Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Style and Substance

Today I attended the annual meeting of diocesan archivists, held this year at Brentwood Cathedral in Essex. This is our newest cathedral. Although part of it constitutes the original 1861 structure, the main area is provided by the neo-classical extension built fifteen years ago:

The neo-classical architecture is undoubtedly tasteful but it seems strange that the most prominent decorative feature of the church interior are the massive golden chandeliers - prominent because there is hardly any other decoration. It took me some time to notice the presence of the cross; there are very few images and the stations (the roundels above the arches) are in a modern style and very hard to make out.

The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in a beautiful baroque Neapolitan tabernacle in the apse of the old church, hidden round the back of the bishop's throne and choir stalls and therefore easy to miss. You can't see any sign of the Blessed Sacrament chapel on entering the Cathedral. There is a strong musical tradition - with a fine boys and men choir - but outside of liturgical services the church seems very empty.

The interior may be light, spacious and elegant, but to my mind a nice building doesn't necessarily make a satisfactory church.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It does look and feel like a very nice Baptist chapel.

11:37 pm  
Blogger roydosan said...

Is that the altar in the second picture?

12:18 pm  
Blogger Joee Blogs said...

Looks an elegant building from the outside but could benifit from a bit of re-ordering (err or unordering depending on how you see it)

4:59 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Yep - that's the High Altar in the second picture.

8:07 pm  
Anonymous Cappodocian Sister said...

I went there a few years ago for a concert and sat there most uncomfortably - yes a lovely venue for a concert but no sense that this was a CATHOLIC church...the motivation for the design seemed purely aesthetic with no reference points to the FAITH. Yes beauty in itself is good but surely one hopes for more than that in a Catholic Cathedral. As (the then) Cardinal Ratzinger said.....
"In fact, in Christ's passion the Greek aesthetic -- so worthy of admiration -- is surpassed. Since then, the experience of beauty has received a new depth and a new realism,........He who is beauty itself has allowed his face to be struck, spat upon, crowned with thorns -- the holy Shroud of Turin can make us imagine everything in an overwhelming way........But precisely in this face -- so disfigured -- authentic beauty appears: the beauty of love that goes 'to the end' and that reveals itself stronger than falsehood and violence," he said. "We must learn to see him. If we are struck by the dart of his paradoxical beauty, then we will really know him."
RIMINI, Italy, AUG. 21, 2002 address to Communion and Liberation gathering.

So we need to 'see' HIM who is beauty in our cathedral in the tabernacle not hidden but fully in view and in the image of HIM on the Cross...the architecture should be the fitting frame and not the only picture.

9:23 pm  
Blogger 'JDH' said...

I haven't been to this Cathedral since shortly after it was opened, when I was very young, but it does seem to me from your photo that the big altar thingy on the raised platform is the most prominent feature of the interior?

Also, isn't it the case that the Blessed Sacrament is not traditionally kept at the centre of the sanctuary in a Cathedral, and is consequently more often than not kept in a seperate hapel either behind the Bishop's throne or to one side of it? I have not heard the complaint of lack of visibility being raised in regard to Westminster Cathedral.

As for decorations - it must be hard for church architects to strike a balance between noble simplicity and the appropriate use of sacred images to foster piety, and I would agree that there seems to be a bit too much of the former in this example.

9:32 pm  
Anonymous Az said...

The aesthetics have been very poorly thought out. It is victim to a certain kind of "liturgical correctness" (a neo-classical version of the interior arrangement at Plymouth cathedral?) Upon entering the main door of Brentwood cathedral, one is confronted by the back of the ambo - which is hardly an inspiring view. But then, the local ordinary is aparently a liturgist of some repute!

10:51 pm  

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