. Pearson had died in 1897, and the work was continued by his son, Frank Loughborough Pearson. More recent work was carried out by the architectural firm of Marshman Warren Taylor.

John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897) was known for his work on churches and cathedrals. Born in Durham, the son of a painter, he was initially apprenticed to architect Ignatius Bonomi. He lived in central London at 13 Mansfield Street (where a blue plaque commemorates him).

Cornwall had its own Bishop at St Germans, near Saltash, until the latter part of the 10th Century. The Cornish Diocese was then held jointly with the Devon Diocese at Crediton and then in 1050 at Exeter. Effectively the Cornish Diocese ceased to be a separate entity. Over 800 years later in 1877, after years of lobbying, the Cornish Diocese was re-established at Truro. The Diocese covers the whole of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly plus two parishes in Devon.

Edward White Benson was the first Bishop of Truro (1877 - 1883). He had been Headmaster of Wellington College and then Chancellor of Lincoln Cathedral. It was his vision that really established the new Diocese of Truro and the building of this Cathedral. From 1883 until his death in 1896 he was Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1880 Bishop Benson created the ‘Service of Nine Lessons and Carols’ which for over 120 years has formed part of the Cathedral’s traditional worship on Christmas Eve.

The present Bishop of Truro is Bishop Bill Ind. He is the 14th Bishop to hold this office. He is helped by Bishop Roy Screech who is the Suffragan (Assistant) Bishop of the Diocese.


The Bath stone, used for decorative carved work, has not stood up well to the Cornish climate, it has crumbled and disintegrated. Because all the replacement work is high up on the building, it is a very expensive to replace.

English Heritage, insisted that the cathedral should replace like with the same stone.The Cathedral Architect disagreed, so they carried out a research project with Hallam University in Sheffield to see if they could identify a similar stone, but with greater durability.

The outcome was that the particular Bath stone used (Stoke Grand Base Bed) was unsuitable for use in Truro, and that a Cotswold Stone – Syerford was identified as the best replacement stone.

Using Syerford Stone a fifteen year programme has started to replace the failing Bath Stone with a material will not alter the appearance of the Cathedral but will be more durable.

Truro Cathedral Truro Cathedral web site

Truro Cathedral government information site.


Truro Cathedral Today

Parishioners have the right to be baptised, get married and hold their funeral service in St Mary's Aisle and the Dean is also the Rector of the Parish. The remaining part of the parish church is typically Cornish with its 16th century barrel roof.

18th century organ designed by John Byfield and the pulpit is made of inlaid wood and also dates from the 18th century.

Baptistery, dedicated to Henry Martyn; the Tinworth Panel, made in terracotta by George Tinworth.

Bishops Chair, which in Latin is called a 'cathedra' and gives the building its name

Robartes memorial which used to stand in the Parish church.

Lectern, which was used for the first ever service of Nine Lessons and Carols, instituted by the first Bishop, Edward White Benson on Christmas Eve 1880

The painting 'Cornubia' by John Miller.

The stained glass windows (including one showing John Wesley, the Methodist preacher who was very popular in Cornwall) are considered to be the finest examples of Victorian stained glass and therefore of great importance.


Truro Cathedral Choir

The choir consists of eighteen boy choristers and twelve gentlemen. The choristers are all educated at Polwhele House School, to which they receive scholarships from the cathedral.

The choir’s primary function is to provide the music that characterises the cathedral’s worship. Each week there are six choral services, usually with the full choir, comprising Sung Mass and Evensong each Sunday and either Evensong or Solemn Mass on four weekdays. The music for these services is chosen to complement the liturgical themes of each season or festival.


Other Truro Churches

St Paul's Church in Agar Road dates from 1848 (and includes a 13th century pulpit).

St George's Church, 1855, has a large painting behind the altar that includes both Truro and Zanzibar cathedrals.

St John's Church at the top of Lemon Street with a cupola designed by Philip Sambell, dates from 1828 although it has later alterations.

Kenwyn, which is to the north of the city, the parish church of St Kenwyn is a typical Cornish church of the 14th and 15th centuries and is next to the former Bishop's Palace, Liz Escop, now the Convent of the Epiphany.

Roman Catholic Church, in St Austell Street, has been used since 1972.

Truro Methodist Church in Union Place has been the Methodist chapel since 1830 and the building was virtually unchanged until 2000 when substantial repair work and changes to the interior were carried out.


Cornwall Churches