Metropolitan Cathedral of St. George - Southwark

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

St George's Cathedral, Southwark, is a Roman Catholic cathedral in the Archdiocese of Southwark, south London, England.

The Cathedral is the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Province of Southwark which covers the Archdiocese of Southwark (all of London south of the River Thames including Kent and north Surrey) and the Dioceses of Arundel and Brighton, Portsmouth, and Plymouth.
It is the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Archbishop of Southwark.


The Catholic Relief Act of 1778 brought a certain limited freedom to Roman Catholics.
Priests no longer moved in fear of imprisonment and Catholics could run their own schools and could once more acquire property.
In 1786 there was only one Catholic chapel in the whole of south London, located at Bermondsey.
It was then that Fr Thomas Walsh, a Douai priest, for £20 a year hired a room in Bandyleg Walk (near where the Southwark fire station now stands).
Within two years, the numbers attending the little chapel had increased, and new building became essential.
In 1793 a large chapel dedicated to 'St George' was opened in the London Road at a cost of £2,000.
It was designed by James Taylor of Weybridge, Surrey.
It was here that the first High Mass was celebrated in London, outside the chapels of ambassadors, since the time of James II.
Fr Thomas Doyle came to St George's in 1820, when the congregation stood at around 7,000. 
He became the First Chaplain in 1829.
In the same year, the Catholic Emancipation Act removed nearly all the legal disabilities which Catholics had suffered for 250 years.
As Fr Doyle's congregation increased (to 15,000 by 1829), the idea grew in his mind of a great church, with the dimensions of a long and lofty cathedral.
By 1839, enough money had been collected to make a start, and the present site in St George's Fields (then an open space) was purchased for £3,200.

Bishop Wiseman 
A.W.N. Pugin
A.W.N. Pugin, the Gothic revival architect, was commissioned to design the church. 
Unfortunately, lack of funds prevented the committee from accepting his first design of a cruciform cathedral on a grand scale, and less ambitious plans had to be prepared.
Work began at on the old cathedral in 1840, the foundation stone being laid on 8 September.
The church was solemnly opened by Bishop Nicholas Wiseman (later Cardinal Wiseman) on 4 July 1848.

Pope Pius IX
Two years later Pope Pius IX restored the English hierarchy, and St George's was chosen as the Cathedral Church of the new Diocese of Southwark, which was to cover the whole of Southern England.

Pugin's Design
For the next half-century, until the opening of Westminster Cathedral, St George's was the centre of Catholic life in London.
Thomas Grant was made the first Bishop of Southwark; Fr Doyle became the Provost and Administrator, and remained so until his death on 6 June 1879.
The new cathedral was consecrated by Bishop Butt on 7 November 1894.

On 16 April 1941, during a massive air-raid on London during World War 11, an incendiary bomb set light to the roof, and in minutes the cathedral was ablaze from end to end, to become the next day a smouldering ruin.
In some ways, this was not such as tragedy as may be imagined.
The quality of construction in Pugin's buildings was often poor, and he was lacking in technical knowledge, his strength lying more in his facility as a designer of architectural detail.
While his influence was great, and he inspired such inividuals as W. E. Nesfield, Norman Shaw, George Gilbert Scott, William Butterfield and George Edmund Street, his designs were mechanical and repetitive, and his use of colour lacking in refinement.

Most of his effects were obtained by an overwhelming abundance of ornament, much of it, on closer examination, being uninspired and hackneyed.
For some years the Amigo Hall became the pro-cathedral.
In the early 1950s, under Bishop Cowderoy and Administrator Fr Bernard Bogan, plans for a new cathedral were completed.
Romilly Bernard Craze was chosen as the architect.

Cathedral of St. George - Southwark
Romilly Bernard Craze (1892–1974). English ecclesiastical architect. It is perhaps unfortunate that much of his output consists of replacements of or draconian repairs to churches destroyed or damaged during the 1939–45 war. Among his works St Luke, Farnborough Way, Camberwell (1953–4), St Cuthbert, Watford Road, Wembley (1958–9), St Thomas, Kensal Road, Kensington (1967), and All Saints, Waltham Avenue, Kingsbury (1954), may be cited. He carried out many re-orderings of churches in the Diocese of London, rebuilt (1953–63) Pugin's RC Cathedral of St George, Southwark (erected 1841–8), on the original plan, with details in a superb Arts-and-Crafts Free Gothic, and carried out repairs to numerous churches, including White's All Saints, Talbot Road, Notting Hill (1949–51), and Keeling's St George, Aubrey Walk, Kensington (1947–9). His Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, Norfolk (1931–7), however, is vaguely Italianate, but the interior is spatially complex for such a small building, and contains a fine reredos by Comper. The land on which the Shrine was built was donated by Sir William Frederick Victor Mordaunt Milner, 8th Baronet (1896–1960), who was Craze's professional partner in the architectural firm of Milner & Craze from 1931.

It was only when restoration work commenced in 1953 that the full extent of the fire damage became apparent.
Only a few parts of the original building were sound enough to be incorporated in the reconstructed cathedral.
In the reconstruction, a clerestory over the nave was introduced, vastly improving the lighting of the new building.
On 4 July 1958 the new building was solemnly opened by Bishop Cowderoy.
The Lady Chapel was added in 1963 and the Baptistry in 1966. Click here for a plan of the new cathedral.


 Cathedral of St. George - Nave and Sanctuary
There is a refreshing and refined, yet noble simplicity about the design by Romilly Craze - which is in many ways the very opposite of the fussy, over-ornate design of the original cathedral.
The white stone used for the interior is Cotswold limestone from Painsivick, Gloucestershire.
The wooden panels of the nave ceiling are painted with emblems depicting the story of man's redemption by Christ.
Along the walls of the north aisle are the 14 Stations of the Cross, telling the story of Christ's sufferings, from his condemnation by Pilate to his burial in the tomb.
These tablets were carved by H.J. Youngman.
The originals are in the National Museum of Wales.
At the east end of the north aisle is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, a survival from Pugin's original church.

Cathedral of St. George  - Knill Chantry
The Knill Chantry is situated towards the cast end of the north aisle near the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
Chantries are found in many cathedrals.
They are chapels or altars endowed for the offering of Masses in perpetuity for the repose of the souls of their founders and their families.
The money for the Knill Chantry was given by John Knill, later Sir John and Lord Mayor of London, one of a London business family who supported the cathedral for many years.
The chantry was designed in 1856 by Edward Pugin, son of A.W.N. Pugin, whose marriage to Miss Jane Knill was the first to be solemnised in the new cathedral.

Cathedral of St. George - Blessed Sacrament Chapel
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel, with its wrought-iron gates, is a part of Pugin's original building that survived the bombing in 1941.
The Pugin traces can still be seen in the gilt capitals capping the columned arches, and the subdued harmonious hues.
The tabernacle, flanked by two arched and gabled recesses, contains the Blessed Sacrament reserved for private devotions.
The original Pugin high altar was against the back wall, denoted by the golden panels of the ceiling.
The 1958 high altar, which was slightly forward, encased the remnants of the frontispiece of the Pugin 1848 altar, now re-assembled in St Joseph's Chapel.

Cathedral of St. George
The present sanctuary was reordered in 1989 to emphasise the three focal points of the Liturgy: the ambo, from which the word of God is proclaimed, the altar and the cathedra - the Bishop's chair.
The marble floor came from the same Purbeck quarry in Dorset as that used for the 1958 rebuilding.
0n the wall at the south side of chancel arch is the striking modern statue of St George, patron saint of England and titular saint of the cathedral.
Like the Stations of the Cross, it is the work of H.J. Youngman.
Nearby in the south-cast corner of the nave, a triple arch, one of the architectural features of the new cathedral, surrounds the Petre Chantry, a perfect Gothic gem, where is buried the Hon. Edward Petre, who gave considerable financial help towards the original costs of the cathedral.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark is a Latin Rite Roman Catholic archdiocese in England.
The archepiscopal see is St. George's Cathedral, Southwark and is headed by the Archbishop of Southwark.
The archdiocese is part of the Metropolitan Province of Southwark, which covers the South of England.
Southwark was one of the dioceses established at the restoration of Catholic hierarchical structures in 1851 by Pope Pius IX.
The areas which now comprise the Diocese of Portsmouth and the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton subsequently separated.

Archbishop Kevin McDonald
Archbishop Peter Smith
As of 10 June 2010, the current archbishop is Peter Smith.
His predecessor, Kevin McDonald, led the archdiocese until 4 December 2009, when he submitted his resignation in keeping with canon law which provides for the retirement of a diocesan bishop on grounds of ill health or for other grave reasons.
There are three auxiliary bishops: John Hine, titular Bishop of Beverley, Patrick Lynch SS.CC., titular bishop of Castrum and Paul Hendricks, titular Bishop of Ross and Cromarty.
These bishops have particular pastoral responsibility in Kent, South East London and South West London respectively

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