The Narthex, St. John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral



The Narthex is a visitor’s facility at the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Norwich. It is home to an education centre, a gift shop and a restaurant, whilst also forming easy access to the cathedral and a link to its gardens.

The grade I listed Cathedral is the second largest Catholic Cathedral in the UK. Designed by George Gilbert Scott Junior, it opened as a parish church in 1910. Commissioned by the 15th Duke of Norfolk, it is considered to be the most complete example of neo-gothic ecclesiastical architecture in the country and was originally built as a gift to the City of Norwich by Henry Fitzalan-Howard.


  • The main part of the contract was the construction of the 400m² Narthex, faced in Clipsham stone and with a lead roof to match the cathedral’s existing structure.
  • The Narthex is home to an interpretation gallery, function hall, gift shop and café. Extensive paving provides disabled access from the existing car park and a link to the Cathedral House garden.
  • The project also included the extension and refurbishment of an existing community hall, linking it to the new building.
  • Internally works included laying pamment flooring and York stone paving, installing decorative arched plaster ceilings, a lead roof with hidden lead guttering and rainwater harvesting.


  • Throughout the project ground conditions proved to be a challenge. A combination of historic chalk works and problems caused by former excavations for the old city gaol meant that deep foundation trenches had to be dug 3.5m deep.
  • The formal unveiling of the Narthex was performed by the 18th Duke of Norfolk, Edward Fitzalan-Howard (the cathedral was gifted to Norwich by the 15th Duke, Henry Fitzalan-Howard).

Our Commitment:

  • Underground rainwater tanks were installed to facilitate rainwater harvesting systems, not only saving money, but also recycling large volumes of water back into the building’s header tank for reuse.
  • We have carried out remedial works at the Roman Catholic cathedral for over 37 years, including building the community hall, restoration of the Devon Beer stone from which about 95 per cent of the building was originally built and recasting the lead roof and guttering on the cathedral. The detailed knowledge of the cathedral’s structure and foundations built up through this long term relationship proved invaluable to the success of this project.
  • The construction of the Narthex was not the end, a further contract has seen the installation of a biomass boiler fuelled by wood pellets. The sustainable development was part of a range of works to improve the cathedral’s heating.


  • The Norfolk Association of Architects Craftsmanship Awards 2010 – full award in the category new extensions (any building types).


Father James Walsh, Cathedral Dean

“The new building and the cathedral are for everybody and our hospitality is all-embracing,” It means we can organise all kinds of events and provide a suitable welcome.”

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