Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas @ Newcastle, United Kingdom

March 6th, 2011 10 Commented

Finally, with some time management. Here is another travel post! It’s about the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas.

As I don’t want to mislead any of my readers, most of the information here is taken from the cathedral. They have the best knowledge and facts. So, the credit goes to them. :) We’ll start with a short introduction of the cathedral.

The St. Nicholas’s Cathedral, located on St. Nicholas Street, is famous for its crown spire. It, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, was formerly the city’s parish church, and it still has the feel of an intimate parish church about it. It is the mother church of the diocese of Newcastle, granted Cathedral status when the diocese was created by Queen Victoria. In 1644, during the Civil War, Sir John Marley, Mayor of Newcastle, saved the church from the destruction by the Scots by locking Scottish prisoners in the tower.

The Font

The font and canopy are among the most beautiful features of St Nicholas and date from the early 15th century. The lower part is craved from limestone, possibly from Tournai in Belgium, and the overhanging canopy is a fine medieval wood-craving containing a boss of the Coronation of the Virgin.

Of the eight coats of arms depicted on the sides of the font, six are those of Robert Rhodes, who was a great benefactor of St Nicholas, and the other two are unknown. Soon after entering the town in 1640 on one of their many forays into England, the Scots army broke up the font in the nearby St John’s church.

Cuthbert Maxwell, a local mason who had witnessed this destruction, hurried to St Nicholas, took the font apart and hid the pieces in the vestry. The font remained dismantled until the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, when Maxwell himself retrieved the pieces and re-erected it.

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The Long View

Standing from where the font’s location, you can get your first view of the full length of the Cathedral. The ancient stone arcades draw the eye past the pews, across the central crossing, through the rood screen, past the choir stalls and, finally, to the High Altar, surrounded by the halo of brightness of the east window at the far end.

This is what you have come in to see — a true English church experience that you know has taken hundreds of years of devoted activity to create — but this wonderful view is just the start. There are also many fascinating side-shows of aisles and transepts, monuments and stained glass, carving and weaving to enjoy.

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The Organ

There is evidence of an organ in the church as early as 1503 but we have little information prior to 1676 when a new organ was erected on an earlier Rood Screen. It was supplied by the famous London organ-builder Renatus Harris at a cost of £316, largely supplied by the Newcastle Corporation. There are records of repair and extension of this organ in the 18th century and the Harris organ was that used by the renowned Baroque composer, Charles Avison (1710 to 1770), who was for many years organist at St Nicholas — were his son and grandson after him.

The organ was rebuilt and moved to the north transept between 1881 and 1891 by T.C. Lewis using the original Harris case, sensitively modified and extended by the cathedral architect, R.J. Johnson. It was subsequently rebuilt in 1982 by Nicholson and Co. (Worcester) Limited of Malvern to coincide with the centenary of the building of the new transept organ. St. Nicholas has been left with one of the North’s largest and most exciting organs, housed in two magnificent monuments to organ case design. The golden recumbent figures on top are original while the trumpeting angel is modern.

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Canons’ Stalls

These are the elaborate back rows of 14 seats each set against the north and south chancel sides and, under a document drawn up by the Chapter in 1897, allocated to the Dean, Archdeacons, Residentiary and Honorary Canons in the Diocese. Starting at the west end, the tall canopied single seats are reserved for the Archdeacon of Northumberland on the north and the Archdeacon of Lindisfarne on the south.

Above each seat is a tablet signifying a saint; the Dean, appropriately, sits under the arms of St. Nicholas while the Archdeacon of Northumberland sits under the arms of St. Cuthbert. Many of these seats are hinged with a narrow ledge fitted to the underside so that when raised, the occupant can rest on the ledge and gain support while standing. The ledge and hinge is a very old idea and the medieval word for this arrangement is misericord because it provides assistance to the infirm. It became traditional to decorate the underside of these seats with elaborate cravings of every-day or exotic subjects, and the Victorian misericords here follow this tradition.

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The Thornton Brass

On the wall behind the High Altar is a huge Flemish brass which formerly covered the altar tomb of Roger Thornton in the ancient Newcastle parish church of All Saints, Quayside which closed for Anglican worship in 1959. It is believed to be the largest brass in the United Kingdom.

It is pre-1429 and commemorates Roger who died in that year, his wife who predeceased him in 1411, and their seven sons and seven daughters. Roger Thornton was the "Dick Whittington" of Newcastle having arrived from the Cumberland area in a penurious state. He became a successful merchant in the town and was a great benefactor to St. Nicholas and other churches and institutions. He was three times Mayor of the town and several times Member of Parliament.

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The Maddison Monument

On the west wall of the South Transept is the most attractive and lively monument in the whole Cathedral — the painted marble monument to three generations of the Maddison family. It was erected in memory of Henry Maddison, who died in 1634, and of his wife Elizabeth. They are depicted in the center of the monument, kneeling on each side of a prayer table, and beneath them are the figures of their ten sons and six daughters. On the left are the kneeling figures of Henry’s father, Lionel, and his wife, and on the right that of Sir Lionel, eldest son of Henry, and his wife.

The lively modeling of the figures contrasts with the heavy formality of their antique architectural surrounds of elaborately craved columns, shell canopies, shields and pediments. The whole glorious confection is topped off with effigies representing the ideals of Faith, Hope and Charity.

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The Crown Spire

This is perhaps the greatest and most famous feature of the Cathedral. It is an outstanding example of 15th century decorative design, delivered by refined engineering, which appears to be well ahead of its time. Newcastle’s crown has only one known UK precedent, with succeeding examples in Scotland (including St. Giles, Edinburgh) and in London a few years later. The crown has been rebuilt twice and repaired numerous times in its life. But it was the tower foundations that caused most concern in the 19th century and required the attention of famous local and national architects (and considerable sums of money) to finally put right.

The next photo shows the high altar of the cathedral. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information regarding the following photos. So, I’d just leave them here ’till I could find any reliable sources about them. Meanwhile, enjoy the photos.

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The following photo shows a part of the medieval stained glass of the church. Stained glass windows were used predominantly in churches since 10th to the 16th century. So, it is common to see similar beautifully painted stained glass windows in old churches.

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Lastly, I’ve a HDR photo here taken, on a different day, from the top of Castle Keep which is located within walking range. :)

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Official Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas website

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10 responses to “Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas @ Newcastle, United Kingdom”

  1. Nopy says:

    Old cathedrals like this one are really impressive, both in their size and the shear amount of art in it. I’m still amazed that people were able to build things like this without cranes and trucks to move things and power tools.

    • softz says:

      I totally agree with you. I actually visited this church twice in different time. The combination of lights (from sunlight and church’s lights) gave different feelings in the morning and evening. In the morning, you can see the medieval stained glass beautifully lighted up. Yet, in the evening, the church looks older, making one feels and thinks of its history.

      Talking about building without cranes and trucks, it reminds me of the pyramid. Truly amazing!

  2. Aya says:

    Beautiful,those ornament and sculpture are awesome :)

  3. h4mster says:

    This church have an artistic touch in basically everything! And is is also a strong building judging from the age :D You are so lucky to be there :D

    • softz says:

      h4mster, thank you. If it’s not for my wifey, I don’t think I’d bother visiting all these historical buildings. By the way, there are many interesting places in Indonesia too I believe. Have you done visiting them? I really hope to visit Indonesia soon… real soon hopefully. :)

  4. Yi says:

    Stunning photos! The cathedral is beautiful. The architecture, the stained glass windows, everything! It must have been quite a sight in real life.

  5. Fabienne says:

    Looks like an well build church, mhh also a little bit spooky haha
    the stained glass windows are really nice, must be great to be there at the right time when the sun lights them up ;)

    • softz says:

      Indeed, the church looks different during the morning and evening. In the morning, the stained glass windows are all lighted up. The colorful windows can really brighten up one’s day. In the evening, just like you mentioned, it looks spooky. :) It’s probably due to the age of the church. It was still an eye-opener to me. ;)

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