Saturday, 28 March 2015

The White Church, Blackpool (UK)

The former shrine-church of our Lady of Lourdes
known in Blackpool as The White Church
because of its portland stone exterior
The former shrine-church of our Lady of Lourdes in Blackpool was built between 1955 and 1957 to a design by the Catholic architect Francis Xavier Verlarde. During World War II, the Bishop of Lancaster, Thomas E. Flynn, sought the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, to protect the Diocese from war damage. At the end of the war the Diocese had been relatively undamaged, and the bishop conceived the idea of building a shrine to Our of Lourdes in thanksgiving. 

The churches designed by the architect Verlarde were decidedly modern in appearance. He designed relatively simple churches in a style derived from the Romanesque churches of rural France but in a greatly simplified, even severe form. It would not be correct to describe his work at art deco, but nevertheless they blend with the streamlined architecture of that period. The Blackpool shrine was built towards the end of Verlarde's life.

The Shrine seen from the south,
shewing the tracery windows of the aisles.
Wikipedia tells us that shrine-church of our Lady of Lourdes is constructed in brick and concrete clad with Portland stone.  The church is roofed in copper sheets and has copper cladding to the fl├Ęche or spirelet. The nave is flanked by box-like aisles in which rectangular panels of cast concrete glazing are filled with geometric patterns, their pink and pale blue glass giving good light to the interior. At the west end there is single-bay narthex, and at the east end is an apse forming the sanctuary, and projecting vestries. 

The exterior of the church is decorated in a most striking manner with marvellous stone carvings by David John. In the west front over the fine timber double doors is a bas-relief of the Crucified Christ surrounded by the angels. God the Father is depicted above the Cross and the Blessed Virgin at its foot.  

David John's marvellous
carving of the Crucifixion.
David John also designed the pinnacles at the corners of the building; these depict Our Lady of Lourdes appearing to Saint Bernadette, Christ appearing to Saint Margaret Mary, Saint Thomas of Canterbury, and Saint Edward the Confessor. 

At the entrance to the building are York stone steps with splayed flanking walls. The interior arcades columns are clad in gold mosaic. The ceiling is coloured blue, red and gold, with deep coffering around the light fittings and the floor of the body of the shrine is tiled. The sanctuary is raised and approached on marble steps through a round arch; its floor is travertine with mosaic panels. The altar rails are bronze with an Art Deco design. The altar reredos was carved by David John.

Unhappily, the shrine was deconsecrated in 1993, and passed into the ownership of the Historic Chapels Trust (a secular charity), in 2000 in a poor state and without an endowment. 

Several recent photographs of the exterior of the church may be found here.

Carved statue as a pinnacle of the northern aisle
in juxtaposition to the spirelet on the nave roof.

An imaginative composition.
Note the clean - almost severe - lines of the apse.

Another view, from the southwest.
The box-like sacristy and porch (shewn in the right corner of the photograph)
which abut the southern aisle and the apse
are part of the original design but greatly detract from the building.

The now derelict interior of the Shrine Church is partially shewn in this photograph.
A free-standing altar with carved antependium by David John
is part of the original sanctuary furnishings.
The austere and oddly-shaped reredos is a great disappointment.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Altar Canopy

The manner of decorating an altar which has been hallowed by ancient tradition and is distinctly a Catholic practice, is to build over the entire altar a large canopy, usually standing on four columns. Such a canopy is often referred to as a  ciborium,  or a  baldacchino  or  a civory.  In mediaeval times, particularly in England, a different form of canopy came to be suspended from the ceiling above the altar, usually being square but sometimes circular in shape.  Later still the canopy evolved into an adjunct to the altar which jutted out at right angles from the topmost part of its reredos. These different forms of canopy all have specific names, which are often confused. This is the first of many posts illustrating canopies, in their various forms, over our altars.

The canopy, according to Canon J.B. O’Connell, “was a traditional mark of reverence and honour, emphasising the royal dignity of the altar...without any infringement of the inviolable sanctity and detachment of that sacred stone.”  Canon J.B. O’Connell, Church Building and Furnishing: the Church’s Way, 1955, pp. 185-86.

The great bronze canopy over the High altar of St. Peter's Basilica.
Designed by the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, it was intended to mark,
in a monumental way, the place of Saint Peter's tomb beneath.
Commissioned by Pope Urban VIII, the work began in 1623 and ended in 1634.

The most famous example of such a canopy is in Saint Peter’s Basilica; but there are numerous such canopies throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, North America and in Australia. Many of these were built in the first half of the twentieth century, when liturgical ideals were being practically espoused.

The former Ceremonial of Bishops and various decrees of the Congregation of Sacred Rites required a canopy of some sort to be built over an altar - a directive which, unfortunately, was largely ignored. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Shrines of the Blessed Eucharist : 2

Although reservation of the Blessed Sacrament is of great antiquity in the practice of the Church, the oldest and primary purpose of reservation is formally stated in the 13th canon of the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) : "With respect to the dying, the old rule of the Church should continue to be observed which forbids that anyone who is on the point of death should be deprived of the last and most necessary Viaticum."

In this post, we wish briefly to trace the manner of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in the Western Church.

Hanging Pyx
A Eucharistic pyx made in Limoges France
first half of the 13th century.
This pyx was designed to be suspended above an altar.

In the Collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
The first official regulation for reservation in the Western Church comes from the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, when it was already the custom to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in cathedrals, parish churches and the chapels of religious orders on (or more usually) near the altar. The Council did no more than direct that the Reserved Sacrament should be kept with strict care under lock and key. There appears to be no reliable evidence before the year 1000, or even later, the Blessed Sacrament was kept in churches in order that the faithful might visit it or pray before it.

As to the manner and place of Reservation during the early centuries there was no great uniformity of practice.

In the early mediaeval period, caskets in the form of a dove or of a small tower made for the most part of one of the precious metals, were commonly used for the purpose, but whether in this period these Eucharistic vessels were kept over the altar, or elsewhere in the church or in the sacristy is not clear. But after the tenth century the most common usage in England and France seems to have been to suspend the Blessed Sacrament in a pyx or dove-shaped vessel over the High Altar. Nevertheless, fixed and locked aumbries were also found.

Sacrament House
Sacrament House in the church of Saint Denis
Rheine, Germany, late 15th century.
This splendid construction, which is still used for the
Reservation of the Blessed Eucharist
is located just outside the sanctuary in the northern transept.

Germany and the Low Countries developed the Sacrament House, an elaborate structure of stone and metalwork, usually standing a short distance away from the altar on the northern or Gospel side of the sanctuary.

A 14th century English Aumbry of the Blessed Sacrament
St Peter's Anglican church, Claypole, Lincolnshire:
The aumbry, set into the chancel wall,
is enriched with stonework in the Decorated Gothic style.
Image :

A cupboard or Aumbry in the wall of the sanctuary was customary in parts of Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Scotland and elsewhere. They were most frequently enriched with stonework and polychrome work.

The reforms following the Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) prescribed a Tabernacle fixed to the centre of the altar. But earlier usages were not formally forbidden. Furthermore, specific Chapels for the reservation of the Blessed Eucharist were arranged in Cathedrals and Greater Churches, separate from the Sanctuary. After Trent, the tabernacle became the usual mode of reservation in all Catholic churches, although there were exceptions in Germany and Belgium, where the old sacrament houses were permitted to be used.

High altar in the Church of Saint Euphemia,
Ravenna mid 18th century.
It was not untypical for High altars in Italy to have tabernacles
which resembled miniature temples in the classical style.

The term tabernacle to denote this kind of receptacle fixed to the altar for the reserved Sacrament was introduced by the reforming bishop of Verona, Matthew Giberti, about 1525 and his ideas were later endorsed by the Council of Trent.

Further posts in this series will discuss each of these methods of Eucharistic Reservation. For this post, we have adapted essays in the Catholic Encyclopaedia (1911) by Father Herbert Thurston and in the Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (1972) by Archdale A King.