Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Genius of AWN Pugin 2 :
The Gate of Heaven

Entrance to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of
Saint Giles' Church, Cheadle UK.
PORTA CAELI (the Gate of Heaven) ! These were the words uttered by John Henry Newman when he entered the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of Saint Giles' Church Cheadle (Staffordshire UK). The Cheadle Church was the creation which gave its architect - AWN Pugin  - the most satisfaction.

Reserving a fuller study of this glorious Gothic Revival church for another occasion, here we simply wish to comment on its Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

In the first instance, it is somewhat rare - even unusual - to find a parish church from the 19th century with a special chapel for the Reservation of the Blessed Eucharist. In most churches - and even many Cathedrals - the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in a tabernacle on the High altar. The former Ceremonial of Bishops did expect that a Blessed Sacrament Chapel would exist in Cathedral Churches, but even so this was widely ignored, as is illustrated by many Cathedrals in the "Old" and "New" worlds right up until the 1960's.

Pugin's desire to build a church in all respects mediaeval and correct liturgically, of course, motivated his design for a distinct Blessed Sacrament Chapel at Cheadle.  But how exactly he managed to convince Ecclesiastical authorities of the desirability of such a plan is unknown to this writer.

The altar and tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
On the right can be seen a liturgical wash-basin called piscina in which
the priest may purify his fingers having distributed Holy Communion.

The decorations of the Cheadle Chapel are lavish and inspire awe : precisely the effect that was intended. We find a gate leading from the southern aisle of the church into the Chapel, made of brass and figured with motifs of the Blessed Eucharist. The arch leading into the chapel is magnificently stencilled on its every face and chamfer.

In these times, the Chapel is lit brightly with electrical lamps. But Pugin intended to create a mysterious corner where the Faithful may not enter and which glowed only with the light of candles and the filtered light of stained glass windows.

The walls of the Chapel are all stencilled, its ceiling vaulted in stone, its floor paved with magnificent geometric tiles of terracotta red, gold and blue.

The Altar of this chapel is equally beautiful, proportionate and fitting. This was not an altar on which Mass was intended to be celebrated and we note that although the Church was consecrated in September 1846, this altar was not consecrated. There is no predella or altar platform elevating the height of this altar above the pavement : a requirement for altars of the Roman Rite. No this altar was purely intended for the Reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist.

The altar has no gradines or little steps upon its table, but only the Tabernacle, being a box-like form, enriched with enamelled metalwork. A retable, which is the full width of the reveals of the stained glass window above it, is formed from magnificent encaustic tiles, arranged geometrically. It is to be well noted that there are no figures of the saints or the angels in this retable.

The face of this alabaster Altar, however, is beautifully enriched with five niches containing images of the Seraphim. We find the Seraphim also depicted in the three-light stained glass window above the altar.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

Updated 29th January.

Another view of the Chapel entrance.
Photograph of Father Lawrence Lew OP.