Treasures From Portsmouth Cathedral On Display For Heritage Open Days

Portsmouth, 7 September 2017

Historical treasures of national importance will be on display at Portsmouth Cathedral from Friday 8th September and Sunday 10th September for Heritage Open Days.  Portsmouth was host to the Royal Wedding of Charles II and the Infanta of Portugal, Catherine Duchess of Braganza in 1662.  The original wedding certificate has been in the care of Portsmouth Cathedral ever since. 

Now, visitors will be offered a rare look at this unique artefact along with other treasures and rare documents on display during Heritage Open Days.  Visitors will be able to examine these items and speak with Cathedral Guides about the history of the Cathedral and Portsmouth.  Special tours will also be given by the Cathedral Guides of both the interior of the exterior of the cathedral.

Why did the Royal Wedding take place in Portsmouth?  Catherine had arrived at Portsmouth on the 14th of May 1662, where she stayed at the Governor’s House in Old Portsmouth awaiting the King.  It was also in Portsmouth that Catherine is reputed to have first introduced the custom of drinking tea, which she would continue at court throughout her life.  With the future Queen’s arrival in Portsmouth, preparations were made for the arrival of the King and the Royal Wedding.  There was, however, a problem.  The English Civil War had left St Thomas’s Church, the parish church of Portsmouth dedicated to St Thomas Becket, heavily damaged from fighting during a short siege.  In 1642, the Royalist garrison in Portsmouth had used the church tower to observe the movement of Parliamentary forces in nearby Gosport.  Parliamentary gunners fired their cannons at the tower, inflicting heavy damage to the church destroying the medieval tower and much of the nave.  The only suitable venue for a Royal Wedding, therefore, was the nearby “Domus Dei”. 

The Domus Dei, better known in Portsmouth as the Royal Garrison Church, had once been the old medieval hospital of Portsmouth, which survived the Reformation by first becoming an armoury for the town and later the chapel to the Governor’s House which was built adjoining the site.  The marriage between the newly restored King of England and the Portuguese Infanta took place in Portsmouth on the 21st of May 1662.  Besides a considerable dowry of some two million Portuguese Crowns, England also gained from Portugal the North African port of Tangiers, further trading routes in the East Indies, and the ports of Bombay in present day India.  

Portsmouth Cathedral is today the custodian of the marriage certificate of King Charles II and Catherine, as well as some of the silver “Tangier Plate” taken from the garrison of Tangiers.  Charles II ordered money to be raised in order to restore the damage done to the country by the Civil War, with a special collection established for the churches.  This fund provided the money required to rebuild the tower and nave of Portsmouth’s St Thomas’s Church which was completed in 1693 in the new classical style which can be seen today at Portsmouth Cathedral.  The Royal Garrison Church was used in later years for church services by the army garrisoned in Portsmouth and suffered considerable damage in the Portsmouth Blitz of 1941 when the roof of the nave was lost to an incendiary bomb.  The Governor’s House adjoining the Domus Dei, where Catherine stayed in her first days in Portsmouth and which witnessed the marriage of the King and Queen, was demolished in 1826.

In November 2015, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich held an exhibition, “Samuel Pepys: Plague Fire and Revolution”, which featured objects detailing the life and times of Samuel Pepys, one of the most colourful witnesses to the great events that shaped 17th century Britain and the Royal Navy.  Several objects were loaned to the National Maritime Museum by Portsmouth Cathedral as part of this exhibition, including the marriage certificate of King Charles II and Catherine of Braganza.

Other items on display will include vestments and cassocks, normally not seen by the public, which will be able to be viewed thanks to the University of Portsmouth School of Art and Design.  

Visitors to Portsmouth Cathedral during Heritage Open Days will be welcomed by Cathedral Guides and are encouraged to register for special guided tours on Eventbrite

Portsmouth Cathedral