November & December 2023 – Before planning your visit, please check our ‘Visitor Notices’ for accessibility updates and one-off changes to opening times. Click here to view.
A BEACON OF LIGHT
Cathedral Creatures Trail
This trail introduces you to some of the ‘Brilliant Beasts’ hidden throughout Newcastle Cathedral, in its windows, monuments and carvings.
The trail has been designed to follow a linear route, starting at the West Door and ending at St Margaret’s Chapel. This plan of the Cathedral should help you find your way around if you become lost!
If you enjoy this trail, please consider making a one-off donation which will go towards the running and continued work of the Cathedral. Click here to donate.
1. Wings of a Dove
Start your journey at the font, by the West Door
A dove flies high over the medieval font canopy below the tower.
In the Bible, a dove brought an olive branch to Noah, signalling the end of the flood, and when Jesus was baptised, the Holy Spirit descended like a dove.
More widely, doves are seen as a symbol of hope and peace.
2. Dragons as a Symbol of Evil
Walk from the North Porch towards the Crypt
In the North Aisle are windows and memorials dedicated to soldiers who lost their lives in battle.
In the book of Revelation, St Michael defeats the dragon in a battle of good over evil. This imagery is often used by armed forces.
St Michael is the central figure in the Northumberland Fusiliers Window, thrusting his spear into a snarling, green-scaled dragon. Beneath, in a circular badge, is the emblem of the Northumberland Fusiliers, featuring St George and the Dragon.
(Left-hand photo by Ann Chapman)
Continue walking towards the Crypt
Before reaching the steps down into the Crypt, you will pass a large dramatic painting by Dutch political cartoonist Louis Raemaekers.
This commemorates the death of Brigadier General James Foster Riddell in Ypres, Belgium, in 1915 and shows the vicious serpent vanquished by St George.
(Left-hand photo by Paul Russell-Sewell; right-hand photo by Alan Edington)
3. Northumbrian Wildlife
Head inside St George’s Chapel
Here you will find lots of images of Northumbrian wildlife.
A range of different birds appears, including the Cuddy Duck at the feet of St Cuthbert and a raven cradled by St Oswald.
There are 24 birds in total, along with five squirrels and an otter.
How many of these local birds can you identify?
4. Mischievous Imps
Continue down the North Quire Aisle towards the Eastern Chapels
On your right, just past the northern entrance to the Quire, you will see an extravagant memorial showing Bishop Lloyd (1844-1907) lying in rest.
See if you can spot mischievous imps clambering all over the memorial’s canopy.
In Germanic folklore, imps are often naughty rather than evil or harmful. They often appeared in church architecture throughout the Middle Ages, so their inclusion is very much in the medieval spirit.
5. Geordie Seahorses
Turn the corner into the Eastern Chapels
Beneath the large ‘Thornton Brass’ on the wall, dedicated to Roger Thornton and his family, you’ll find a Victorian pew which was reserved for the Lord Mayor of Newcastle.
Roger Thornton (who died in 1430) was three times Mayor of Newcastle, making the pew’s placement highly appropriate.
Two seahorses appear as part of Newcastle’s coat of arms, representing the city’s seafaring and maritime heritage.
Seahorses can be found throughout the Cathedral and on buildings such as the 1960s Civic Centre, whose tower echoes the design of our famous Lantern Tower.
6. Biblical Birds
A pelican can be seen nestled at the bottom of the Second World War Memorial Window, also in the Eastern Chapels.
The image of a pelican piercing its own breast to feed its young with its blood is often used to represent Christ sacrificing himself for humankind.
Enter the Quire via the South Quire Aisle
Not far from the High Altar, you will see a late-medieval lectern fronted by an eagle.
This is still used for services today as the place where the Bible is read.
The eagle is the symbol most often associated with John the Evangelist, who described Jesus as the Word of God.
(Lectern photo by Paul Russell-Sewell)
7. Creatures in the Quire
Walk further into the Quire and examine the wooden carved seats on either side
The choir stalls feature carvings of monstrous animals, angels, cherubs and the mythical ‘green man’, rising up from the end of each of the long bookrests.
A menagerie of mythical beasts can be found under the tip-up misericords on the underside of the canons’ stalls. Although Victorian in origin, the woodcarver, Ralph Hedley, based these on medieval examples from Exeter and Carlisle Cathedrals.
Several wyverns feature: these are winged cousins of the dragon, but with claws and wings replacing the front legs.
There are also griffins (aka gryphons), which have a lion’s body but the head and wings of an eagle.
(Top three photos by Paul Russell-Sewell)
8. The Chained Unicorn
Leave the Quire and head towards the South Transept
Before you go further, look up above the South Transept, and you will see the Royal Arms of Charles II.
The combination of lion and unicorn symbolised the union of England and Scotland. The unicorn representing Scotland is always depicted bound by a golden chain. It has been theorised that the chains symbolise the power of the Scottish kings – they were strong enough to tame even a unicorn.
Unicorns are a symbol of purity and grace. Medieval writers likened the unicorn to Christ because of the ‘horn of salvation’ he raised for humankind.
(Photo by Paul Russell-Sewell)
9. King of the Beasts
Look back towards the Crypt, and you will see the Pulpit
A proud lion watches from the foot of the stairs. The lion is often used as an allegory for Christ, such as with Aslan in C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’.
Heading back to the font, stop off at St Margaret’s Chapel
The medieval ‘Unknown Knight’ lies in this chapel and is thought to date from around 1350.
The knight rests his feet on a stone-carved lion: lions being a constant symbol in English heraldry since the Middle Ages.
(Photos by Paul Russell-Sewell)
10. The Vampire Rabbit
After you’ve finished exploring the Cathedral, follow the Churchyard Trail to the Terrace
Here you’ll find the infamous so-called ‘Vampire Rabbit’ with its red fangs and big googly eyes.
He has glared down from its perch above the ornate rear entrance to Cathedral Buildings since 1901.
Is he there to watch over and protect the Cathedral’s old churchyard? Or is he a subtle nod to George Hare Philipson, one of the friends of the architects?
To this day, no one really knows its true meaning!
(Photo by Paul Russell-Sewell)
There are many more creatures hidden throughout the Cathedral. Be sure to share your photos with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
You can ‘check in’ using your phone, tag our social media accounts, or use the hashtag #NewcastleCathedral.
And remember, if you enjoyed this trail, you can make a one-off donation which will go towards the running and continued work of the Cathedral. Click here to donate.