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
Highlights from St George’s Chapel
St George’s Chapel is a space in the Cathedral set aside for quiet prayer and reflection. The chapel has withstood various developments, and part of it was even blown down due to high winds on 3 March 1823 – hardly surprising for Newcastle!
Stepping inside St George’s, you can discover over 700 years of stories buried in its stones and monuments, dating back to the building’s medieval roots as St Nicholas Parish Church…
On the west wall, the stunning Hall Memorial commemorates the family of William Hall, Sherrif of Newcastle in 1608 and Mayor in 1624. The monument features William Hall, his wife Jane and their six children. It was erected by Hall’s only surviving son, Alexander, and originally featured the Hall family crest flanked by an angel on each side. Sadly, with the wear and tear of time passing, the angels have been lost and no longer feature on the monument.
Interestingly, Anne Hall (daughter of William Hall and depicted on the Hall Monument) married Sir Lionel Maddison (son of Henry Maddison and depicted on the Cathedral’s Maddison Memorial), who became Mayor of Newcastle in 1632. Quite the family affair! Unfortunately, part of the memorial was knocked and smashed in 2011. Thankfully, conservators restored it to its former glory only a few months later.
St Catherine’s Window
Tucked just below the Hall Monument is St George’s Chapel’s hidden gem – a beautiful circular window featuring five tear-shaped mouchettes, peeps into the crypt below.
The crypt is believed to have been constructed in the 14th century. It was used for a multitude of functions throughout time until it fell into disuse and was eventually forgotten. Historians rediscovered the space in 1824, full of bones and an assortment of other items that were subsequently removed and reburied. It was eventually converted into a crypt chapel in the 1930s, and work is underway to make it accessible once again.
Circular windows of this kind are often named ‘St Catherine’s Windows’. Catherine of Alexandria was born in Roman Egypt in 287 AD, only living to around the age of eighteen. Catherine was persecuted under Emperor Maxentius, who ordered her to be killed by a ‘breaking wheel’ in punishment for her beliefs. Miraculously, when the wheel touched her body, it shattered, and she was spared – unfortunately, this was a temporary reprieve. She was eventually beheaded for her refusal to denounce her Christian faith.
Catherine is depicted in stained glass high up in St George’s Chapel, in the upper right-hand portion of the Charles Parsons Memorial Window. We wonder if the stained-glass artist intended her vantage point, gazing down towards the crypt window.
Viscount Grey Window
Located on the east wall of St George’s is the Viscount Grey Window, donated by the Rt Revd Harold Bilbrough, Bishop of Newcastle, from October 1927 until October 1941.
Foreign Secretary for eleven years, Viscount Grey helped steer Britain through the First World War and is most famous for his “the lamps are going out all over Europe” remark. While not strictly a Northumberland man, having been born and raised in London, Grey’s formal title was ‘Edward Grey, 1st Viscount of Fallodon’ – a village 5 miles north of Alnwick. Viscount Grey helped orchestrate and sign the Sykes-Picot Agreement (Asia Minor Agreement) in May 1916 and later served as Ambassador to the United States from 1919 to 1920.
The window focuses on Grey’s other great interest: local wildlife. Northumberland’s county bird, the eider or cuddy duck, stands at St Cuthbert’s feet. A lifelong birdwatcher and avid ornithologist, Grey helped to found the British Trust of Ornithology (BTO) and gave his name to the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology. In 1927, Grey authored and published The Charm of Birds, heralded as one for its merits of reading for the pleasure of its prose alone, regardless of one’s interest in ornithology. The window features twenty-four birds, five squirrels and an otter in its menagerie.
Andrew W. Laing Window
Alongside the Viscount Grey Window is the Sir Andrew Laing Memorial Window.
Innovative Newcastle shipbuilder, Andrew Laing, worked on transatlantic liners and battleships in the early 20th century. Laing was a huge national advocate of the prowess of Newcastle and Tyneside in energy, shipbuilding, and mining.
As Managing Director of Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Co., Laing’s greatest achievement was reducing the Atlantic crossing by 27 hours. During the First World War, he engineered and provided engines for sixty-eight naval and Mercantile vessels. In May 1917, Laing received a CBE both for his incredible contribution to the war effort, and services to British engineering. The SS Mauretania was built on Tyneside in 1907 and was a feat of modern engineering. Unsurprisingly, Andrew Laing was involved in designing engines for this fine vessel. A large-scale model of the SS Mauretania is available to see at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum.
The window features the SS Mauretania steaming forwards, flanked by coal and oil works that fuelled Laing’s great, locally built ships. An eagle and the US coat of arms provide a nod to his achievements across the Atlantic, further enhanced by the Blue Riband for the advancement of technology and excellence.
In the centre of the window, above the Mauretania stands St Nicholas: patron saint of sailors and the Cathedral’s very own patron.