Peterborough Cathedral was the place where Edmund Bertram sealed his fate, for it was here that he was ordained as a minister in the Church of England. Mansfield Park was placed by Jane Austen in Northamptonshire, and then as now, the main part of Northamptonshire is part of the Peterborough Diocese, hence the reason why Edmund Bertram was ordained there, in his home cathedral.
Edmund was at this time particularly full of cares: his mind being deeply occupied in the consideration of two important events now at hand, which were to fix his fate in life—ordination and matrimony—events of such a serious character as to make the ball, which would be very quickly followed by one of them, appear of less moment in his eyes than in those of any other person in the house. On the 23rd he was going to a friend near Peterborough, in the same situation as himself, and they were to receive ordination in the course of the Christmas week.
Mansfield Park Chapter 26
And, of course, in so doing he forever alienated Miss Crawford who viewed his career choice with some disdain for she so very much wanted him to do something smarter, and with possibly a less strong moral code, as their conversation in Chapter 9 very clearly indicates:
So you are to be a clergyman, Mr. Bertram. This is rather a surprise to me.”
“Why should it surprise you? You must suppose me designed for some profession, and might perceive that I am neither a lawyer, nor a soldier, nor a sailor.”
For what is to be done in the church? Men love to distinguish themselves, and in either of the other lines distinction may be gained, but not in the church. A clergyman is nothing.
Interestingly , as we have noted the main action in Mansfield Park, takes place in Northamptonshire and Portsmouth. While Jane Austen was familiar with Portsmouth, having lived at nearby Southampton and having two bothers in the navy, Northamptonshire was very much another matter. It is virtually certain that Jane Austen had no perosnal knowledge of the county or of its cathedral. It is clear from her letters seeking clarification on the appearance of the county while composing Mansfield Park, that she was wholly unfamiliar with it. The only opportunity she had of visiting the county was in the summer of 1806 during her only documented journey north, to visit her Cooper cousins at Hamstall Ridware in Staffordshire. However, on both journeys, north and south, she managed to avoid it completely. She travelled northwards through Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire and returned to Hampshire via Warwickshire Oxfordshire and Berkshire. At no point did she travel through Northamptonshire, though she passed nearby.
Therefore, unless she had seen prints of the Cathedral, she had no personal experience of the place that was so important for the course of Edmund Bertram’s life. Interesting. However , she may have approved of it for many reasons, not the least being that it is old, ancient, and not at all like the Palladian calm of Southerton’s chapel:
They entered. Fanny’s imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion: with nothing more striking or more solemn than the profusion of mahogany, and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family gallery above. “I am disappointed,” said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. “This is not my idea of a chapel. There is nothing awful here, nothing melancholy, nothing grand. Here are no aisles, no arches, no inscriptions, no banners. No banners, cousin, to be ‘blown by the night wind of heaven.’ No signs that a ‘Scottish monarch sleeps below.’”
And if the presence of a Scottish monarch and banners are necessary to satisfy Fanny Price and her creator’s taste in places of worship,then Peterborugh Cathdral fits the bill ( well, almost….) We are better placed than Jane Austen and indeed Fanny, and can visit Peterborough quite easily here today, though in a virtual and digital manner ;) Shall we begin our tour?
The West front of the Cathedral is magnificent, as you can clearly see, and was built between 1118 and 1238 A.D. The origins of the Cathedral can be traced back to King Peada of the Middle Angles who founded the first monastery on the site of the present Cathedral in 655AD. This monastic settlement was almost entirely destroyed by a Viking attack in 870 and was rebuilt as a Benedictine Abbey between 960 and 970. The Abbey church then survived another attack by Hereward the Wake in 1069, and remained intact until an accidental fire destroyed the second Abbey in 1116. It was rebuilt between 1118 and 1238.
It became the Cathedral of the new Diocese of Peterborough in 1541 during the reforms after the break from the Roman Catholic Church and it is now known as the Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew.
The Nave is both severe and serenely beautiful. This is the view from the West Door towards the high altar.
This, below, is the view from the choir stalls down the Nave, looking towards the West Door
The wooden painted ceiling in the Nave dates from 1230-1250 but has sadly been damaged twice by fire.
It is now fully and beautifully restored, and if you click on the photograph( as you can do with all the illustrations in this post) you can examine the exquisite detail.
The Victorian heating system is surprisingly effective (and very decorative,and similar to the system in Chester Cathedral, if my memory serves me correctly)
The choir stalls were not here when Edmund Bertram was ordained in the early 19th century. They were installed in the late 19th century but are magnificently carved, as you can see.
This slightly wobbly picture shows the view from the choir stalls to the Sanctuary and the High Altar.
Just above the north transept is the resting place of Queen Katherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII’s first wife,who after her vigorous contesting of her sad and inevitable divorce, was sent to live at nearby Kimbolton Castle and that is where she died in January 1536.
The grave was in a forgotten and unadorned state until the early 20th century, when it was visited by Queen Mary, the wife of George V and a fellow Queen Consort (and grandmother of the present Queen). Apparrently saddended that a Queen Consort’s grave could be neglated in this way Queen Mary ordered that the symbols of Queenship, which included the royal banners of England, below,
and Spain, below, should be hung above Katherine’s grave.
Queen Katherine’s grave still attracts many vistors, who pay homage to her, and in my picture below you can see the remnants of a bunch of flowers that had been laid on her grave.
The Eastern Buildings of the Cathedral, dating from 1500, are famed for this magnificent fan vaulted ceiling.
but the wooden painted and guilded ceiling, below, which is medieval,would have been in place.
Opposite the site of Queen Katherine of Aragon’s burial place, we reach the first resting place of the body of Mary, Queen of Scots…
who was beheaded at nearby Fotheringhay Castle, that “sacred place” as Jane Austen termed it in her History of England. This is all that remains of the castle at Fotheringhay.
She, too, is honoured by the presence of banners: of the Scottish national flag-the Saltaire– the Cross of St Andrew
and the royal standard of the Scottish monarchs, below.
Though she was buried here after her execution- 9 months after to be precise – she is no longer buried at Peterborough. Her son, James, became King of England in 1603, and arranged for his mother’s remains to be removed to Westminster Abbey in 1612.
I can’t help but think that Jane Austen who was so attached to the Stuarts and to Mary Queen of Scots- that bewtiching Princess as she called her in her History of England- would have been moved by this first resting place of her heroine.
The cathedral is set in a large and peacful close…
with the entrance to the Bishop’s Palace to the left, above…
and just the other side of the gates is the busy shopping centre of modern Peterborough: it is an amazing place of calm and peace amidst much bustle.
So, there you have it: a visit to the scene of Edmund Bertram’s ordination. I do hope you have enjoyed it.