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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Letting the Cathedral Speak

To St Francis is attributed the sentiment 'Proclaim the gospel constantly and everywhere and, when necessary, use words.' That could well apply to the cathedral: what its architecture says about God and what its inner space proclaims. The design is the primary statement the building makes. As visitors idly wander in our hope is that something of the building speaks to them.

Ever since I arrived here there has been incessant rumblings and general discontent about the apse. There has been a Chapter Committee to examine and propose alterations and a great deal of people's time and energy - not to mention cathedral money - devoted to this matter.

What we have not been able to see is the visual strength of what we already have. So this past week I had the improvised nave altar removed along with the heavy and immovable plinths that blocked the crossing. Then choir stalls were set back and the ambulatory cleared of all the things that had been stored there.

With the crossing cleared I felt an overwhelming sense of space in which to pause and wonder at the beauty of the place. The main altar was now unmistakeably allowed to be the central point of focus and at the same time it was dwarfed by the sheer height of the apse and one's eyes were drawn upwards.

Well, it is an experiment. Bishop and Chapter seem happy but there are questions. I am anxious about the choir in this arrangement - they are almost behind the organ and separated from the congregation. For music - this is not ideal. Yet the appearance is greatly enhanced. The discussions will continue but for the moment I am pleased to let this glorious building sing its own song even when we are not present!

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