SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
What Does Newcastle Cathedral Mean to Alice?
Project Support Officer Alice Massey explains what Newcastle Cathedral means to her…
When I visited the Cathedral during the Glow Festival, way back in 2007, I was enthralled by the Crypt’s stained glass portrayals of an industrial city. In most cathedrals, much as Newcastle’s, most of the stained glass windows depict Biblical scenes, but here was a portrayal of local working people in the coal and shipbuilding industries. Through working and volunteering at the Cathedral, I have enjoyed learning more about the city’s history – who were seen to be the important people, how society operated, and how it has changed over time. But more than that, these windows celebrate the unbreakable spirit and ingenuity of local people.
The four horizontal windows, recessed between the ribs of the Crypt’s north wall, were added in 1932 and given by the family of Sir Archibald Ross, a prominent figure in the local shipbuilding industry.
Coal mining has been going on locally for much longer than I realised and shaped our world since the 16th century. The dangers underground meant that mining was initially a relatively well-paid job, and dressing up and enjoying yourself is part of local DNA because, centuries ago, they had the money to do so.
Engineering solutions to damp, dark and dangerous mines allowed better profit while also saving lives. The lack of canals led to the invention of trains and their evolution into an integrated network (well, nearly!).
The people who manned the boats that shipped coal up-river – the keelmen – set up their own health care system and hospital, the Keelmen’s Hospital, which still stands on City Road. These keelmen were unafraid to turn King James II’s statue into the Tyne during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This collective community spirit and tendency to take action towards social justice remains a big part of the city and its people to this day.
So, we are in the 21st century and facing climate change, with the North East again playing its part in finding solutions to the problems we caused. Newcastle Cathedral is the first cathedral to have a low carbon, air source heat pump providing underfloor heating. This is just one way in which Newcastle Cathedral, along with other churches, continues to look at how it can reduce its footprint.
The Cathedral’s car park has been transformed into a beautiful space for people to come together and find common ground. Many materials and skilled craftspeople have been sourced locally, and young people have been involved in the project through apprenticeships.
This is a place of worship that has been here for as long as the Toon has been… well, a town, and then a city. It was set up and remains for all people, and celebrates them. I love that.
Above: More 20th century industrial scenes can be found in the stained glass windows of St George’s Chapel.
Newcastle Cathedral’s National Lottery Heritage Fund project, Common Ground in Sacred Space is due for completion in summer 2021.
Click here to find out what Newcastle Cathedral means to Rachael (Learning & Activities Officer), Lucy (Volunteer Coordinator) and Alina (Learning Officer).