Newcastle Cathedral

Newcastle Cathedral by Paul Harrop from Wikimedia Commons
Newcastle Cathedral by Paul Harrop from Wikimedia Commons

The Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas is a Church of England cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne. St. Nicholas was born in Greece and died in 343 AD. He is the patron saint of children and mariners which might explain the position of the cathedral on the northern heights of the city above the River Tyne.

In 1080, William the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert Curthose came south after fighting King Malcolm III in Scotland and built a castle on the River Tyne. It was called Newcastle and just to the north, in 1091, a parish church, probably constructed of wood, was built close to the line of Hadrian’s Wall which extended through the center of the city. The first reference to a St. Nicholas church dates from 1194. Towards the end of the twelfth century, a stone church was erected on the site. Unfortunately, two fires destroyed much of this building in the early thirteenth century. What was left was extended and repaired and the present structure dates from 1350 and is predominantly of the Perpendicular architectural style.

Near the end of the fourteenth century, the walls were heightened and a clerestory was added in order to allow more light into the church. The magnificent lantern spire and tower were completed in 1448. It has served as a navigation point for ships coming up the River Tyne for hundreds of years. Each corner of the lantern is adorned with gilded statues which depict Adam eating the apple, Eve giving Adam the apple, Aaron dressed as a bishop and David holding his harp.

In 1553, Newcastle tried to become a city and divide itself from the Diocese of Durham, creating a Bishopric of Newcastle with St. Nicholas church as it base. But Queen Mary Tudor, upon her accession, reversed this endeavor. The interior of the church was severely damaged by Scottish invaders when they occupied the city in 1640. In 1644, during the Civil War, the city was under a nine week siege by the Scots and they threatened to destroy the lantern tower. The soldiers were dissuaded from doing any damage when the mayor, Sir John Marley, positioned his Scottish prisoners in the tower.

The structure was heavily restored in 1777. During the mid-nineteenth century, Newcastle experienced a large increase in population and twenty new parish churches were built. Once again, the attempt was made to separate the city from the Diocese of Durham and this time the city was successful. The new Diocese of Newcastle was formed and on July 25, 1882, the building became known as the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas. The Cathedral underwent extensive renovations, especially of the chancel area and new stone and wood carvings were added as well as colorful stained glass windows depicting scenes from the lives of Christ and northern Saints and symbols of St. Nicholas himself.

Some of the fine features of the interior of the Cathedral include a marble monument commemorating Admiral Lord Collingwood who took over command at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 after the death of Admiral Lord Nelson and a thirteenth century effigy of an unknown knight, probably a member of King Edward I’s household. Another feature is the Thornton Brass, a memorial to Roger Thornton and his family which dates from the mid-fifteenth century. Thornton was a prosperous merchant, three times Mayor of Newcastle, several times Member of Parliament and an important benefactor of the cathedral.

Just to the north of the Cathedral is a bronze statue of Queen Victoria erected in 1903, two years after her death. In 1926, a hall, library, vestry and subsidiary rooms were added to the north-east side of the Cathedral. In December of 2011, a new lighting scheme of the Crown of the Cathedral was dedicated which serves as a beacon for the townsfolk.

Virtual tour of the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas