01 April 2024

The Duke of Norfolk built
the Catholic cathedral in
Norwich as a thank-offering
for a happy marriage

Saint John the Baptist Cathedral in Norwich is the second largest Roman Catholic cathedral in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

During last week’s brief visit to Norwich, I spent much of an afternoon in Norwich Cathedral and visited a number of churches. We were staying in Saint Giles House Hotel, close to the Roman Catholic cathedral, but by the time I got there it was late in the afternoon and the building was closed.

Saint John the Baptist Cathedral in Norwich is the second largest Roman Catholic cathedral in England. It has been the cathedral of the bishop and the diocese of East Anglia since 1976, but it was built in 1882-1910, and the story of Roman Catholic churches in Norwich dates back to the mid-18th century.

The Roman Catholic community in Norwich built a church on Ten Bells Lane in 1758-1762 and a chapel near Saint John’s Alley in 1791. The Second Catholic Relief Act (1791) permitted the first new generation of Catholic places of worship to be built in England and Wales since the Reformation. The 1829 Act of Emancipation removed most remaining inequalities from Catholic worship and was accompanied by a growing architectural confidence.

The Catholic community in Norwich had outgrown the chapel on Ten Bells Lane by 1829, and a replacement was built on Willow Lane.

Henry Fitzalan-Howard (1847-1917) became the 15th Duke of Norfolk in 1860 at the age of 12. As the Duke of Norfolk, he was seen as the most prominent lay Catholic in England. He married his first wife, Lady Flora Abney-Hastings, in 1877, and in 1878 he wrote to Francis Amherst, Bishop of Northampton, expressing a wish ‘to build a church as a thank-offering’ ‘after my most happy marriage.’

He proposed building a larger church for Catholics in Norwich, as Norfolk was his titular ancestral country. When the site of the former Norwich Gaol, on a prominent site beyond the mediaeval city walls, became available, the duke funded its purchase and building a new church.

The duke decided the new church should be built in the Early English architectural style of the early 13th century and maintained an active role in the design work following the appointment of the prominent architect George Gilbert Scott junior (1839-1897) in February 1881.

The north porch of the cathedral … the cathedral was designed by the brothers George Gilbert Scott junior and John Oldrid Scott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The cathedral, standing on the corner of Unthank Road and Earlham Road on the western edges of Norwich, was built between 1882 and 1910 to designs by George Gilbert Scott junior and his brother John Oldrid Scott (1841-1913) as a parish church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

Scott’s design was in most respects an exemplary exercise in the Early English, but in some aspects it departed from English precedents to reflect French architectural traditions, possibly suggested by the Duke of Norfolk.

Due to GG Scott’s declining health, his brother JO Scott periodically took over as lead architect, first in 1884 and increasingly from 1888 until GG Scott’s withdrawal from the project in 1894.

The foundations were laid in 1882-1883, and building of the nave formally began on 17 July 1884. The nave was opened in 1894 with a temporary wall at the east end behind which building work continued, mostly to the designs of JO Scott.

The chief stone mason was James Ovens of Norwich and the stained glass was designed by John Hardman Powell working with the Scott brothers. Powell’s son, Dunstan Powell, designed the later glass installed at the east end and in the north transept.

Funding was restricted during the later years of construction. This meant an organ intended for the west nave gallery was never installed and bells were not placed in the tower.

The church was fully opened on 8 December 1910 and dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. But establishing liturgical arrangements in the sanctuary and chapels was a gradual process that took several decades.

A temporary high altar was installed when the principal building works were completed. but a permanent altar in the sanctuary was not built until 1957. This was in memory of Father George Fressanges and was designed by Adrian Gilbert Scott in Hornton stone.

An altar was also erected as the south side altar in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at this time and bronze screens were installed in the arcades to both south and north of the sanctuary which had previously been part of the gates to the boundary wall around the site, designed by JO Scott.

The west end of the cathedral … the cathedral was built between 1882 and 1910 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) introduced major reforms, including architectural changes informed by the liturgical movement and the reordering of churches to reflect a greater ecumenism and communality of worship. Following Vatican II, JO Scott’s altar rails were removed from the Sanctuary in 1971 and a throne, new altar and steps were installed in 1976. Choir stalls from the chapel of Notre Dame Convent were added in 1981.

Paintings of Saint Felix, Saint Etheldreda and Saint Edmund were placed below the east windows in 2000 and the Chapel of East Anglian Saints was created behind the high altar.

Further reordering in 2007 brought a new altar of Ancaster stone and Frosterley marble with 12 riddel posts around it and a new lectern designed by Russell Taylor Architects.

Several 19th century benches were moved to the sanctuary from the Church of England Church of Saint Stephen in Norwich in 2009, with a tester designed by Russell Taylor. The riddel posts were reduced in number in 2018, the east end of the sanctuary was refloored, a new altar was erected on the site of previous high altar, and the Chapel of East Anglian Saints behind was removed.

In response to Vatican II, a new temporary altar designed by Donovan Purcell was placed under the crossing in 1969. This was replaced with a permanent stone altar by Antony Rossi in 1977, incorporating parts of the 1957 Fressanges high altar from the sanctuary.

Under the crossing, a raised stone apron extends from the sanctuary with a simple table altar of 1997 by Anthony Rossi. The carved beam and rood (1910-1911) was installed by Robert Bridgeman and Sons of Lichfield and Peter Rendl of Oberammergau, possibly to a design by JO Scott, and spans the chancel arch.

A new pulpit by Anthony Rossi was added in 1997.

The Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour on the east side of the north transept became the Walsingham chapel with three windows designed by Clayton and Bell, installed in 1920.

The Children’s Window by Dunstan Powell on the chapel’s north side suffered war-time damage in 1942 and was replaced by John Hardman Powell’s Lady Window relocated from the north aisle of the nave.

The cathedral complex also includes stone boundary walls designed by JO Scott and Cathedral House, a presbytery, built by JO Scott to a layout established by GG Scott abutting the south transept and sacristy.

The church was designated as the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Baptist when the Diocese of East Anglia was formed in 1976, and was consecrated a cathedral that year. The Diocese of East Anglia covers an area of 12,570 sq km (4,900 sq m) and includes Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Until then, Norwich was part of the Diocese of Northampton.

The door in the north transept … the cathedral has been listed Grade I for historical and architectural reasons (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The only substantial addition made to the building has been the narthex extension, begun in 2004 to the designs of Anthony Rossi and completed as a larger building in 2010 by Russell Taylor. The Narthex opened in 2010 as the cathedral visitor centre and connects to an earlier parish hall of 1972 by Purcell Miller Tritton.

The Duckett Library on the south side the cathedral opened in 2012. It is named after Canon Richard Duckett, who was the rector of the church from 1876 to 1910.

The cathedral has been listed Grade I for historical and architectural reasons. The historical reasons see the cathedral as an illustration of the continuation and revival of Roman Catholic worship in Norwich in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and as a major Roman Catholic place of worship nationally.

The architectural reasons explain that it is as an exceptional work of Early English Gothic Revival design by the Scott brothers, and with high quality masonry and stained glass. The cathedral forms part of a group with Cathedral House and the boundary walls to the cathedral complex, also designed by the Scott brothers as a unified scheme.

The cathedral stands on the site of the Norwich Gaol on the corner of Unthank Road and Earlham Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
2, 1 April 2024

The Resurrection … an Easter scene in a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This has been a busy Easter , and I have been involved in readings and the choir in many services in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, over the past four days.

This week began with Easter Day (31 March 2024). Throughout this week, my morning reflections include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day.

Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

Matthew 28: 8-15 (NRSVA):

8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

The Risen Christ greets Mary Magdalene … a window by CE Kempe in Saint John’s Church, Wall, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Monday 1 April 2024, Easter Monay):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Easter Day Reflection.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by the Revd Dr Carlton John Turner, USPG Trustee.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (1 April 2024) invites us to pray:

Lord, we pray for the continued renewal of the Church and all Christian communities.

The Collect:

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin
and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may reign with him in glory;
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit
be praise and honour, glory and might,
now and in all eternity.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of Life,
who for our redemption gave your only–begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
have delivered us from the power of our enemy:
grant us so to die daily to sin,
that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

God of glory,
by the raising of your Son
you have broken the chains of death and hell:
fill your Church with faith and hope;
for a new day has dawned
and the way to life stands open
in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The Resurrection depicted in a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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