This page gives more detail about some parts of the Minster, and some of the objects within it.
The Leeds Cross
The famous Leeds Cross is one of the earliest objects from the city’s past. Parts of it, some of them damaged, were found in the walls of the medieval tower when the former building was demolished in 1838. Although not recognised for what it is, these fragments, together with others from at least another six crosses, were fortunately rescued by the architect, Robert Chantrell. Most of one cross was there, and he had new stones carved where pieces were missing, some more accurate than others, and rebuilt the cross in his garden in Headingley. When he retired and left Leeds, the cross went with him, and only returned to the church some years later.
The Leeds crosses, all dating from the 8thto 10thcenturies, would have marked the graves of prominent people living and worshipping in the area. Carved crosses were a new fashion introduced by the Saxons and continued by the descendants of the Vikings; the style of decoration changed over time. The Leeds Cross dates from the 10thcentury and is of a style known as Anglo-Scandinavian. The wheel-head at the top belongs to another cross. The carving includes vine scroll and interlace, as well as figures. One of the bottom panels tells the then well-known story of the pagan hero, Weland the Smith, who having offended his king, escaped in a flying machine, possibly used here as a parallel for Christian stories and beliefs.
The Leeds Crosses by A. J. McGuire and E. A. Clark (Leeds City Museums 1987) details the full story; further information is given on a board in the church.
The tall pulpit enables the preacher to see and be seen by all. It replaced the three-decker pulpit that was in the old church. In a gothic style similar to the decoration of the church, the main section has carvings relating to Christ’s birth and baptism.
The very fine, colourful mosaics behind the altar replaced the original 1838 design for the chancel and represent the Twelve Apostles with St Paul and St Barnabas. They are by Salviati who is well-known for his efforts to reproduce the range of colour and intensity of gold that he saw in the medieval mosaics in his home town of Venice – the cradle of medieval, and later, glass making in Europe. Each saint has different facial features and carries his symbol, for example St Peter has his keys and St James the Great his cockle shell.
Dr Hook wanted his new church to be full of beauty and colour. Nineteenth-century glass workers were beginning to rediscover the techniques of stained-glass, lost when the Protestant church banned pictures and decoration, and he was able to fill the windows with colourful glass in geometric patterns. Much of this was replaced by later Victorian pictorial windows, but a few examples of the earlier style remain above the south gallery at the west end.
The east window, above the altar, is of 16th-century Flemish glass bought on the Continent by a local antiquarian and given to the new church.
In the south wall of the nave is a fine picture of St Peter dressed as a Roman, by the artist Schwanfelder. This is part of a window of 1811 that was re-used in the new church. Unlike others of stained glass, it is made up of rectangular panels on which the picture has been painted.
The pictorial windows include examples of well-known Victorian glass makers, such as David Evans of Shrewsbury and Thomas Wilmshirst.
The most recent window is the magnificent panel above the door into the main body of the church. It tells the story of Jacob’s Ladder: Jacob sleeps at the base whilst the angels go up and down the ladder. Designed by Sally Scott, it is a worthy late-20th-century addition to the windows of the church.
There are two fonts within the building. The impressive one at the west end is the one in current use. Designed by William Butterfield in 1883, it is made from different types of coloured marble. It stands on three steps each a different colour – back representing human sin, red representing the blood of Christ through which we are saved, and white representing the purity of Baptism.
An older font with a fine carved wooden cover, but no longer used, is said to have been thrown out of the church by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers in the 17thcentury.
Memorials in stone and brass from the old church were re-instated in the new building. Dating from the medieval period onwards, they contain a vast amount of history of the people of Leeds over many centuries.
Details of all the memorials can be found in ‘The Monuments of the Parish Church of St Peter at Leeds’ by Margaret Pullan, Thoresby Society Publication, Volume 17, 2006.