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29 October 2014
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Inside the cathedral
Inside the cathedral

The Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul

Sheffield city centre's only medieval building - a place of worship for over 1,000 years. We asked Nick Howe, a Canon at the cathedral to tell us more...

A working cathedral since 1913, the building is listed grade one and contains architecture from the 15th to the 20th century, including magnificent Tudor memorials and striking stained glass.

After the Second World War the nave was extended rather than being rebuilt, as originally planned, and the enlarged Cathedral was rehallowed in November 1966.


Nick in St Katharine's Chapel
Nick in St Katharine's Chapel

"I think it is a very special building," says Canon Nick Howe.

"People seem to respond very positively to it. I guess it’s not one of those cathedrals that’s on the usual tourist track, but people do make their way in to have a look around.

Mostly people use it as a quiet space in the middle of a busy city. To get a bit of peace and quiet, to sit and think, maybe to pray, light a candle and listen to some music.

There’s something about the human scale of it that people find attractive. It’s not over awing by any means. But it is attractive and interesting, I think, as a building.

Sheffield's Anglican cathedral
Sheffield's Anglican cathedral

Partly because it has been changed so much over the centuries. If you were concerned for architectural unity – it could be a building that wouldn’t satisfy you very much. But if you’re interested to see how things have grown and developed then it is a fascinating.

As far as we can tell the history of the church in this location goes back to Saxon times. There is an ancient Saxon cross which was discovered nearby, which is now in the British Museum.

The oldest part of the remaining church, that we have today, goes back to the 15th century, and that is largely the area that is at the east end, which is the space under the tower, the quiet area and the Sanctuary.

Tomb of the Fourth Earl of Shrewsbury
Tomb of the Fourth Earl of Shrewsbury

Since the 15th Century things have been added. A chapel has been placed in the south east corner, called the Shrewsbury Chapel. That was a private chapel for the Earls of Shrewsbury, and contains, now, two of the finest tomb monuments in the country, to the fourth Earl and his two wives and the sixth Earl, who happened to be the gaoler of Mary, Queen of Scots."


"There was a major plan, between the wars, after the building became a cathedral, which it did at the beginning of the twentieth century, to swing the whole of the axis of the building through 90 degrees and make it much, much bigger. As befits a cathedral for such a grand city as Sheffield.

St George's Chapel
St George's Chapel

Consequently they started building. They built out towards the north and completed a whole series of extra rooms and chapels, which was going to become the focal point for the whole building. There were plans, then, to build out to the south, but those never materialised. So it has a quite lopsided feel, the building, it can be quite difficult to orientate your way around.

It’s a building, I think, for exploring at leisure and discovering little nooks and crannies, places you weren’t expecting."


"There are a few places, in here, which I find very special.

Crypt Chapel
Crypt Chapel

One is what we call the crypt, more properly the Chapel of All Saints. It’s a place that feels underground, built as part of the 19th century development. It’s very simple, quite dark, almost gloomy, but not quite. A place where you can feel quite detached from the hubbub of the city and restful.

I also like  St Katherine’s Chapel, which is on the north east side. That marks the place that used to be the old fire engine shed for the city. That was knocked down and replaced by this chapel.

There are some very old pieces of furniture there, which I like sitting on because there’s continuity, between me and the people who have used this building over the centuries. It’s almost enclosed as a space, but not quite, so it feels a little more intimate than some of the other spaces. We use it for meditation and it works very well for that.

Going over to the south side of the church, at the east end, I like looking up, going through the Chancel area, seeing the angels looking down from the hammer beam roof. They've been looking down, there, for the past five centuries or so.

St Katharine's Chapel
St Katharine's Chapel

A bit further, again looking up, seeing some of the green men designs and the Sheela-Na-Gig  figures, that are carved in the roof, there, remnants of a pagan sensibility still within this Christian building.

In the 1960’s it was decided that the building was simply too gloomy and to try and get more light into it they took away the west end, relocated the big west end window, there, on the north side and built out a space that is much larger and more open and illuminated, by basically clear glass windows on the west side.

Lantern roof

But from above there is light coming through the multi coloured stained glass of a lantern. On a sunny day the sunlight streams through there, picks up the light and places it on the floor and the walls of the building and that’s, I think, very attractive."


The ship’s bell?

"The building has always, of course, been closely linked to the city of Sheffield.

One aspect of the city’s life has been its links with HMS Sheffield. Best known, perhaps, as a ship which was sunk during the Falklands war.

Ship's bell

There have been a number of HMS Sheffield’s and within the cathedral you can find various artifacts from those ships. Including a large ensign that flies in the chapel of St George and the ship’s bell. It’s the bell of HMS Sheffield – marking one of the links between the cathedral, the city and the ship."

And there are railings made of sabres?

"Yes – they look a bit fearsome at first, in the chapel of St George, which was, under the redevelopment plans, going to be the high altar area, but has become a side chapel dedicated to the York and Lancaster regiment.

Fence of swords
Fence of swords

It looks like a fence or balustrade of swords and bayonets. At first glance it looks like a celebration of all things military and of warfare. In fact, the swords are placed point upwards and the bayonets are placed point downwards, so this is symbolically, a laying aside of the weapons. It looks like a fence that speaks of war, but actually it’s supposed to speak of peace and the end of fighting."


The future, for Sheffield's Anglican cathedral?

"When you look at the building you can see that it has been much altered over history, over time, and I suspect that process will continue into the future. One of the things we’ll have to address, quite soon, are the very practical issues like heating and the furniture literally wearing out.

There are plans to do some fairly minor reordering of the inside of the building. To make more of the font area, to place, maybe, a sunken font under the impressive glass of the lantern window, to make the link there.

Then, maybe, to bring forward the altar area, to allow the congregation a better sense of involvement in the Eucharist – which is of course the main activity which takes place inside the cathedral."


View of St George's Chapel
View of St George's Chapel

"There are plans to enhance the work that we do with the city’s most disadvantaged people. An integral part of the cathedral’s life at the moment is something called the Breakfast and Archer Projects which provide food, education, life skills and  training principally for unemployed and homeless people in the city.

It’s used by many hundreds of people through the year. It is located off site at the moment. We hope to have some redevelopment on the north side of the cathedral, attached to the cathedral building, which will provide new accommodation for that work, to make it evident that it is integral to what we’re about as a cathedral, to give them better facilities. That is hopefully something that will be happening in the next few years."


Sheffield Cathedral, Church Street, Sheffield, S1 1HA
Tel 0114 275 3434.
Fax 0114 278 0244


last updated: 13/08/04
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