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Old Norwich - Cathedrals

Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist

Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist

Norwich boasts two cathedrals - Norwich Cathedral (Anglican) and the imposing Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist (left).

The latter stands at one of the highest points in the city. It was begun in 1884 and opened in 1910. The architects were George Gilbert Scott junior and his brother, John Oldrid Scott. The style is a very pure form of 13th-century Decorated Early English, a fine example of revival architecture.

St John's is the second largest Catholic cathedral in the United Kingdom.

To find out more about this wonderful cathedral, visit the history pages of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist website.

Norwich Cathedral

View of Cathedral entrance from underneath Erpingham Gate

In the heart of Norwich stands the Cathedral, separated from the busy streets by flint walls and entrance gates, but still a living part of the city. At least three services are held in the Cathedral every day, often sung by the choir. The choristers are pupils of King Edward VI School, which has its daily assembly in the Cathedral. Concerts, lectures and exhibitions also frequently take place here.

The Cathedral was begun in 1096, the vision of Herbert de Losinga, first bishop of Norwich. Building work on the Cathedral, a bishop's palace and the associated Benedictine monastery continued throughout his life, but the Cathedral was not finally consecrated until 1278. The building is mainly of Caen stone, a pale, honey-coloured limestone brought over from Normandy, but Norfolk flints form the core of the Cathedral, and stone from Northamptonshire was used for medieval additions.

This great church has a Norman ground plan and walls, and a Perpendicular roof and spire, added after a fire caused by lightning destroyed the wooden roof and spire in 1463. The Cathedral spire is 315 ft (96m) high - second only in height to that of Salisbury. Below the tower, late medieval flying buttresses support the roof at the east end. The decision to replace the wooden roof of the nave with stone vaulting was taken by Bishop Walter Lyhart. Running from east to west, the stone ribs are joined by painted bosses that tell the story of the Bible from the Creation to the Last judgement.

Fan vaulted roof of the presbytery - added after the fire of 1463

The organ screen breaks the view from west to east of the Cathedral as one enters the nave. The earliest surviving written reference to an organ in the Cathedral dates from the 14th century. A succession of new organs were built, and later destroyed, either by fire or deliberately through the centuries. The existing organ, which was constructed in 1899, was damaged by an electrical fire in 1938. The organ was rebuilt by the original makers Hill, Norman and Beard. The mechanism was replaced, but about half the pipes were reused, some of them dating from earlier reconstructions as far back as 1663. The organ case, designed by Stephen Dykes Bower, was made in 1950.

The choir stalls were for the Benedictine monks. The ledges on the underside of the tip-up wooden seats were designed to support the elderly or sick. The woodcarvings beneath are known as misericords.

Picturesque view of the rear of Norwich Cathedral

The treasury has silver chalices and communion plate lent by Norfolk and Norwich parish churches and is housed in the reliquary arch, an area designed originally as a secure place for medieval treasures. The painted walls and ceiling are outstanding 14th-century work.

One of the most notable features of the Cathedral is the Saxon bishop's throne, brought from North Elmham Cathedral and placed by the Normans behind the high altar, where its stone fragments can be seen underneath the wooden throne. The placing of the throne, in an apse facing the people, follows the tradition established by early Christian worship in Roman basilicas, and Norwich Cathedral is unique in northern Europe to have retained the throne in this position throughout its history.

One of the Cathedrals beautiful stained glass windows

Seven sacrament font in St Luke's Chapel

At the east end of the Cathedral there is a curved aisle with four chapels. The Jesus Chapel on the north side of the Cathedral has a rare example of a medieval mensa or altar slab. At the far end of the Cathedral is St Saviour's Chapel - the Regimental Chapel of the Royal Norfolk Regiment - which contains a group of painted medieval panels from the redundant church of St Michael at Plea. On the south side there is a carved stone effigy, which may be older than the Cathedral itself and probably represents St Felix, the 6th-century bishop who brought Chrstianity to East Anglia. The font of St Luke's Chapel is medieval seven sacrament font and originally came from the lost church of St Mary-in-the-Marsh, which once stood inside the Cathedral Close.

Also in St Luke's Chapel is the Despenser reredos, a medieval treasure which was painted in the 1380s, almost certainly in Norwich by a local artist. This was saved from destruction over the centuries, hidden until 1847 as the underside of a table.

Finally there is the Bauchun Lady Chapel, which has a fine modern stained glass window depicting members of the Benedictine Order , including Herbert de Losinga and Mother Julian of Norwich.

The cloisters

Herbert do Losinga - Bauchon Lady Chapel

The Cathedral cloisters were designed for two purposes, as a covered walk between parts of the monastery and as a place where the monks could read, write, teach and perform other work. As well as opening from the nave, doors from the cloisters led into the chapter house, to the dormitory stairs, the warming house, the infirmary, the library, the refectory, the guest hall and the locutory, where monks could talk to visitors. Appropriately, this last room now houses the Cathedral shop. The visitors' centre is in the west upper storey of the cloisters, and can be reached from the Upper Close.

Find out more on the Norwich Cathedral website.


Did you know...St John's Cathedral is the 2nd largest Catholic cathedral in the United Kingdom.