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St Marie’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Diocese of Hallam, is often described as a hidden gem and an oasis of peace within the heart of the busy Sheffield city centre. It was designed in the Victorian Gothic style by local architect Matthew Hadfield, and was influenced by several 14th-century Yorkshire and Lincolnshire churches. When it opened in 1850, it was the only place of Catholic worship in Sheffield, although it would not become a Cathedral until 1980. In 2012, it went through a major reordering, which allowed the renovation and restoration of much of its interior, including the original gilding and paint schemes. Nowadays, St Marie’s is the core of a large and diverse faith community and, due to its impressive architecture and fascinating history, it frequently draws in heritage visitors and groups both from schools and other organisations.

Alabaster Panel Photograph: Laura Claveria

Alabaster Panel
Photograph: Laura Claveria

Consequently, it is no surprise that St Marie’s has recently been awarded a substantial grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to conserve its heritage and share its stories and treasures with everyone who lives in, works in and visits Sheffield. Running until the end of 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund project counts on the guidance of John Williams, Project Manager, and Laura Claveria, Heritage Engagement and Learning Officer, as well as the invaluable contribution of a large group of committed and enthusiastic volunteers.

The Heritage Lottery Fund is the UK’s largest dedicated funder of heritage projects. It aims to conserve the UK’s diverse heritage for present and future generations, and to help more people take an active part in and make decisions about their heritage. It also helps people to learn about, experience and enjoy their own and other people’s heritage. As a result, learning, interpretation, participation and conservation have formed an important framework for developing St Marie’s project.

St Marie's Cathedral, Sheffiled

The Lewis Organ     Photograph: Margaret O’Malley

In particular, St Marie’s project aims to increase awareness and knowledge of the heritage of the Cathedral and the stories of people associated with it. It also focuses on the conservation and restoration of a number of nationally important historic features. These include a rare, unaltered Lewis organ dating from 1875 and a set of 15th century Nottingham alabaster panels, few of which remained in England following the Reformation. The project will also help to preserve large areas of highly decorated, narrative Victorian wall tiles, which have been described by the Tile and Architectural Ceramics Society as the ‘ceramic star of South Yorkshire’ and ‘unrivalled in Britain’. In addition, St Marie’s is developing engaging and appropriate interpretation both onsite and online, and is broadening the number of volunteers by increasing volunteer and skills development opportunities. Furthermore, the project seeks to engage a wide range of people with the Cathedral’s heritage through visiting, learning and taking part in activities and events.

Detail of Victorian tilework Photograph: Bob Rae

Detail of Victorian tilework
Photograph: Bob Rae

As a way of engaging and inspiring the public and showcasing the work of the project so far, the Cathedral has planned an exciting programme of free activities and events for this autumn – from guided tours, organ and bell ringing demonstrations and musical events to community exhibitions, talks and family fun workshops. Moreover, St Marie’s offers school sessions for all Key Stages and private tours on request. For up to date information on these and other upcoming events visit St Marie’s website www.stmariecathedral.org, or follow them on Facebook, What’s on at St Marie’s Cathedral Sheffield and Twitter @whatsonSMCSheff.