Now a Grade II* listed building, St Barnabas was built in the Early English Gothic Style and this reflected in the simplicity of the exterior.
The ‘Gothic’ style was inspired by medieval art and architecture and was seen as ‘quintessentially English.’ Pugin believed Gothic or ‘pointed’ architecture was infused with Christian values. St Barnabas Cathedral is regarded as an example of Pugin’s finest work. There are a number of beautiful chapels within the Cathedral and these are listed here:
The Blessed Sacrament Chapel
This Chapel has been called Pugin’s prayer book in stone. Following A.W.N Pugin’s own designs, it is a perfect example of Gothic Revival decoration. Since 1844 it has been added to and embellished by subsequent generations.
The wooden screens, the Altar and the Baldacchino (roof of the Altar) above all are to Pugin’s original design. The Baldacchino recalls the Tent of Meeting used by the Israelites in their wanderings in the desert, and in the centuries before the construction of the Temple of Solomon.
The Eucharistic symbolism is fitting for the dedication of the chapel and includes sheaves of wheat and bunches of grapes on the window splays. A series of angels within 12 circular arcs, known as hexafoils, were added in the time of Bishop McNulty (the sixth Bishop 1932-1943). The angels hold shields with emblems of the Blessed Sacrament including the Pelican which feeds its young with its own blood.
Angels appear painted on the walls, in the stained glass of the windows and as carvings on the walls supporting the roof beams. All the original Angels are in the form of Seraphs and have six wings. The four Angels on the Baldacchino were added in 1933 and have only two wings.
The Martyrs’ Chapel
At the entrance of St Hugh’s Chapel stands the statue of St Barnabas, patron of the Cathedral. The statue and canopy are both by A.W.N. Pugin’s own design and the statue is sited on the original plinth. St Barnabas holds several stones indicating the manner of his martyrdom. Today, the chapel is dedicated to the English Martyrs.
The chapel was first dedicated to St. Thomas Becket, which perhaps is if the inspiration for the bishop’s head in the arcade, behind the original Altar. It was then dedicated to St Bede the Venerable and then to St Jospeh and finally in 1993 the dedication was made to the English Martyrs.
The arcade behind the Altar displays the names on painted scrolls of the many reformation Martyrs associated with the Diocese of Nottingham. The names were added in the 1930s after the Marytrs were declared Venerable by Pope Pius XI in 1929.
A more recent addition to the chapel is the statue on the wall above the arches of St Hugh of Lincoln, Patron of the Diocese, shown with the swan which accompanied and protected him on his journeys.
The Lady Chapel
The chapel was restored as the Lady Chapel during renovations in 1993. A statue of Our Lady of Nottingham stands in the chapel and was made to A.W.N. Pugin’s own design. The windows show the mysteries of the Rosary particularly associated with the life of Our Lady.
During the renovation work the statue and the votive lamp were moved and placed on the modern stone pillar behind the Altar. The Altar was moved forward to allow celebration of Mass with the priest facing the people. The walls would have been painted with decorative stencilling up to the level of the windows. The paintwork on the Sedalia to the right has been restored to the original design.
The wooden screens show how elaborate Pugin’s design for these was. The stalls and benches in the chapel are in their 1844 position and thought to to be Pugin’s designs. Pugin brought in the darker wood stalls from elsewhere. They were moved from the Chancel in 1993 and placed facing the Lady Chapel.
The chapel was given for use of the Polish community after the Second World War. On the north wall is a plaque commemorating the Millennium of Christianity in Poland, installed in 1966. On the south wall is a 2005 painting by James Gillick of Pope Saint John Paul II, who was born in Poland and who became the first non-Italian Pope since 1523.
The Unity Chapel
The chapel was originally dedicated to St. Michael and All Angels, and this is evident from the beautifully carved angels in the spandrels on the arches behind the Altar. The Altar is the original A.W.N. Pugin design and stands on six pillars surrounding a small stone reliquary.
The floor of the chapel is covered with the beautiful Minton encaustic tiles favoured by Pugin. No trace of Pugin’s paint scheme was found in the arched reredos, so they have been designed to reflect the patterns in the original glass windows.
The oak screen at the front of the chapel was part of the screen which originally surrounded the Baptistery at the far end of the North Aisle. It is decorated with carved fish, a symbol of baptism. It was moved here during the renovations in 1993. At the same time the chapel was designated The Unity Chapel and the chairs used by members of the Cathedral Chapter placed here.
The Cathedral Crypt
The sloping site of St Barnabas presented the architect, A.W.N. Pugin, with both a challenge and an opportunity. He raised up the East End of the church on a crypt, a stone chamber which is underneath the Chancel.
The crypt is dedicated to St Peter, the rock on which Christ said he would build his Church. Originally, access to the crypt was by the twin spiral staircases enclosed in the Eastern parts of the tower. In the 1960s, as part of the renovations of the crypt, a new staircase was opened up to facilitate easier access.
From 1866, the Bishops of Nottingham have been buried in the crypt. However, the first Bishop buried here was the priest who built St Barnabas- Robert William Willson, First Bishop of Hobart, Tasmania. He was a pastor in Nottingham for 18 years, leaving for his new diocese on the other side of the world just months before St. Barnabas was completed. In ill health he travelled back to Nottingham, where he spent his last days.In 1866 he was buried in the crypt of the Church he built. In 2017 his mortal remains were translated to Tasmania, at the request of the current Archbishop of Hobart.