Birmingham, as the 2nd largest city in the United Kingdom, has many grand and fantastic buildings. We saw at least two Cathedrals, but the only one we could go inside (thanks to a service on in the other) was St Philips, a charming building in the centre of a large park in the heart of the city…
Location: Birmingham, City of Birmingham District, West Midlands (historically Warwickshire), England
Faith: Church of England
Constructed: 1711 – 1725
Architect: Thomas Archer (1668 – 1743)
St Philips is the 3rd smallest Cathedral in England, after only Derby and Chelmsford Cathedrals. It is one of various Cathedrals around England that began life as a Parish Church, when it was completed in 1725. The design for the Church was by Thomas Archer (1668 – 1743, English Architect) and was almost a replacement for the nearby Church of St Martin, which was too small for the growing population of Birmingham.
The first section of the building to be completed was the main structure in 1715, when it became the Parish Church. The tower was added by 1725, and if you look at the top of the parapet you will see a series of urns across the top. These were the final addition to the Church, although much later in 1756 long after the main sections of the building had been completed.
St Philips was later upgraded to the status of Cathedral in 1905, 6 years after Birmingham was granted city status, in 1889. Rather than build a new Cathedral it was decided to use an existing Church, and I think they picked a fine example. Sadly during the Birmingham Blitz in 1940 the Cathedral was very badly damaged, and wouldn’t be restored until 1948, although some of its treasures were removed at the war, ensuring their survival.
There are a number of Memorials in the Cathedral Grounds, this area being known as Colmore Row. One of these is an obelisk, dedicated to Frederick Gustavus Burnaby (1842 – 1885, English Soldier who died during the Battle of Abu Klea in Sudan).
Outside the main entrance (the West Front) to St Philips is a statue of the Cathedrals first Bishop, Charles Gore (1853 – 1932, Anglican Bishop). This fine statue was crafted by Thomas Stirling Lee (1857 – 1916, English sculptor) in 1914. The Cathedral Tower is located above us here, as is known as the West Tower.
After admiring the fine gardens and statues outside, we moved in through the main doors, to see what secrets the Cathedral held…
As I mentioned before, St Philips is the 3rd smallest Cathedral in England, so it is the size of a general Church inside, so standing at the main entrance you can see the majority of the main features. Directly across from us, at the far end of the building, through the Chancel is the Eastern Apse, which was actually extended between 1884 and 1888, by Julius Alfred Chatwin (1830 – 1907). Before that it was much shallower, but it now incorporates much more space at the East end. The centre window was created by Edward Burne-Jones (1833 – 1898, British Artist) and he also contributed to St Martin’s Church in Brampton which we visited recently. There are four windows by him in total in the building, installed between 1885 and 1891, and these are the treasures I spoke of that were removed at the start of World War II, being spared the devastation, and then being reinstalled when the building was restored. The window you can see above is called “The Ascension” which depicts Jesus rising up to heaven surrounded by Angels. The other 3 windows are part of the wider story:
1) The Nativity
2) The Crucifixion
3) The Last Judgement
The third window is featured at the West End, above the main entrance.
As you look around, all of the Corinthian Columns are covered in Marble, and high above there are Wooden Galleries between the columns, a typical feature of English Churches. Holding up the gallery are pillars known as Tuscan Capitals, the rectangular features with the ridges going up the whole length of them. This picture shows the North side of the building, and there are numerous graves/memorial stones attached to the Tuscan Capitals for people associated with the community, as well as some historical graves behind them on the far wall, which are a common feature of Churches.
St Philips, although it isn’t a tower, grand Cathedral, has a unique charm all of it’s own and it feels like a little snapshot of history in the centre of such a growing city. You can find out more about the City of Birmingham itself in my dedicated post here.