Yep, the picture in my last post was a picture of Newcastle. (Well done, Midas! 😉 ) A city I visited at the start of me and Merel’s hike along Hadrian’s Wall, which we did this summer. On the first day, I had a few hours to myself in Newcastle, while waiting for Merel to arrive.
Newcastle upon Tyne is about a 100 miles south of Edinburgh. As you would expect, Newcastle is indeed named after a castle. The Romans built a bridge over the river Tyne here, and a ‘new castle’ was built in 1080 by the Normans (more about this in a future post). In the 17th century, Newcastle grew wealthy through coal export and shipbuilding. According to my guide book (Rough Guide to England): “At one time, 25 percent of the world’s shipping was built here, and the first steam train and steam turbine also emerged from local factories.” Impressive stuff! The city still looks extremely industrial today.
When I arrived by train from the south, the first sign of arrival in Newcastle was the sight upon The Angel of the North. This massive steel sculpture by Antony Gormley has been looming over the A1 for almost two decades now and is the country’s most viewed sculpture! The artist meant the sculpture as a celebration of industry and as a reminder that miners had worked at the site for two hundred years. From the train, the sculpture was still quite far away, so unfortunately I didn’t get a perfect look at it. I would still like to visit it some time, though, since it must be an impressive sight: it has a wingspan of 54 meters and is 20 meters tall! I had sort of seen the sculpture before, though, as the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has a maquette of it in the one of the staircases.
Upon arrival, I first visited St Nicholas Cathedral (for Dutchies: that’s Sinterklaas!). A church stood here from 1091 onwards, when the Normans also founded the nearby castle. A fire destroyed the building, and it was rebuilt in the 14th century in its current style: the Perpendicular Gothic style, with a strong focus on vertical lines. Its impressive 60-meter-high tower – see below – was erected in 1470.
St Nicholas was a patron saint of sailors and boats. Newcastle’s position next to river Tyne may have been the reason to name the Cathedral after this saint.
The first thing you come across when entering this cathedral is the magnificent font, dating from the 15th century, reminding the church-goer that it is through baptism that one enters membership of the church. The lower part is carved from limestone, and the canopy is a fine example of medieval woodwork. Six of the coat of arms depicted on the font are that of Robert Rhodes, a benefactor of the church.
In 1640, there was a great Scottish uprising due to the attempt of King Charles I to enforce the use of the English Prayer Book. The Scottish army occupied Newcastle and destroyed the interiors of many religious buildings during their raids. A local mason named Cuthbert Maxwell wanted to avoid the font at the Cathedral being destroyed, dismantled it, and hid its pieces. And indeed, as Cuthbert Maxwell had feared, Scottish soldiers did a lot of damage to the interior of the Cathedral. When they threatened to demolish the tower, mayor Sir John Marley put Scottish prisoners in it to deter them. As you may know, England remained unstable for quite a while during this period, as Charles I was executed, a republic was declared, and the monarchy brought back only in 1660. It was then that Maxwell himself finally retrieved the pieces of the font and assembled them.
It can be seen that the font cover hanging from the tower’s ceiling is slightly off centre! This is due to the tower leaning southwards somewhat.
This marble monument commemorates Admiral Lord Collingwood, the admiral who took over from Admiral Lord Nelson after he died at the Battle of Trafalgar (see my post on Greenwich for more on Nelson!). Collingwood was baptized and married in this Cathedral.
I thought a very special feature of this Cathedral was this little piece of old medieval stained glass.
The Cathedral also had a small, but beautiful collection of icons of St Nicholas. The above icon provides a good example of the rules by which icons were created. St Nicholas’ ears are uncovered as God is always listening. Also, his nose is long to ‘breathe in the breath of God’. The halo represents the light of God. Gold represents heaven. And finally, there are no shadows, as the light of God shines equally on all.
This memorial is definitely the highlight of this Cathedral: the Thornton Brass. This piece of Flemish brass from 1441 is dedicated to Roger Thornton: merchant, mayor of Newcastle, and Member of Parliament. Historians believe it is the largest brass in the country and it used to cover Thornton’s tomb. The brass depicts Thornton, his wife, seven sons and seven daughters. It seems Roger Thornton was a typical ‘rags to riches’ case. An old saying about him goes:
At the Westgate came Thornton in
With a hap, a halfpenny, and a lambskin.
This Cathedral is relevant to our Hadrian’s Wall trip in that some historians claim that Hadrian’s Wall used to run right through the churchyard! In my next post, I will cover my visit to another great historical sight in Newcastle: the castle!
On another note, I’m involved in a great radio sitcom called ‘Technical Difficulties’, created by Max Maher, which you can listen to here: