In June 2010, Rooney & McConville were pleased to be appointed as architects and liturgical designers for the renovation of the sanctuary and for other improvement / repair work to the interior.
The building is a traditional Nineteenth Century stone building comprising a nave, aisles, apse, reredos, side altars and altar rails. The walls of the apse and the floor of the sanctuary have a mosaic finish. As is common in many churches, the mensa (the top of the previous altar) and the altar frontal had been separated from the reredos and moved forward to form a freestanding altar, as required by the changes to the liturgy introduced after the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 64). The original marble pulpit had been reduced in size and height and relocated to form an ambo. Unusually the altar rails and side altars had been retained.
There were a number of concerns regarding this arrangement. Foremost was the fact that there was not enough space to perform the liturgy with an appropriate dignity. This was particularly acute with concelebration, celebration of the rite of marriage and the order of funerals. The purpose of the renovation, therefore, was to maximise the space in the sanctuary in order that each of the liturgical elements had their own sacramental space.
The starting point of every church renovation is the altar. It should be distinguished from the reredos, the large structure in the rear of the apse that houses the tabernacle. The altar is to be the focal point of the church and the centre of the Eucharistic celebration. For these reasons the altar must dominate the sanctuary and be the natural focus of the assembly’s attention. With this in mind it was decided to locate the altar further forward nearer the congregation. The floor of the sanctuary is extended out to accommodate the altar and the floor pattern is designed in such a way as to focus on it. The new floor tiling design contains the inscription ‘Salvator Mundi Salvator Nos’ - ‘Saviour of the World, Save Us’ in a circular pattern with the altar at its centre. This has the advantage of increasing the size of the sanctuary providing the additional space that is required for the other elements and symbolically it places Christ at the centre of this worshipping community and its aspirations. It also allows the celebrant to stand much further away from the tabernacle allowing it to have its own space and dignity. The design of the new altar itself has been inspired by the pulpit incorporating some of the original marble detailing so that there is a strong sense of continuity.
The dignity of the Word of God requires a suitable place for announcing the Good News. This place is the ambo from which the Word of God is proclaimed. The previous ambo was a cut-down version of the pulpit however it was decided to replace it with a new ambo in order to reflect the importance of Christ becoming truly present in the proclamation of the Word. The new ambo is, like the altar, made from Carrera marble and has been designed to relate to it aesthetically though less prominent, as is appropriate. Two marble columns from the pulpit have been salvaged and incorporated into the design.
Similarly, the Presider’s Chair must reflect the fact that Christ becomes truly present in the person of the celebrant when the Eucharist is celebrated. Consequently it is of a size to have a presence but in proper relation to the altar. Its shape and profile relate aesthetically to the altar and ambo but it is made of hardwood for comfort.
It was always a consideration that the original features of the sanctuary such as the altar rails, reredos and mosaics should be honoured and retained in a dignified way. Consequently the integrity of the reredos has been reinstated by locating the previous altar frontal and mensa back to its original location. The reredos is now complete again. The altar rails in the centre of the sanctuary have been relocated in front of the reredos to create a separate sacred space where God resides in the form of the reserved sacrament in the tabernacle. In this position they emphasise the boundary between the reserved sacrament behind them and the altar of sacrifice and banquet in front of them.
Rooney + McConville
13 Upper Crescent
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