The Diocese of Sheffield
Rotherham, Sheffield and all the surrounding towns and villages were part
of the Diocese of York for many hundreds of years and therefore looked
to York Minster as their cathedral. In the late 1880's, with the growth
of industry in South Yorkshire, it was decided to create a new diocese,
with the result that the Diocese of Sheffield came into existence in 1914.
Up until this time what is now the Cathedral was the parish church of Sheffield.
Sheffield Cathedral, like other twentieth-century cathedrals, is both Cathedral
and Parish Church.
There are around 220 parishes and 250 clergy in the diocese.
The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
When preparations were being made for the new Diocese of Sheffield, it was decided not to build a new purpose built cathedral but to enlarge and adapt the old parish church of Sheffield. This cathedral is, therefore, a 'parish church cathedral' (like Wakefield and Bradford): it has its own parish as well as being cathedral of the diocese. Major extensions where started in the 1930's but were abandoned during World War 2. In their place a simpler addition to the west end was planned and opened in 1966.
The Cathedral from Fargate
To enter this cathedral church is to stand in line with long years of faith and worship and hope. The past and the future meet within these walls in a strangely significant way; for this is the house of the living God who blessed our ancestors here as they turned to Him in their need, and who would again bless us.
People have said their prayers and offered their worship on this ground for nearly 1200 years; and if stones could but talk they would tell us of the anxious prayers of people here while William the Conqueror devastated this part of Yorkshire, and of some local knights and their serfs who feared the wrath of the king following the murder of Thomas a Becket (Norton and Beauchief have very close associations here). They would tell of the sufferings of people during the Barons' War in 1265 when town and castle-and probably church-were burned down. They would tell of the emotional stresses of the Reformation period and of how years later one vicar who could not subscribe to the Act of Uniformity moved over the road to the old congregational church, now the upper chapel, Norfolk Street. The stones would tell of the anxieties of Sheffield when its church was impoverished by the passing of the Chantries Act in 1547 and of how certain courageous people made petition to Queen Mary in 1553 to restore sufficient property to the Church to guarantee its continuing ministry. Queen Mary granted such a provision to 'Twelve Capital Burgesses' whose office continues to this day and whose meetings are still held in the cathedral.
Perhaps we should take the story from the stones and find for ourselves a more accurate sequence of the church's link with the events of its history.
In 1569 Mary Queen of Scots was placed as prisoner in the hands of George, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and five years later may well have been allowed to attend the burial of her trusted secretary who was buried here in 1574 - unfortunately without trace.
Some few years later (September 1587) a Robert Sanderson, born in a house at the top of Snig Hill, was brought here to be baptised. His father was perhaps the agent of the Earls of Shrewsbury. None would have guessed that the Royal Navy would at every service for the past 300 years say the prayer he composed for those who "would be a safeguard for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions". Bishop Sanderson- for he finally became bishop of Lincoln-contributed most valuably to the Savoy Conference 1661 and was the author of the prefaces of our Book of Common Prayer (1662).
Some one hundred years
later, John Wesley visited Sheffield preaching in Paradise Square. He was
still an Anglican priest and it would be hard to believe that he never
found time to pray here in Sheffield's parish church. Indeed, we believe
that it was Wesley's preaching desk which is now treasured in our cathedral
It is possible that young James Montgomery listened to Wesley as he preached-he would have been about eight years old and a thoughtful lad. James worshipped frequency in this cathedral, whose great East Window is devoted to his memory, and his influence in Sheffield is beyond measure in all he did to develop Sunday School work in general, in the writing of large numbers of hymns we still love today, and in his becoming the father of the Sheffield newspapers.
The East Window The Great Window
The years have rolled on, the church built in 1100 was rebuilt many times and extended again and again until in 1914 it became - the cathedral of the Diocese of Sheffield as carved out of York. This meant further extensions so that - as seen today - there is much evidence of the care and gifts of God's people, generation after generation. And here too is hallowed ground where people's tears and hopes, their faith and their strugglings after faith, have found expression over more than 1000 years.
Sheffield was not always
the great city it now is. The Industrial Revolution changed Sheffield from
being a small country bound township into one of England's largest and
most enterprising and important cities.
This cathedral must have served but a comparatively small population at first. Its origins - long before it became a cathedral - may be traced reasonably from the 9th century. A large fragment of an old Mercian Cross now resides in the British Museum, but was probably the original centre of worship here on this sacred ground.
The Domesday Book (1085) makes no mention of a church in Sheffield but William had devastated the area only fifteen years before. Within a few years however, there are records of the building of the church by the new Lord of the Manor of Hallam (William de Lovetot). Some of the stones of this first church are clearly seen embedded in the east wall of the Sanctuary. About 180 years later there are records of the building of a later church and of its dedication by Wickwan, Archbishop of York. It is not known whether the first church was replaced by this 1280 church or whether it was devastated in the Barons' War of 1266. In either case, this latter church building was demolished after about 150 years being replaced in about 1430 by the Perpendicular church which still stands. A fuller treatment of the history of the church is made by the cathedral guide edited by Mr. G. H. Rayner - a guide which he has kept up to date as occasion has demanded.
If we stand in the cathedral today beside the font and look towards the east window, we can see evidence of the life of the cathedral. The font of 1881 is placed central to the 1966 extensions, and on the walls around are some of the more ancient memorial tablets carried from other parts of the cathedral in order to tie in the centuries of the cathedral's life with its recent extensions.
Almost immediately above us is the lantern roof typifying the Crown of Thorns. The glory of the Love of God is depicted by the richness of colourful light streaming through the glass, but the thorns penetrate deep down into the cathedral, reminding us that Love is as costly as it is precious.
The wall above the chancel arch bears the marks of two earlier and lower roofs of the nave and the truncated side aisle arches on the same axis showing how their roofs too have been raised. The great window on the left is a composition of the original west window and the main six lights of the window removed to give access to St. George's Chapel.
If now we move down the centre aisle and stand looking to our left into St. George's Chapel, we are looking at what was originally designed ta be the high sanctuary of the cathedral as planned by Nicholson. Between the wars many generous gifts were given and Sir Charles Nicholson planned to swing the cathedral on its axis and enlarge it greatly. The foundations of the new nave were laid and extend out to Church Street under the present lawns. Then the second world war came and the Nicholson scheme proved too costly to execute, even as long ago as 1945-1950!
The Hallamshires were that part of the York and Lancaster Regiment in which many Sheffield sons gave their service, risked their lives, and in many cases gave their lives for their country and the safety of their loved ones. There had been a small Hallamshire Chapel in the pre-war cathedral, and it was decided that the area designed originally for the high sanctuary should be designated the chapel of St. George and have its very special regimental link. The old Hallamshires have been disbanded as such, but the gallantry and chivalry of their service in the cause of right and re-establishment of peace, is evidenced and continued in their offering of their swords point upwards (service still being offered) while the bayonets are placed points downwards as weapons of war laid aside. This sword screen is believed to be unique.
Looking through the chapel of St. George we see the Te Deum window of the chapel of the Holy Spirit. This chapel was designed to be the Lady Chapel in the Nicholson plans and now with its Comper Screen and stalls it proves a place of peace and beauty.
The Chapel of St. George The Te Deum Window
We are still 'standing' midway up the centre aisle. From the chancel arch forward is the 15th-century church with a side chapel to either side and each with its special interest. The church had been cruciform but these two side chapels have brought the east wall to an unbroken axis.
The north chapel (St. Katharine's) was extended over the ground where once had lived the Sheffield Fire Brigade Engine. Now, however, after years of other uses, the chapel stands refurnished in recognition of the work of women in the ministry of the church, and in particular of Mrs. Burrows, wife of the first Bishop of Sheffield, and Deaconess Western.
The ancient oak screen standing before the organ near the entrance to St. Katharine's Chapel introduces us to the chapel (the Lady Chapel) on the far side of the cathedral. This south choir aisle had been extended in 1520 as a private chantry place for the earls of Shrewsbury and it was separated from the main body of the cathedral by the old oak screen just mentioned. The altar table of the original Lady Chapel stood in front of this screen and until 1933 the area behind was essentially Roman Catholic. Many people have been intrigued to find a stone in the floor of the cathedral between the sanctuaries of the Lady Chapel and the high altar referring to a later bond between the two Communions of the church. In 1972 the Dean and Chapter invited the priests and people of St. Marie's Church to share the use of the cathedral on weekdays, while St. Marie's was in the hands of builders. The stone in question marks the generous appreciation with which this invitation was accepted.
The Lady Chapel The Holy Spirit Chapel
The cathedral enshrines both history and faith, but it is nevertheless a living vehicle still in its ministry of Word and Sacrament. Here the Gospel is proclaimed of God's love for us unworthy people and of His redemption of us as He purchased us back to Himself in the mystery of the Goss; and here is proclaimed the truth of the living Lord Jesus who though not visible to our naked eyes is One who meets us at every turn of life's pathway and-in His amazing love-would journey with us, and call us to journey with Him.
The fuller 'Guide with some historical notes' edited by Mr. G. H. Rayner has far more to tell of the cathedral than these short notes can do. Nevertheless, there are some features which should attract our attention. In the Lady Chapel on the south wall there is a 13th-century stone which must originally have been the 'Scratch Dial' or 'Mass Clock' of the old parish church. The two tombs of the 4th and 6th earls of Shrewsbury are of outstanding interest, and the long Latin inscription on the 6th earl's tomb was written by John Fox, famous for his Fox's Book of Martyrs. The 'mensa' of the altar dates back to before Elizabeth I's time. In her time all stone altars were ordered to be removed in order to emphasise the reformation and New Testament understanding of the Holy Communion as celebrated at the 'Holy Table'. This mensa was discovered in 1864 cut in two parts and used as paving. The significance of stone as distinct from wood is today of no theological import.
The chapel of the Holy Spirit is approached through an attractive doorway surmounted by the dove symbol and on either side around the stone moulding are eight paterae depicting St. John 'In the Spirit on the Lord's Day' and the seven churches to which he was commanded to write (Revelation 1-3). The Te Deum window by Christopher Webb is one of the glories of the cathedral. The apex is again the dove with rays of light enlivening first the sequence of the creation story (Genesis 1) and then the figure of Christ in Glory flanked by the prophets up to and including John the Baptist all on one side and the apostles with Barnabas and Paul on the other. Below all these are the martyrs and saints down the ages to John Wesley, Grenfell of Labrador, Apolo of the Pygmy forest, Archbishop Temple and others. The reredos by Temple Moore was given by the Freemasons of Sheffield as a memorial of their number who gave their lives during the first world war and this reredos originally stood behind the high altar of the cathedral.
The Chapter House which opens off the processional corridor is of special interest. The doorway is enriched by twelve paterae which represent a festival or saint for each month of the year. Surmounting all these are carved figures of St. Peter and St. Paul. Inside the Chapter House we find six windows telling in clockwise order the story of Sheffield and its cathedral. Each window has two rounders each telling its own story all of which are skilfully described in the fuller guide book. They bridge the years from the building of the Norman Church in 1101 to the Reformation period except that the rounders in the fifth window depict John Wesley preaching in Sheffield and the first bishop of Sheffield placing the Cross in his eightieth year (1938) on the north wall of the chapel of St. George. The larger window over the entrance door is probably one of the finest representations of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales being related by the reeve (the prominent figure in blue).
We ask you to see, beyond the grandeur of this lovely place, the simplicity of true Christian faith and experience. The clergy are always available to pray with you, or to try to help you in the problems which in contemporary life are such as all find difficult. To meet with the Lord Jesus is the richest experience any person can have-but it is a devastating one because no one can live to Himself and be at peace with evil once he has met with the Christ.
"Enter this door
as if the floor
Within were gold,
And every wall
Of jewels all
Of wealth untold;
As if a choir
In robes of fire
Were singing here
Nor shout nor rush
But hush . . .
For God is here"
The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul - 2000
The Cathedral from Church
Street - 2000