Sheffield Cathedral

City Centre

Church Street, S1 1HA
0114 275 3434

Open every day from 8am (closing times vary). 1554 coffee shop open 10am-4pm Monday-Friday, 10am-3pm Saturday.

Visit site

It’s part of the everyday cityscape. We pass it in all seasons, by day and by night, hearing the bells ring while we wait for the tram or bus. But take the time to go and really explore Sheffield Cathedral one of these days. From its Norman bricks to its 60s tower it is full of stories; stories that reflect the evolution of the city, its people and their place in history.

It became a cathedral in 1914, but the site’s story begins in the 9th century – an Anglo-Saxon cross that once stood here can now be seen in the British Museum. In Norman times you needed a church and a castle to form a township, so a church was built on this spot; the site is truly the heart of the city and was the focal point of life in Sheffield for centuries.

“It’s much more than a place for prayer and contemplation” says heritage learning officer Janet Ridler. “It’s about people’s connections. We want people to know: it’s your place. This is your building, your heritage.”

Next to the cafe you’ll find a timeline, floor plan and an interactive display; lift the headphones to hear the choir, bells and organ, or tales told by a dog or a little mester. Here and throughout the Cathedral are small, non-intrusive screens showing bite-size information to explain whose image that is in the stained glass or to encourage you to look up and seek particular features on the ceiling.

“There really is a lot to explore; it could take you several visits to begin to take it all in”, says Janet. For starters, learn about the Earls of Shrewsbury: their ornate chapel decorated with dogs, the 6th Earl’s guardianship of Mary Queen of Scots and his rocky marriage to Bess of Hardwick, and the vault below, which is mysteriously missing the bodies of several family members. Find the stained glass of the Six Sheffield Worthies and visit the other chapels, including St George’s with its barely-there regimental flags and memorials to the Sheffield Pals sent to die on the Somme.

If you take a seat in the nave you can gaze upon different points in time. The oldest part of the current building is the medieval East End; look for the bricks with zig-zag patterns in the East End wall – these are Norman stones reused in the medieval build. A 1930s extension added two more chapels, while the narthex entrance and starry Lantern Tower were built in the 60s. Recent refurbishments have included a more accessible entrance as well as movable benches to replace the old pews, making the space more flexible for collaborations with TramlinesOff the Shelf and other festivals.

There’s a welcoming atmosphere in the Cathedral but it’s in no way overly so. It’s just comfortable, not imposing or stuffy. Wander at your own pace and cast your eyes over the arches that echo each other throughout the building, everything pointing up. Hear the clock chime outside and the murmurs of passersby and traffic without worrying about time. In here there’s an occasional clatter of plates from coffee shop 1554, gently spoken conversations, echoing footsteps. It’s warm and the light falls in lovely ways.

A man in a business suit on his lunch break lights a candle and makes a donation. People move slowly around, taking in the art exhibition (until recently the Cathedral was one of five hosts to the brilliant citywide Going Public) or looking at the information screens. The red-cloaked welcomers go quietly about their work. Back outside, the fallen leaves are being swept and people sit on benches eating sandwiches or stand waiting for the tram, casting long shadows. The city ticks on as usual, but within the historical heart of the city the world slows to a steadier beat.

Keep an eye on the Cathedral's heritage Facebook page and its calendar for upcoming events, ranging from lunchtime music recitals to historical walks and talks. And show support for all the Cathedral does for homeless people in the city through the brilliant Archer Project.

Written by Nat Loftus; April 13, 2016