A Brief Introduction by Bishop Emeritus Thomas McMahon
A Cathedral takes its name from the Greek word for chair, Cathedra, from which the Bishop presides as shepherd of the diocese.The Cathedral is therefore the centre and mother church of the diocese. Brentwood Cathedral is also, in a very special way, the parish church of those who live nearby and who worship here each Sunday.
Cathedrals were built to proclaim and celebrate the Christian mysteries in an environment of excellence and beauty, and thus to lift up the spirit. When we wish to express our experience of the sublimity of God, the most eloquent way is often in stone, music, colour, art, vestments – all enhancing worship and so combining to raise the heart and mind to God.
In some way they supply a language to express what lies beyond words. A cathedral should try to offer the very best in these things for it is through beauty that we catch a glimpse of eternity. In the image below the Cathedral is seen at the time of the death of Pope John-Paul II.
The new Brentwood Cathedral was dedicated by Cardinal Hume on May 31st 1991. The donors chose to remain anonymous and the money was given solely for this purpose. The architect Quinlan Terry was commissioned to build the new church in the Classical style. He took his inspiration from the early Italian Renaissance crossed with the English baroque of Sir Christopher Wren. This, it was felt, would be appropriate for the town and its conservation area, but above all it would provide the right space and light for the liturgy to be celebrated.
Work began in 1989 and was completed two years later. The north elevation consists of nine bays each divided by Doric pilasters. This is broken by a huge half-circular portico, which was inspired by a similar one at St Paul’s. Seen above with Clergy House in the background we get an idea of the scale of the portico. A conscious decision was taken to retain part of the Gothic revival church of 1861 alongside the new classical cathedral. The east elevation juxtaposes the old and the new, linking them through both the scale of the 1991 building and the sympathetic use of ragstone and Welsh slate roof tiles.
All the Classical architectural orders are represented in the interior. There are four giant Doric pilasters, the Tuscan arcade of arches, the Ionic pilasters of the Palladian windows in the east and west aisles, the Corinthian and Composite influences evident on the cathedral and the organ case. The image below was taken at early morning Mass during the Parish Mission of 2007.
While the interior of the cathedral has a deliberately ‘restrained’ feeling to it, richness is to be found in the ceiling. The Roman key pattern and the double guilloche pattern, picked out in gold leaf, are dominant here. All the round-headed windows are in the Classical-Wren style, with clear leaded lights of hand-made glass. With clear windows on all four sides, the cathedral is flooded with light at any time of the day. This, together with the white walls and stone floor, combine to give a translucent effect which uplifts the spirit and conveys its own sense of the presence of God.
The cathedral is lit by brass English Classical chandeliers (one of which was formerly in the church at Epping) and, above the cornice, there is concealed lighting. The photograph below shows the interior on the 25th Anniversary of Bishop Thomas. In any church the altar is the focal or high point (which is what the word means), because it is the sign of Jesus Christ himself and the one eternal Sacrifice of Our Saviour.
The processional cross is a copy of a medieval design. The figure represents a transitional period in the theology of design where Christ still wears the crown of the Risen Lord, but the corpus, or body,is that of the crucified Saviour.
The Bishop’s chair or cathedra is a tangible sign of his presiding over the diocese. The Bishop uses it also for presiding at the liturgy, when it is a link with presiding chairs in parish churches throughout the diocese. It was made in Pisa, in Nabrassina stone, and has steps of Portland stone. In the centre is the coat of arms of the diocese. The base of the seat is inlaid with slate, to match the floor.
Consecration crosses are incised into the stone of the Doric pilasters that hold up the clerestory. They were anointed like the altar, as a sign that the whole building is dedicated to God. On the feast of the Dedication the candles in front of the gilded crosses are lit. In the east aisle, there are two rooms set aside to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. On the opposing wall is to be found a crucifix, formerly in the church of Stock, Essex.
Around the arcade are terracotta roundels representing the Stations of the Cross. These were modelled by Raphael Maklouf, the well-known sculptor, who was responsible for the Queen’s head on all current coins. Their milky glaze perfectly complements the subtlety and intimacy with which the familiar scenes have been expressed.