Chester sits on the border between England and Wales and was founded as a “Castrum” or Roman fort in 79 AD, the same year that Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. After Rome fell its province of Britannia (Britain) dividend itself into petty kingdoms. It is believed that Chester was part of the kingdom of Powys. Legend has it that King Arthur fought his ninth battle at Chester. Later the English Saxon ruled the city and the area until the Norman Conquest. William the Conquer built one of his castles there. In 1541 it became an English city.
Today Chester is a vibrate city of over 300,000, and is considered to be one of the best preserved walled cities in Britain. The city’s four main roads were laid out by the Romans 2,000 years ago.
It was fascinating to experience the mixture of Roman, Medieval and Modern architecture blended together. You can walk on the medieval walls, look down on a Roman Forum and then turn and enter a high end shopping mall. Chester is noted for its medieval “Rows,” These Rows are covered walkways on the first floor level, behind which are entrances to shops. Then at street level is another set of shops which can be entered by going down a few steps. Chester’s Rows are unique to this city, and can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Chester is also known for its black-and-white buildings; however some of those at the city centre are Victorian restorations.
Chester Cathedral is one of the best preserved churches of the medieval period. The history of this church goes far back, and there is a belief that an early Christian church sat on the site of the present Cathedral in the late Roman era.The first basilica was dedicated in Saxon times to St. Paul and St. Peter. Soon the name was changed from St. Peter to St. Werburgh, the patron Saint of Chester; the Saint’s remains where placed in a shrine in the church in 907 AD. In 968, the church was turned into the college of secular canon by King Edger.
It was then returned as church, and restored in 1057, by Leofric, the Earl of Mercia and Lady Godiva (Yes, THAT Lady Godiva). In 1090, the church was destroyed, with no trace left. An Abby was then built on the site in 1093, by the Earl of Chester, of which there are still parts of this structure surviving to this day. The abbey church was made the Cathedral of the Church of England by Henry the VIII in 1541. With some controversy an extensive restoration of the cathedral was done in the 19th Century, and a free standing bell tower was added in the 20th Century. Today it is still an active church, as well as a venue for concerts and exhibitions. The church is full of frescoes, wood carving and statuary from all time periods, and is a major tourist attraction.
There is a cafeteria in what was the monks dining hall, where my wife Karen and I stopped to get something to eat. It was there that one of the more memorable encounters of our trip happened. As we were sitting at our table, we had two empty chairs, an elderly English lady approached and asks if she and her husband could join us. Of course we said yes. She sat down, while her husband was still in line getting their food. During our small talk I mentioned that Karen’s family came from England. “Where about,” the lady asked. ‘Yorkshire,” I said. “Oh, don’t tell my husband that when he gets here,” she stated, “He’s from Lancashire, you know the War of the Roses.” Wow, a 527 year grudge! But she did say it with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face.