The Church of Our Lady and Saint Nicholas is the Anglican parish church of Liverpool. The site is said to have been a place of worship since at least 1257. The church is situated close to the River Mersey near the Pier Head. The Chapel of St Nicholas (Patron Saint of Sailors) was built on the site of St Mary del Quay, which in 1355 was determined to be too small for the growing borough of Liverpool. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II listed building, and is an active parish church in the diocese of Liverpool, the archdeaconry of Liverpool and the deanery of Liverpool North.
The exterior of the church is notable for its distinctive lantern spire, which can be easily spotted from the river, despite being overshadowed by many taller buildings of the city’s business district. The nave and the sanctuary house fixed woodwork carved with the vine as the dominant motif, referencing Christ: “I am the vine, you are the branches”. In the southeast corner of the church is a stained glass window: Our Lady stands in glory as in Revelation and St Nicholas holds a ship. An inscription reads: “For the Healing of the Nations”. A war memorial for the Cunard Steamship Company, placed in the church in 1989, is in the north east corner. The church organ is by Rushworth and Dreaper of Liverpool, and is dedicated to the memory of Charles W. Bridson, organist 1902–1949. Hanging between the nave and the sanctuary is the Rood, a figure of Christ with Our Lady and St John. The Rood is carved from the old oak bell frame from the tower.
The chapel to the north was that of St George, commemorating the former, nearby church of that dedication demolished to make way for the Queen Victoria monument at the head of Castle Street. This commemoration of two historic churches was disturbed by the introduction of a new dedication for this chapel in 1993. In that year the Maritime Chapel of St Mary del Quay was dedicated as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic. It memorialises the medieval shrine. A statue of Our Lady, cast in bronze, is shown standing in the prow of a boat. The statue was created by Liverpool artist Arthur Dooley. The furnishings in the chapel are by Robin McGhie. The chapel contains a Book of Remembrance, listing the names of mariners lost at sea.
The church is linked to the famous phrase, “I’ll be waiting till Dick docks”, meaning “I’ll be waiting a long time”. This refers to the ship the Richard Donnelly, which is said to have sunk in Liverpool Bay. Another version of this phrase is used when an unlikely promise is made; “I’ll repay that loan soon!” “Oh,yes – when Donnelly docks!” implying that the action is never going to happen. A gilded copper weather vane in the form of the ship is on top of the tower of St Nicholas’. The weather vane measures 4 ft 4 (1.3m).
The vane probably survived the fall of the tower in 1811. It was renovated before re-erection; the sails are dated 1815. Historic photos show ships as weather vanes on the Bluecoat Hospital and one of the Goree warehouses. The vane was added to the church in 1746 when the spire was built on the tower. The illustration in Enfield’s History of Liverpool 1773 clearly shows the ship.
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