The Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas
The Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas is one of the most beautiful and historic buildings in Newcastle. The spire has dominated Newcastle’s skyline and served as a prominent landmark and navigation point for ships in the River Tyne for over 500 years.
Most of the cathedral’s features date from the 14th and 15th centuries, although the earliest surviving fragment is Norman, dating to around 1175. Later additions such as the 18th century Palladian library designed by James Gibbs and built on to the south elevation have extended the church.
St. Nicholas was an historical figure, born between AD 260 and 280 in the village of Patara. At the time, the area was Greek but it is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His parents were well-off and raised him as a devout Christian. After the untimely death of his parents, Nicholas used his whole inheritance to help the needy, and this Christian generosity became his hallmark and the stuff of legend. He devoted himself to the service of God and was made Bishop of Myra when only a relatively young man. He suffered imprisonment for his faith before attending the historic Council of Nicaea in AD 325.He died on 6th December AD 343 in Myra and was buried in the cathedral there. The saint’s feast day has since been celebrated on 6th December each year. Although he is best known as the patron saint of chil dren and mariners, some very unlikely groups are in his patronage. The long list includes barrel makers, parish clerks, candle makers, florists, grocers, lawyers, lovers, spice-dealers and pawnbrokers.
It is believed that during the siege of Newcastle in 1644, when the Scottish army threatened to blow up the Church using a canon, the mayor Sir John Marley put his Scottish prisoners in the lantern tower, saving it from destruction.
In 1736 Charles Avison (1709-1770), one of the most influential English concerto composers of the 18th century, was appointed organist at St Nicholas Church giving him not only a regular income, but also musical status. Although substantially repaired, extended and modified since it was originally supplied in 1676 by Renatus Harris, the Cathedral’s organ, used by Avison and his son and grandson is still used today.
Inside the Cathedral A finely carved marble monument commemorates Admiral Lord Collingwood (1748 – 1810), who took over command at the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October 1805) after the death of Admiral Lord Nelson. He was baptised and married in St Nicholas, and each year, on the 21st October, a wreath is laid in his memory in front of the monument.
In the mid-19th century Newcastle experienced a huge increase in its population, leading to the construction of over 20 new churches in the suburbs. As Newcastle continued to grow, so did its need for a diocese separate from Durham, and so in 1882 the Diocese of Newcastle was formed, with St. Nicholas’ as its cathedral. With this, Newcastle was designated a City in the same year.
The Cathedral is filled with beautiful stained glass. A beautiful roundel depicting the Madonna feeding the Christ Child is the only surviving medieval stained glass. More modern stained glass works such as in St. George’s Chapel were erected in honour of two of Tyneside’s late 19th / early 20th century industrial pioneers who both died in 1931 within weeks of each other. Other references to industry can be found in the Cathedral’s stained glass including in the Charles Parsons’ window which features ‘Turbinia’ the first turbine driven steam yacht with which Parsons astonished the Queen’s Navy at the Spithead naval review in 1897.
The Cathedral hosts one of the finest Flemish brasses in the United Kingdom. Originally covering the tomb of Roger Thornton, three times mayor of Newcastle, several times Member of Parliament, successful merchant and great benefactor to the Cathedral the ‘Thornton Brass’ (pre 1429) is believed to be the largest brass in the United Kingdom. This commemoration to Roger Thornton, his wife, seven sons and seven daughters can be seen behind the High Altar.
The Chancel furnishings were designed by Ralph Hedley (1848-1913), a woodcarver, painter and illustrator, best known for his paintings of everyday life in the North of England.
Just to the north of the Cathedral stands a bronze statue of Queen Victoria erected to commemorate 500 years of the Shrievalty (the jurisdiction of a sheriff) of Newcastle. Sculpted by Alfred Gilbert and unveiled in 1903, two years after Queen Victoria’s death, the statue was a gift from W. H. Stephenson, a company director and politician who held the office of mayor in Newcastle seven times.
The Cathedral holds many special services, events and concerts throughout the year.
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