Christopher Bromley-Martin on the origins of Norwich's
IN 1877 Henry Fitzalan Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, married Lady Flora Hastings. In thanksgiving for his happy marriage, he bought the site of the old City jail, just outside Norwich City Wall. Then, making over the huge sum of £250,000 to the Bishop of Northampton, the Duke financed the construction of the Church of Sr John the Baptist, of which the foundation was laid in 1884. The architects were Giles Gilbert Scott and John Oldrid Scott, sons of the great Sir Gilbert; and the style is Early English.
Now, a century later, the building is longer than four cricket pitches. Its nave is 81 feet high and 64 feet wide. Beer stone from Devon was the original material used, but this was found not to be capable of standing up to our Norfolk weather and the builders changed to Ancaster Weatherbed and Clipsham.
Inside is a wealth of interest and distinction. The Calvary of the magnificient rood screen was carved by Peter Rendl of Oberammergau; the statue of St John the Baptist and the Stations of the Cross are the work of Frederick Stufflesser, of Ortiesi in the Austrian Tyrol. The font is of Frosterley marble, surmounted by a canopy of oak.
One side chapel, to Our Lady of Walsingham, is shield-shaped and based on the Cathedral chapel at Leon, near Reims in France. In the south aisle is the sunken chapel, which is used for daily Mass; here the stained glass represents the four Christian names of the duchess: Flora, Pauline, Esther and Barbara. They are surmounted by Our Lady Queen of Flowers.
By a cruel stroke of fate, Flora died in 1887, aged only 34. When the church was opened in 1910, the Duke was accompanied by his second wife, Gwendolen.
The west end has a stone gallery, originally intended for the organ. Above it are the great windows designed by Dunstan Powell. They portray St John the Baptist pointing out Christ on the Cross, surrounded by four of the prophets and King David.
Unfortunately, shortage of space forbids any further descriptions. But there is no substitute for a
visit. In 1976 Pope Paul VI created the new diocese of East Anglia and Dr Alan Clark was installed by Cardinal Hume as its first Bishop. The Church of St John was simultaneously promoted to the status of Cathedral. Dr Clark retired in 1995 and was succeeded by Bishop Peter Smith.
It was Bishop Clark who, in 1983, established the Friends of the Catholic Cathedral of East Anglia. He did so with the aim of promoting the Cathedral as the focal point of a far-flung diocese and of enhancing the worship within it. To that end the Friends have extended the Cathedral shop; they have installed a new sound system and a new organ. Their present undertaking is to install new lighting.
The work of the Friends will never be completed. New members are needed. East Anglian readers of this article, especially, are urged to consult the advertisement below, and to consider how they might help.
Christopher Bromley-Martin is a Friend of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of East Anglia