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The Nave

The vast nave of Westminster Cathedral.

Westminster is a working Cathedral, good at fulfilling its purpose as a house of prayer and worship.

The Greek word narthex means a ‘small casket’ and that is often what the first vestibule of a church is like. When the great West door of Westminster Cathedral is open the visitor may enter the narthex directly. To the left a basin of holy water is set into the wall which the Christian visitor will often use for a blessing. It is a symbol of the waters of baptism and has the Latin inscription which reads when translated: ‘Purge me, with hyssop, and I shall be clean. Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow…’ It expresses a desire to be purified before entering the presence of God.

The main body of the church, the nave, from the Latin navis, meaning a ship. The nave of a church is the place of the people, where they are carried forward in their journey towards God. The ship is the church of Christ upholding the individual soul above the stormy waters of life in a material world.

From the narthex we see the nave stretching before us towards the high altar under its elegant canopy or baldacchino. Suspended between the sanctuary and nave is the great rood or crucifix. It seems to float in the dark spaces above, a brightly-lit red against the cavernous arches that soar upwards. All the lines of perspective converge and focus on the baldacchino and the high altar beneath it.

The lighting

The lighting pendants of the nave – or cantilevers as they were first called – were erected early in 1909. They are reminiscent of the metal circles that bear lamps in Santa Sophia as described by the Paul the Silentiary. They were entirely designed by Bentley, Son & Marrshall, the architect having left no record of his intentions regarding light fixtures. They consist of a system of plain iron rings, varying in diameter and connected by a light network of wrought iron chains painted a neutral green.