06 December 2022
Today is the Feast of Saint Nicholas of Myra (6 December 2022) , the ‘real Santa Claus’. Last night, instead of retelling the story of the bishop who risked his life when he defended Orthodox doctrine against the Arains at the Council of Nicaea in the year 325, I thought it would be interesting to follow in his footsteps, visiting or revisiting a number of cathedrals, churches or former church sites to which he has given his name.
During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, I offered a number of ‘virtual tours’ of churches and other sites. My offering last night, on the eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas, was a ‘virtual tour’ with Saint Nicholas of a half-dozen churches in Greece, and a half-dozen more spread across the Czech Republic, Malta, Italy, Spain, Slovakia and Turkey.
Continuing this theme in a second ‘virtual tour’ this evening, I am visiting a dozen more churches, cathedrals and former church sites named after Saint Nicholas in England and Ireland.
1, Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle on Tyne:
The Diocese of Newcastle was formed in 1882, and Saint Nicholas Church became the most northerly cathedral in England. Saint Nicholas is a Grade I listed and dates from the early 14th century. For over 900 years it has been at the centre of the city’s spiritual and civic life and its memorials and ledger stones which reveal much of the heritage of the region.
The cathedral has one of the finest lantern towers in England, dominating the skyline since the 15th century. The architectural historian Sir Niklaus Pevsner describes it as ‘Four flying buttresses leaning against each other and holding up a tall square lantern, battlemented and pinnacled – a rare form of medieval crown in Britain.’
The cathedral retains substantial elements of its mediaeval fabric, as well as examples of work by prominent architects including Daniel Garrett, John and Benjamin Green, John Dobson, and George Gilbert Scott.
Inside, the cathedral has one of the largest collections of monuments and ledger stones in northern England. It has many mediaeval heraldic bosses and a fine mediaeval font with a contemporary wooden cover with elaborate gothic tracery. The 19th century chancel embellishments include wood and stone work by Ralph Hedley, Robert Beall and JS Westmacott.
2, Saint Nicholas Cole Abbey, London:
Saint Nicholas Cole Abbey, standing on what is now Queen Victoria Street, dates from at least the 12th century. When the church was destroyed in the Great Fire, it was rebuilt by the office of Sir Christopher Wren. The church suffered substantial bomb damage from German bombs during the London Blitz in World War II and was rebuilt by Arthur Bailey in 1961-1962.
The church is named after Saint Nicholas of Myra, but was never an abbey. The name Cole Abbey is derived from ‘cold harbour,’ a mediaeval name for a travellers’ shelter or shelter from the cold. The earliest reference to the church is in a letter of Pope Lucius II in 1144-1145.
After the accession of Queen Mary I, this was the first church to celebrate Mass again, on 23 August 1553. In the 17th century, the living was owned by the regicide, Colonel Francis Hacker, a Puritan who commanded the execution detail of Charles I.
The church was rebuilt by Wren in 1672-1678, becoming the first church of the 51 lost in the Great Fire to be rebuilt. After World War II, the church was restored under Arthur Bailey and re-consecrated in 1962.
Under the name St Nick’s Church, Sunday services re-started in November 2016, along with midweek meetings. Services are described as ‘contemporary in style,’ with Sunday clubs and a crèche for youth and children. But there is no mention on any of the leaflets or handouts of when the Eucharist is celebrated.
3, Saint Nicholas Church, Liverpool:
The Church of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas is the Parish Church of Liverpool. The site is said to have been a place of worship since at least the 1250s. The church is close to the River Mersey near the Pier Head. The Chapel of Saint Nicholas was built on the site of Saint Mary del Quay, which in 1355 was determined to be too small for the growing borough of Liverpool.
Until 1868, the church was the tallest building in Liverpool at 53 metres (174 ft). The present church was rebuilt after World War II, and is now a Grade II listed building. There are daily services, and the church is open to visitors throughout the week.
4, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge:
King’s College Chapel plays a central role in college life, and is the most instantly recognisable and iconic building in Cambridge. In addition to being a place of daily worship during term-time, it is where new students matriculate, where Fellows are admitted, and where the choir performs concerts and records music for our own record label.
The chapel broadcasts ‘A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols’ live on radio to millions of people every Christmas and every year pre-records new television services for both Christmas and Easter.
King’s College Chapel is dedicated to both the Virgin Mary and Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was the personal patron saint of the founder of the college, King Henry VI, who was born on Saint Nicholas Day, 6 December. The foundation stone of the college was laid in 1441 and the chapel was completed in 1515.
5, Saint Nicholas of Myra Church, Dublin:
My great-grandmother, Anne (Doyle) Comerford (1834-1899) was baptised in Saint Nicholas of Myra Church, Francis Church, Dublin, on 25 August 1834, the year the church was completed. The church was designed by John Leeson, who also worked on the Pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street, Dublin, and briefly on the plans for Saint Andrew’s in Westland Row. Building work began in 1829 and the church was opened in 1834 and dedicated in 1835.
The portico and tower, designed by John Bourke, were added in 1856-1860. This Ionic portico and Italianate tower, in granite and Portland stone, are probably the most striking features of the church.
At one time, the pediment was topped by statues of the Virgin Mary with Saint Nicholas and Saint Patrick on either side, but these have been removed. Inside, the church is neoclassical in style and is strikingly beautiful, brightly painted and decorated.
6, Saint Nicholas Collegiate Church, Galway:
The Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas in Galway is the largest mediaeval parish church in continuous use as a church in Ireland. It is the Church of Ireland parish church in Galway city, and was built in 1320 on the site of an earlier chapel.
Galway is a major port, and in the Middle Ages Saint Nicholas was revered as the patron saint of sailors and seafarers. The earliest parts of the church, the chancel, nave and transepts, date from the foundation of the church. Local legend claims Christopher Columbus worshipped there when he visited Galway in 1477.
The church was given the status of a collegiate church by Donatus Ó Muireadhaigh, Archbishop of Tuam, in 1484, the same year Galway received a Royal Charter and the right to elect a mayor. This collegiate status was confirmed by a papal bull issued by Pope Innocent VIII in 1485.
7, The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and Saint Nicholas, Galway:
The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and Saint Nicholas, commonly known as Galway Cathedral, is one of the largest and most impressive buildings in the city. Construction began in 1958 on the site of the old city prison. It was completed in 1965, making it the last great stone cathedral to be built in Europe.
John J Robinson, the architect, had previously designed many churches in Dublin and around Ireland. His designs draws on many influences. The dome and pillars reflect a Renaissance style. Other features, including the rose windows and mosaics, echo the broad tradition of Christian art. The cathedral dome, at a height of 44.2 metres (145 ft), is a prominent landmark.
8, Saint Nicholas, Adare, Co Limerick:
Saint Nicholas, the Church of Ireland parish church in Adare, Co Limerick, is a short walk from the village on the road out to Limerick City, on the banks of the River Maigue. The church was founded as an Augustinian Priory in 1316 by John FitzThomas FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Kildare. Once known as the Black Abbey, it is a fine example of a mediaeval Irish church, and remained a priory until the dissolution of the monastic houses in the 16th century.
The priory church was repaired and renovated in the early 19th century and became the Church of Ireland parish church in 1807, replacing the Manorial Parish Church of Saint Nicholas of Myra. This stood near the Desmond Castle and fell into ruins after 1806.
The refectory was roofed and converted into a schoolhouse in 1814. Between 1852 and 1854, a second restoration of the church was undertaken by Caroline, Countess of Dunraven. The church complex now includes the former Augustinian cloisters, a school dating from 1814, and the Dunraven Mausoleum, which dates from 1826.
9, Saint Nicholas Church, Dundalk, Co Louth:
The parish church of Saint Nicholas in Dundalk, Co Louth, was built in the 13th century. Known affectionately as ‘the Green Church,’ it once had three chantry chapels. The tomb of Saint Richard of Dundalk, Archbishop of Dundalk, dating from 1370, was damaged at the Reformation. It was still identified as late as 1624, but its location is unknown today. The parish historian, HG Tempest, suggests he was buried on the site of the present chancel, was built between 1694 and 1706, in a place now behind the altar.
The church was extensively rebuilt and remodelled in the 17th and 18th centuries, and again by Francis Johnston in the 19th century, so that only the nave and tower date from the mediaeval period. In 1954, a side chapel under the gallery in the south transept was set aside to commemorate a former rector, the Revd JJ McClure, and was dedicated to Saint Richard.
10, Saint Nicholas Church, Limerick:
Saint Nicholas also gave his name to Saint Nicholas Church on the mediaeval High Street of Limerick, now known as Nicholas Street.
The church, between Saint Mary’s Cathedral and King John’s Castle, was one of the five mediaeval parish churches in Limerick. The Church of Saint Nicholas is mentioned in the Black Book of Limerick and was used by sailors and merchants. It was believed to have been a low roofed church with a parallel nave and had disappeared by the end of the 17th century.
11, Saint Nicholas Within, Dublin:
Saint Nicholas Within was a Church of Ireland parish church in inner city Dublin. It stood on the corner of Nicholas Street and Christchurch Place, where part of its entrance may be seen next to the Peace Park.
The original church was built in the 11th century by Bishop Donat. It was dedicated to Saint. Nicholas of Myra by Archbishop Alexander de Bicknor (1317-1349), when the parish of Saint Nicholas was extended outside the city to include the Manor of Saint Sepulchre and the ainDeanery of St Patrick. The parish was divided into two parts: Saint Nicholas Within the Walls and Saint Nicholas Without.
The church fell into disrepair in the 17th century, and was rebuilt in 1707. By 1835, it was again having problems, and it was unroofed, although a chapel in the church, Saint Mary’s, continued to be used until 1847. It was planned to demolish the church and build a new one. However, this was never done, and the parish united with Saint Audoen’s in 1867.
12, Saint Nicholas Without, Dublin:
For several hundred years, the Church of Saint Nicholas Without was the north transept of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, with a wall separating the church and the cathedral. The parish was first mentioned by Pope Celestine in a Bull in 1191. The parish took in both sides of Patrick Street (except Saint Patrick’s Close), New Street and most of Kevin Street. The parish was divided in 1708, creating a new parish of Saint Luke.
The north transept fell into disrepair in the 18th century, and the Lady Chapel (formerly called the French Church, as it had been used by the Huguenots) was rented by the parishioners of Saint Nicholas Without.
The north transept was rebuilt in 1822 and was used until 1861, when the parish of Saint Nicholas Without was united to Saint Luke’s. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was renovated subsequently, and the north transept re-built.
We are in the second week of Advent, and the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, ca 326, with a Lesser Festival.
Saint Nicholas was a fourth-century Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, in what is now southern Turkey. His reputation as a worker of wonders was enhanced by a ninth-century author of his hagiography and he is now best known through these stories. Many of them concern his love and care for children, how he fed the hungry, healed the sick and cared for the oppressed. He saved three girls from a life of prostitution by providing them with dowries and so developed the tradition of bearing gifts to children on his feast day, a practice appropriated for the Christmas celebrations. Nicholas is also one of the patron saints of Russia.
Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.
During Advent, I am reflecting in these ways:
1, The reading suggested in the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced by Lichfield Cathedral this year;
2, praying with the Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’
Mark 10: 13-16 (NRSVA):
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
The Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar:
Pray for the world’s children, especially those living in poverty, or with disease or disability or who encounter abuse or manipulation.
Almighty Father, lover of souls,
who chose your servant Nicholas
to be a bishop in the Church,
that he might give freely out of the treasures of your grace:
make us mindful of the needs of others
and, as we have received, so teach us also to give;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
God, shepherd of your people,
whose servant Nicholas revealed the loving service of Christ
in his ministry as a pastor of your people:
by this eucharist in which we share
awaken within us the love of Christ
and keep us faithful to our Christian calling;
through him who laid down his life for us,
but is alive and reigns with you, now and for ever.
USPG Prayer Diary:
The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Human Rights in the Philippines.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with an excerpt from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) human rights report by USPG.
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
Let us pray for those who live with loss and trauma. May their grief be met with compassion and understanding and their injuries with help and healing.
A sermon on Saint Nicholas Day 2020
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org