Saturday, 26 March 2011

How lovely is Thy dwelling place?

Many years ago when no Latin Masses were celebrated within a radius of 150 miles of us, we created a chapel in a wing of our house and visiting priests celebrated Mass there and during the week the family retreated to it in order to pray and meditate.
We did all that we could to make it a fitting place for Catholic worship, statues, flowers, sanctuary light, candles and altar linens - we tended it lovingly. Simple as it was it became a fitting place for the offering of the Mass.
Cardiff Metropolitan Cathedral -
has a touch of Gotham City about it!

Now during the week I visited the main Catholic church in Wales, St David's Cathedral, Cardiff. From the outside it is a shade grim and more than a bit overpowering with its slightly sooty stonework. But, it's what's on the inside that matters.

Except that, I have visited this church before so I knew what to expect on the inside, it is a touch of Freemason's Lodge meets Presbyterian Kirk. It is cold, and I do not mean in terms of temperature; it is austere and reflects well its exterior.
Presidential chair centre, tabernacle far right

The sanctuary is odd. Large purple (Lenten?) banners are dotted around  and the altar is the usual table covered in a purple cloth plonked in the centre of the sanctuary and behind it stands a massive Presidential chair.....centre stage (someone important sits here!). No tabernacle of course, we have to search a bit for that...Oh there you are Lord, right of centre (much like my position) but out of the mainstream. Shame.
An air of emptiness about it'

The Cathedral has an air of emptiness and abandon about it. I have experienced the same feeling in Protestant churches; it's namesake, St David's Cathedral in Pembrokeshire (Church of Wales Anglican) has the same feel, as if the owner had left the place some time ago.

It is, perhaps, understandable in a non Catholic church but for a
Catholic Cathedral to  have that atmosphere is, frankly, depressing.

I try to pray but am distracted by uncharitable thoughts about A) the architect and B) those who are supposed to cherish this place. I plough on with my prayers but I cannot stay long. That is, I could stay long but really I cannot wait to get out into the fresh air.
The Sacred Heart Chapel,
a little bleak?

I appreciate that it is Lent and churches are supposed to look spartan at this time but this place feels positively neglected. Side chapels are bare except for one with a single statue...the Sacred Heart stands alone and isolated; there are few candle racks and the ones that are there are the dreaded night light variety, you know, twenty pence for twenty minutes?

Is this really the best we can do for the Lord? I am ashamed by this Cathedral and only hope that it is awaiting the appointment of a new Archbishop to this important Archdiocese that has been without a leader for so long. Whoever it is, I hope they have an eye for  how a Cathedral should look.


  1. So many (too many) Catholic churches look like post-Reformation churches. You know, where the 'Mass' was Anglican but with a remnant of the True Faith. Most believed in the Real Presence, but the number who didn't grew, slowly. A sure example of what happens when you replace Altars with tables. But what do i know.

  2. It IS pretty grim. When did you last have a Catholic bishop in Cardiff? The stripped side altars look like a determined attempt to recreate that sense of permanent Good Friday one invariably experiences in those of our churches now in Anglican hands.

  3. You've got wings in your house? Wow!
    I began to picture your home as Baddeseley Clinton in my mind, they have a chapel in one of their wings too. Post a photo!

    The cathedral does look really cold and austere, but maybe check it out after Lent is over. perhaps it will swing the other way and be festooned with flowers (can I say festooned, when describing church decorations?).
    They charge( or strongly encourage payment) to go into the really posh protestant cathedrals, so maybe it's a case of funds, or rather lack of?

  4. Im sorry but you are being unfair to Cardiff Metropolitan cathedral! It was built as a parish church remember, and we have always found it charming, its very gothic and has some very nice stonework and the side altars are very ornate marble. What were you expecting? Its a make do and mend Cathedral and its the people who are the Church.

  5. I agree that the interior of the cathedral looks a tad grim, but it was constructed as a parish church not a cathedral, so it is unreasonable to expect anything grand.

    As for the tabernacle being on the side; perhaps following the example of St Peter's Basilica and placing it in a side chapel would be more appropriate. Remember that the idea of a tabernacle in the main part of the church is a practise which only arose as a reaction to the Reformation. It is thus something of a innovation - as are the hideous, minimalist fiddle back chasubles so loved by those who profess themselves as keepers of tradition.

  6. Patricius - I think it was around 1968 :)
    Shadowlands - sounds grand but wasn't, we lived in an old schoolhouse at the time and our chapel was in one of the classrooms.
    Diddleymaz/Parepidemos - I could overlook the construction if the interior looked as if someone cared for it, it looked derelict!
    Also, a tradition that took root 500 years ago has my vote as do fiddlebacks.

  7. One is bound to ask what did those who vandalised this building think they were doing? If they were merely reducing excessively florid decoration I would have some sympathy, however, the moving of the tabernacle from the axial point on the sanctuary and its replacement with the cathedra cannot but send out a clear visual message. It says that the bishop's authority is of greater significance than the abiding presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Was this intentional?
    I doubt it. Rather do I think that it is an example of liturgical archaeologism where the early basilica which the Church derived from the secular edifice of antiquity with its apse and presidential chair was viewed as permanently normative and the developed forms of medieval, renaissance, baroque and later times as somehow a decline from this early ideal rather than an advance or development. Whatever one's opinion of this view the absurdity of attempting to create this arrangement in a neo-gothic interior should be obvious. In short the form of the church interior says one thing while the disposition of the elements within it says something else. This unresolved tension is, I think, responsible for the nihilism one senses in such churches.

  8. You missed the CTS shop next door? Shame. They are stocking Phillip Pullman's latest book. (I wish I was joking) Right at home among much of the heretical tosh they already stock.

  9. Mummymayhem - I give CTS shops a wide berth unless I need something specific like a rosary.
    Most of them stock new age CDs rather than plainchant, it won't be long before crystals and tarot cards will be on display!