About the project
Leicester Cathedral stands at the physical heart of the city. Built over Roman buildings and dedicated to St Martin of Tours, the cathedral dates back to at least the 12th century and may be much older. It’s place next to Leicester’s Guildhall and its strong ties with the mayor and the town’s merchants and guilds means it has, since the Middle Ages, always been seen as the principle church in the town.
Over the centuries, St Martin’s has undergone extensive extensions, restorations and rebuilds. Today the building is predominately of the Victorian and Arts and Crafts eras following a series of restorations by distinguished architects and glaziers during the latter half of the 19th century. In 1927 St Martin’s was dedicated as Leicester’s Cathedral when the Diocese of Leicester was recreated, over a thousand year after the last Saxon bishop of Leicester fled from the invading Danes in the late 9th century.
Today the Cathedral remains embedded in the public, economic, cultural and religious life of the city and county, and famously houses the tomb of King Richard III.
Leicester Cathedral Revealed is a £12.7m restoration of the Grade II* Cathedral, made possible with the Heritage Fund.
The project will restore the building, making it sustainable for future generations, and will build a new Heritage and Learning Centre on the approximate footprint of the 1930s Song School, preserving the open space of the Cathedral Gardens. The Heritage Learning Centre will provide a new Orientation/Exhibition Gallery as well as hospitality and learning spaces, toilets, offices and storage.
This work will protect the historic setting of the Cathedral, enabling a full and more dynamic interpretation of its heritage, archaeology and architecture, and will free up physical space so that it can function as a cultural venue without compromising the sacred spaces.
What are we doing?
University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) are the archaeological contractors for Leicester Cathedral Revealed. We will be providing regular updates about our archaeological investigations which can be followed via our blog (below) and on our social media channels.
The archaeological work for Leicester Cathedral Revealed has several different phases, including:
- Monitoring ground works and the removal of old foundations during the demolition of the Old Song School, and monitoring the installation of a contiguous piled wall for the basement of the new Heritage Learning Centre. This work took place between October 2021 and May 2022.
- Monitoring ground works and the removal of old floors and services inside Leicester Cathedral. This work took place between January and July 2022.
- Archaeological excavation of the basement area of the new Heritage Learning Centre. This work took place between May 2022 and February 2023.
- Monitoring further ground works within the basement area of the Heritage Learning Centre. This work started in February 2023 and is ongoing.
The project is one of the deepest archaeological excavations ever undertaken in Leicester. Over the past year and a half, we have excavated over 1,100 burials from the footprint of the new building, ranging in date from the 19th century back to at least the 11th century. We have also uncovered rare evidence from the Anglo-Saxon period, and more information on the Roman town.
The burials will be studied by researchers from University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History (SAAH) as part of their Tobacco Health and History project, and by York Osteoarchaeology Ltd. Once that research is completed, all human remains will be reinterred with care and sensitivity by Leicester Cathedral.