06 December 2011

New lights for Saint Nicholas in Newcastle

Saint Nicholas ... to be seen throughout the cathedral in Newcastle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

They were celebrating Saint Nicholas’s Day a little early in Saint Nicholas’s Cathedral in Newcastle at the weekend.

But today [6 November] is the feastday of the Bishop of Myra who has given us our legends and our stories about Santa Claus.

The Cathedral Church of Saint Nicholas is one of the smaller of England’s smaller cathedrals, but the cathedral is much older than the diocese and dates back to 1091 when the parish church was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and boats.

The original parish church was destroyed in a fire in 1216. It was rebuilt in 1359 and became a cathedral in 1882 when the Diocese of Newcastle was formed.

The cathedral says that its dedication to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, underpins its “special concern for the place of childhood in our society,” and this plays an important part in the cathedral’s developing educational programme.

An icon of Saint Nicholas at the west end of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Images of Saint Nicholas can be found throughout the cathedral, one of the three 15th century bells is named after him, and as part of the Saint Nicholas Day celebrations today, the tower of the cathedral is to be illuminated this evening for the first time in decades thanks to a £20,000 donation.

The donation from the Fenwick Family Trust means the cathedral’s lantern at the top of the tower is going to be lit after being out of use since the 1970s. The tower was built in the 15th century and originally served as a beacon for travellers and seafarers making their vway from the north or along the River Tyne.

The Lantern on Newcastle Cathedral ... due to be lit up again this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The Dean, the Very Revd Christopher Dalliston, says: “As far as we can gather, the lantern was still in use as a beacon until the late 18th century but once the town was lit by gas, it fell out of use. The lantern was lit by electricity in the 1960s and possibly early 1970s, but then the lights fell out of use.”

Cathedral staff worked with council officials in Newcastle and English Heritage to find a design to fit the cathedral surroundings. The new external lighting scheme will highlight the architectural details of the lantern and will have a balance of light and shadow to compliment the cathedral’s structure after dusk.

“We are delighted that we are bringing it back into use once more,” Dean Dalliston told local media. “The tower has an important role to play in the history of the city and we hope that the initiative not only respects the past but also gives the lantern a modern feel. It will make for a stunning addition to the city’s night-time landscape.”

The re-lighting of the tower will take place at a public service of blessing this evening.

Black-and-white Santas on the shelves in Saint James’ Park, Newcastle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Meanwhile, a short distance away, in Saint James’s Park, a little north of the cathedral, Saint Nicholas has taken on a new role, or new hues at least. Instead of being dressed in Coca-Cola red and white, the Santas on the shelves in the Newcastle United shop are all decked in black-and-white. Perhaps they have red-and-white Santas on the shelves of the Sunderland shop.

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