Iconic Gloucester Cathedral in UK Goes Solar

Formally blessed and sanctified, 150 solar panels forming a 38 kW array have been pressed into religious service at the iconic Gloucester Cathedral in Gloucestershire, England. Dubbed the oldest cathedral in the world to install solar panels, the new photovoltaic system will help reduce the ancient cathedral’s energy costs by 25%.

Panoramic view of solar panels on Nave roof of Gloucester Cathedral. Credit: MyPowerUK.com
Panoramic view of solar panels on Nave roof of Gloucester Cathedral. Credit: MyPowerUK.com

Gloucester Cathedral Project Pilgrim Manager Anne Cranston noted, “We have bought clean energy for the past few years, but churches and cathedrals have the benefit of being west-east aligned and therefore a lot of us have these south facing roofs. She continued, “It seemed somewhat of a gift if we could take advantage of it.”

Overseeing the solar installation, MyPower’s Ben Harrison stated, “From a green perspective, it’ll save them about 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide … per annum.” He explained that the CO2 offset would be “equivalent to planting several acres of woodland per year.”

Harrison added, “In terms of the sustainability, the energy production, it’s been extremely satisfying.” He also noted that the project was “the opportunity of a lifetime. Very few people get the opportunity to go on the roof of Gloucester Cathedral, let alone be part of creating its future.”

Gloucester Cathedral in Gloucestershire, England. Credit: Wikipedia commons
Gloucester Cathedral in Gloucestershire, England. Credit: Wikipedia commons

Gloucester Cathedral’s 1,300-Year History

England’s iconic Gloucester Cathedral has been a house of worship for over 1,300 years. In 678-9 AD, Anglo-Saxon Prince Osric founded religious services on this sacred site. The site underwent a dramatic renaissance in the 11th century, during the Norman Conquest. By 1089 under King William I, building began and the stunning architecture of the Abbey of St Peter rose to global acclaim.

Although the Gloucester Cathedral is most recently famous for hosting Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter films, nine-year-old Henry III ascended the throne of England and was crowned king here in 1216. And, in 1327, King Edward II was buried here, with a shrine-like monument erected over his tomb.

King Edward II was buried in the Gloucester Cathedral in 1327 AD. Credit: gloucestercathedral.org.uk
King Edward II was buried in the Gloucester Cathedral in 1327 AD. Credit: gloucestercathedral.org.uk

The 16th century saw the dissolution of monasteries under King Henry VIII, the evolution of the Church of England, and the renaming of St. Peter’s Abbey to Gloucester Cathedral. Led by a Dean and a chapter of Canons, the Gloucester Cathedral became the seat of the Bishop of Gloucester in 1541.

Throughout the centuries, Gloucester Cathedral has endured times of war and disaster, as well as times of peace and festivities. Rather than rebuilding or remodeling, the faithful keepers of Gloucester Cathedral chose instead to honor its historic heritage by carrying out a mission of conservation work. Surviving steadfastly, this extraordinary example of sacred architecture from the Middle Ages still stands today as an awesome testimony to the profound relationship between humans, God, and houses of worship.

Rev. Canon Celia Thomson lays the first solar panel. Credit: MyPowerUK.com
Rev. Canon Celia Thomson lays the first solar panel. Credit: MyPowerUK.com

Shrinking the Church of England’s Carbon Footprint

Reverend Canon Celia Thomson laid the first of 150 solar panels on 25 October. Reducing the Gloucester Cathedral’s energy costs by 25%, the new 38 kW solar power array is part of the Church of England’s “Shrinking the Footprint” campaign. This campaign aims to shrink the Church of England’s carbon footprint by 80% by 2050.

The roof of the Nave was selected as the ideal location as the parapet wall crenellations and pinnacles hide the panels from ground view. This was critical because, as a Grade I listed building, the solar panels must be invisible from the surrounding area.

“The installation of solar panels on such a beautiful and beloved building as Gloucester Cathedral has raised interest locally and nationally,” said Anne Cranston.

Sitting atop the lead roof above the great Nave built almost 1,000 years ago, the solar panels employ a unique non-penetrating fixing system. This innovative system was locally designed and manufactured by Sunfixings at Bourton on the Water, a village in Gloucestershire, England. In addition, MyPower’s Ben Harrison designed an innovative way to hide the concrete ballast blocks used to offset the weight of the non-penetrating fixings and prevent any uplifting of solar panels.

Cranston continued, “it’s been fantastic that MyPower have been taking such great care with the work. Since starting on site, the team have identified a way of hiding the ballast beneath the panels which our structural engineer is delighted with.”

Finished just in time for Evensong on 21 November, the solar panels received a special blessing during a delightful ceremony to switch on the Gloucester Cathedral’s new solar system.

Harry Potter Fans Join the Ancient Pilgrimage to Gloucester Cathedral

Anne Cranston was especially happy with MyPower’s work, because, as she explained, “they’ve managed to accommodate both the physical restrictions of the site and the fact that we’re a place of worship as well as a busy destination for visitors.”

Over the millennium of its existence, Gloucester Cathedral has always enjoyed high status as a site of religious and historical pilgrimage. However, with the incredible popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series and films, a huge new influx of pilgrims is flocking to Gloucester Cathedral.

Used as a filming location for the first, second, and sixth Harry Potter films, the Gloucester Cathedral at first drew a great deal of criticism from opponents. Many suggested that the theme of magic was unsuitable for a church, but the famous cloisters were nevertheless approved as the setting for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Just for fun, here’s a wonderful little YouTube clip of one family’s pilgrimage to Gloucester Cathedral in which scene locations for the Harry Potter films are identified by an official Cathedral Guide:

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThHCqLSYy5c)

 

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About the Author

Aisha Abdelhamid (Birth-name Kathleen Vail) is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, sustainable economics, corporate social responsibility, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.