Do you know, in all the years we’ve lived up here, we hadn’t ever been into Newcastle Cathedral until last bank holiday Monday. It seems silly, as it is so easily reached from the town centre, but for some reason I had managed to miss it all these years. I’m quite sorry that it took us all of ten years to actually make a pilgrimage inside, as it is a lovely if externally-unimposing building.
Like most things in Newcastle, the Cathedral is heavily tied to the region’s industrial past. Indeed, most of the cathedral’s footprint was extended from its humble parish church status to the cathedral form you see today in the C18th and C19th, when the growing upper classes required church authority be centred in Newcastle rather than Durham.
Thus, most of the cathedral is very typical Victorian; with heavily ornamented carved screens and reredos and lots of stained glass. Unfortunately, in the process of adding on and ‘improving’, the Victorians didn’t do much in the way of conservation of the church’s historic ornamentation, so a lot of character was lost in the process. The Victorians have a lot to answer for – as does Oliver Cromwell (but that’s for a whole other time!) Thankfully, the Victorians did like their churches and cathedrals heated, and did a stellar job of installing radiators to keep the place warm in winter!
Whilst not as light as Wells and definitely not on the same scale as the great Gothic cathedrals of Lincoln or Peterborough, Newcastle has a certain charm about it. Indeed, it is barely larger than a large parish church, even with the Victorian add-ons, but I think that is something that runs in its favour as it feels far less imposing than visiting Lincoln cathedral.
The stained glass is almost entirely Victorian, with the exception of one tiny circular piece of Medieval stained glass taken from what was the All Hallow’s church before it was demolished in the C18th (why?!) to build the more ‘modern’ church(!) that can be seen today. Whilst I’m a big fan of preservation and conservation of the original, I am partial to a bit of Victorian stained glass, so I will go with it.
My favourite window(s) in the church are in a side chapel and are dedicated to Northumbria’s two saints: Oswald and Cuthbert. Above is the window dedicated to St Cuthbert, filled with local wildlife.
Whilst this one is dedicated to St Oswald, with much more exotic creatures (like a Mandarin duck!). The stained glass itself isn’t old, made in 1933, but I do love the windows a lot as they hold a lot of meaning for this region.
In an attempt to make the place more grandiose for the wealthy industrialists, the wood carver was sent to Exeter cathedral to make copies of some of the misericords (though we don’t think he copied the very lewd carvings he would have seen there!). We did meet and get talking to one of the volunteers, who took us on a sort of impromptu tour of the cathedral, pointing out all of these things that we might otherwise have missed. We were very lucky, as there was hardly a soul there and we got to ask a lot of questions and find out a lot about the cathedral’s history.
This is the Thornton Brass and the picture does not do it justice – it is huge. In fact, it is the largest brass in the UK and is quite something to behold. It would originally have been the top of the family’s tomb, but was moved and mounted behind the altar. It is a Flemish brass, probably pre-1440 and pays homage to Roger, his wife and their seven sons and seven daughters. If you look hard enough, you might also see the family dog hiding!
The oldest part of the original church has been made into a separate chapel for quiet contemplation. It is hidden a bit from the main part of the church and has been used as a charnel house, too (when the church decided to disinter the bones of all those who had been buried within the church – and later cathedral’s – walls). It is much cooler than the rest of the cathedral and has a proper church ‘smell’ about it; my kind of place!
Stained glass was added at the edge of the vaulted ceiling and commemorates the region’s heritage. All in all, we had a great time visiting it and I will definitely be visiting again when I can. I would recommend finding a volunteer to ask questions and also buying a copy of the guidebook to get some added info (we never buy guidebooks, but did buy theirs as we were interested enough to do so!).