Wakefield Cathedral, Yorkshire


Wakefield and Bradford are the two Cathedrals I have never visited. I have a North East Rover ticket this week, so got up early on Sunday 22 June 2014 and was on the 0755 from Newcastle. It was a slow journey due to “over running engineering works” and I reached Wakefield Cathedral about 15 minutes before the 11 am Common Worship (Traditional). I went in through the glass doors and was hit by the smell of incense. It was a bit noisy waiting for the service to start – difficult balance between getting a congregation to be friendly and keeping some peace to pray (whether you’re in Ponteland or Wakefield) – but when the servers, thurifer and choir came together, a bell was rung and we were off. There must have been 80 of us in the congregation, plus 16 boys, 16 men, 3 clergy, 4 servers. They were using the High Altar, Quire and Nave – so everyone processed in, east, censed the altar, then the clergy and servers came back to the pavement (our side of the screen). That took a while! I enjoyed wonderful organ improvisations while everyone processed. Boys and men (who had done one service at 0915) sung Schubert in G very well, Jubilate in F by Ireland for a gradual, the sermon was a bit “this is what the latest CofE report says about mission”, and we all sang a Creed which did not do what I expected it to do. There was a bit of a hiatus at the peace when we dismissed a chorister – Gideon – after many years service. It was lovely that we had an opportunity to thank him (and a lot of his family were there) and also thank the whole choir for their work in the last year – but I would have done it at the end of the service. (They have a girls’ choir too, singing this afternoon and next week). Then lots more censing, Eucharistic Prayer, a long walk to communion, beautiful motet “Hymn to the Trinity” by Tchaikovsky spoilt by two ladies on the pew behind me discussing the noticesheet, and the final voluntary was Cochereau’s “Scherzo Symohinique” – 8 minutes of it, music while I photographed. Having photoed I had a good chat with the Churchwarden’s mum and daughter – there is a lot of work being done, more money to be raised and spent for the East End, and what is obviously a vibrant place.

The Cathedral has recently had a major rebuilding. You can see photos of a Victorian Cathedral with Victorian pews at https://www.flickr.com/photos/tyrone-fleming/sets/72157629389676227. There has been Christian worship on this site for over a thousand years, and the parish church became a Cathedral in 1888. George Gilbert Scott did a major rebuild. They really have done a major de-clutter. New lighting scheme and sound system too. Their excellent “Short Guide” has a good description by John Bailey, their architect, of what they have discovered and achieved. Tradition says that the western tower was built as a free-standing structure by 1420, then the gap between the tower and church was filled in – “now the walls have been cleaned, we can see the clear evidence that this was indeed the case with a straight joint between the original Nave and the tower.” The floor is a new Yorkshire sandstone floor, which incorporates a labyrinth as a focus for prayer and pilgrimage, as well as 21st century underfloor heating and electrical services needed.




The labyrinth was a very good addition to the design, and the guide tells you how to use them. There are many labyrinth websites: http://www.labyrinthos.net/churchlabuk.html – gives you some in England, I would add the outdoor one at Shepherd’s Dene (our Diocesan retreat house) and this one. This is a worldwide listing (my next sabbatical, visit all labyrinths … by local bus, of course) – http://labyrinthlocator.com/home

DSC00522“Labyrinths can quieten our mind, quicken our spirit, inspire our creativity, touch our joys or sorrows, help us to meet God and remind us of what is important in our lives. The practice of labyrinth walking integrates the body with the mind, the mind with the spirit, and the spirit with the eternal.” This Wakefield labyrinth is based on the Bayeux design and has five circuits. 


I had been welcomed by the 14 bells (actually, I didn’t count if all 14 were being rung) in the spire.



The tower window is a Last Judgement by Hardmans of Birmingham, 1868. The windows on both sides of the nave are mostly by Kempe – OT themes on the north side, NT on the south.




The font is a restored and newly gilded octagonal font of 1661. The initials are those of Charles II and the churchwardens at that time. The inscription round the base was carved by Celia Kilner in 2013. The panelled roof is Victorian, though the gilded bosses are mostly medieval. The Nave Altar and ambo were designed by Dovetailors of Blubberhouses in North Yorkshire and are made of oak and burr oak, inlaid with ebony. Nice candle tree too.




There was also a simple photo exhibition of photos from Syria before the Conflict – very thought provoking. They are by Rupert Martin and were taken in 1999. He wrote “I spent three weeks exploring Syria. … We stayed in a Convent outside the walls of Damascus, built on the sit of Saul’s conversion, and walked down the Street called Straight. … We travelled down through Hama to the Christian village of Ma’losla, hearing the Lord’s Prayer spoken in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Sadly this village in the mountains above Damascus has also been the scene of terrible fighting and is now largely empty as people have fled. During our journey we experienced the warm hospitality of the Syrian people, who offered us tea and friendly conversation wherever we stopped. … These photographs taken in happier times are a poignant reminder of the beauty of Syria and its people, and an incentive to remember Syria in our prayers and actions.” Here are just two of his photos:


The lowest section of the Rood Screen is a Victorian restoration of what was left of a medieval screen; the middle section was erected in 1635, the work of Francis Gunby of Leeds. The medieval figures did not survive the reformation – these are J. Ninian Comper. The six winged seraphs on each side are standing on wheels of fire. The Latin inscription is John 3.16 “God so loved the world …”.




In the Quire it is a mix of medieval and Victorian carvings. I didn’t have a close look at the misericords etc or search for the Green Man. The organ is Abbot and Scott 1905, recently restored. The Sanctuary is 1905 extension to the Cathedral, oak high altar by Frank Pearson. The reredos, which includes some C16 work, was 1896 work of John Oldrid Scott (Gilbert Scott’s son).



In the North Aisle we have a lovely carved organ, and monuments of William Donne Vicar of Wakefield and others. Kempe windows.


St Mark’s chapel has a nice hanging by Sylvia Dawson, wife of a former Vice-Provost. Kempe glass too.


The South Aisle contains J. Nesfield Forsyth’s marble effigy of William Walsham How, Wakefield’s first bishop. We know him as the writer of “For all the saints”. He was parish priest for many years of Whittington near Oswestry. According to Wikipedia he took a stand against immoral literature and burned a copy of “Jude the Obscure”. I did it for A level – I’m with the Bishop! There is also a replica of part of a Saxon Cross – now in Wakefield Museum.



In the Lady Chapel I liked this cross-legged Madonna (1986) by Ian Judd and wonderful monument to Sir Lyon Pilkington. The battered cleric is William de Melton, Archbishop of York between 1317 and 1342.



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Leaving through the south door, you come straight into the shopping centre. Large banner tells people they are welcome, and the warden told me they regularly get 200 visitors a day.





Slightly ironic that, having redone the Cathedral, the CofE decided to get rid of the Diocese – recent amalgamation of Ripon, Wakefield and Bradford into the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales – http://www.westyorkshiredales.anglican.org/. I like the snappy title – we used to say Bishop of Ely was the best job and Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich the worse – think of the length of the signatures … . It is depressing when you look at the list of “Who’s who” on the Diocesan website … count the women, then delete the number of women who are the PAs to men … . And – this is the final whinge – read the section of “What we believe” and it includes the phrase “For Christianity at a glance see the BBC website.” You could not make it up!

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