The Cathedral of St John the Baptist Norwich Cathederal is the Mother Church of the diocese, embracing Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and the Unitary Authority of Peterborough. It is the seat of the Bishop of East Anglia, providing a fitting setting for great diocesan liturgies. It is the focus of a thriving parish, where over 1,000 people worship regularly. And it is a place where many more from all over the world come to visit, either to find a quiet place of prayer or to appreciate its architecture and marvel at its famous stained glass.
This great church was a gift to the city of Norwich of Henry Fitzalan Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk (1847-1917). The Howards had preserved their Catholicism over the centuries, at times at great material cost to themselves. Duke Henry was a shy but immensely determined young man whose faith had developed under the influence of Cardinal John Henry Newman. By the nineteenth century, Catholics were once again free to practice their faith in public and a Catholic hierarchy had been restored to England.
At first sight, the exterior of the Cathedral, with its dominating tower and massive nave appears rather forbidding. Look more closely. One of the glories of the building is its stone carving and there is a wealth of sculpture for those who look for it in the mass of moldings, flying buttresses, pinnacles and gargoyles. The entrance portals on the north and west sides are particularly impressive. Note especially that on the west side of the north transept, its magnificent tympanum restored for the 2000 Jubilee Year. The metalwork decoration on the external doors sets the tone for the whole building: the quality of the craftsmanship and attention to detail is evident throughout the cathedral. Fine craftsmen, many of them local, brought a devotion and care to their work seldom found in large building projects today.
Once inside Norwich Cathederal, we enter an atmosphere of medieval splendor – an echo of the great English churches of the thirteenth century, just as they might have appeared all those years ago. Remember that most medieval churches existing today have either been ‘improved’ in accordance with fashion, or vandalized over the centuries. This church is architecturally much as it would have appeared had it been built in 1200, although in those days it would have been highly decorated with elaborate wall paintings.