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
Remembering lives lost in centuries gone by
This article is written by Alice Massey, the Project Support Officer for Newcastle Cathedral’s Common Ground in Sacred Space project.
We recently gathered for a poignant service of remembrance – not in Newcastle Cathedral, but at Jesmond Old Cemetery, to mark the reinterment of human remains and the burial of disintegrated military colours.
During the refurbishment project, which involved relandscaping the old churchyards, some human remains were uncovered from 17th and 18th-century graves. The exact origins of many of these is unknown owing to previous building work, and others had become dispersed from their original plot and headstone.
With the building work in the churchyards now complete, it is fitting and right that we reinter the remains of these men and women in holy ground.
Canon Clare McClaren, the officiating Minister, explained: “We have gathered to commit to their final resting place, the mortal remains of eighteen faithful souls. We know not their identity, but each one is precious in the sight of almighty God. And gathered also in remembrance and thanksgiving, to bury alongside these bodies, ten colours, including the Colours of the 19th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and the 9th (Northumberland Hussars) Battalion, which have hung proudly in our Cathedral Church for over 100 years, and which now must be laid to rest.”
In attendance were the Cathedral Archaeologist Dave Heslop; Pat Halcro, a local historian; members of staff and volunteers from Newcastle Cathedral; Mark Lamb, Head of the Bereavement Department at Newcastle City Council; and Military personnel connected with the Royal Fusiliers, as well as a local bugler to play both The Last Post and finally, Reveille.
The sun shone brightly as we stood and thought back to the times from previous centuries, while the wind of another 2022 storm warned of more trees falling. The lives lived and lost either through natural causes or through battle.
Pat Halcro explained: “I was privileged to attend a small service… for the burial of bones excavated from St Nicholas’ Churchyard during 2021.” She felt it was important to pay her respects to “the lives of the people named on the gravestones” whom she researches, so that they are “remembered for their contribution to Newcastle.”
Military colours are traditionally consecrated by a senior Church of England cleric; today this tends to be a Chaplain General. These dignified items are ‘laid up’ in a place associated with the regiment when they are no longer called upon for ceremonial purposes.
Colours hang in many churches as a form of remembrance and, according to the Queen’s Regulations, when they can no longer hold their own weight on their supporting pike, must be respectfully laid to rest in consecrated ground. The regiments we remembered had endured horrendous conditions and saw terrible fighting at Arras, Ypres and the Battle of the Somme.
Major Greenwood, from The Army Honours and Distinctions Committee, said that “we [the committee] are most grateful for the sensitive and dignified way this burial was handled”.
Major Graeme Heron, Vice President of the Royal Regiment Fusiliers Association and Operating Commander for the Northumbria Army Cadet Force, added that “the moving service [was one] valued by veterans and cadets alike”.
The Cathedral porches and north aisle are filled with war memorials and regimental colours, commemorating those who died in various conflicts. Outside in the churchyard, a trail ribbons its way around the perimeter of the building, encouraging visitors to contemplate and interact with the historic environment. A number of significant gravestones and monuments commemorate booksellers, toy makers and other past traders of the city.