But its rich tapestry, evident in its ancient crypt and in the intricate carvings which adorn its elaborate quire, has long been at a turning point to meet the needs of modern times.
Ambitions for its future are now within "touching distance", its leaders have said, as architects' visions of what it could achieve are finally revealed.
The plans, for a £6m extension with new buildings to house a refectory, learning space and a 'house of song', are nearing fruition as views are sought on early designs.
To act now for the renewal of the cathedral's roots, said the Very Reverend John Dobson, Dean of Ripon Cathedral, would be to ensure it is well placed to reinforce its future.
"This ancient church has been a cathedral since 1836," he said. "It is as active and vibrant as it has ever been.
"But ultimately, in the 21st century, we are struggling with some of our facilities. We simply do not have adequate space. Now, we have a vision for strengthening that future."
Ripon Cathedral covers the Diocese of Leeds over West Yorkshire and much of North Yorkshire, serving a community of 2.5m people.
It's ancient Anglo-Saxon crypt, built by Saint Wilfrid in 672, is said to predate England itself and remains the nation's oldest known church building in continuous use.
But as the needs of a modern-day community has changed, the cathedral has stayed the same. There are no bathrooms, and the choir rehearses in a Norman undercroft once used as a charnel house for bones. With little storage, one of its main aisles is out of use, while a small shop takes up the floorspace of an entire tower.
Plans for the project, called Ripon Renewed, have been underway for some years with architects appointed last summer to draw up designs.
These are now on display within the cathedral, in the hope of drawing communities' thoughts on the vision before any formal planning process begins.
It would see two new two-storey blocks in an L-shape to the front side of the current building, built in matching stone with picture windows and a landscaped courtyard.
This would house a 'song school' for the choir, a dedicated learning space for schools and community groups, as well as a refectory, storage and shop.
By freeing up space within the existing building, it is hoped that in time the tower could be opened to the public as a viewing platform for the city.
Estimates suggest the project could result in visitor numbers rising 33 per cent, bringing an additional 35,000 visitors and a sustainable income to protect its sacred spaces.
"What we are doing benefits not only the community and Ripon, but the whole of the wider region," said the Dean.
"With a building like Ripon Cathedral, which is of national if not international significance, people are bound to be concerned about the heritage and how we care for its future.
"We have to work hard to ensure that we can manage that care, in a more responsible way. All of these needs are being met by the proposed new building."
An exhibition on artists' ambitions is being held at Ripon Cathedral until the end of September, and two-thirds of the suggested funding has been secured.
Feedback is crucial in ensuring the right moves are made and that there is enthusiasm, the Dean has said, as he seeks opinions ahead of any formal submissions.
With it being such an important structure, the cathedral is working with Historic England, the Cathedrals' Fabric Commission and its advisory body to ensure its historic fabric is retained.
"I'm very keen to hear what the people of the city, of the region, think," said the Dean. "This Cathedral has got these needs, the question is how we meet them.
"If it was easy, it would have been done years ago. There is a determination now to try and resolve these age old problems."
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