Blessed Sacrament Chapel
The Chapel is screened off from the rest of the Cathedral.
The tabernacle is the primary focal point in the Chapel
The Chapel beyond the north transept to the left of the main Sanctuary is the heart of Westminster Cathedral – the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.
At all times of the day visitors are to be seen within its gates engaged in private prayer. Votive candles flicker in the half-light while from the lampadarium suspended before the altar, three oil lamps glow on the marble sanctuary with its silk-shrouded tabernacle.
Candles, once essential for lighting after dusk, remain a powerful symbol for prayer and the primacy of spirit over matter. Curiously, although the Chapel is late Victorian, with mosaics completed as late as 1962, there is a timeless quality about this space reminiscent of those hallowed sanctuaries such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, or the Chapel of the apostle’s tomb beneath St Peter’s, Rome.
Only in this primary Chapel is the Blessed Sacrament ‘reserved’ – kept in the tabernacle – after consecration at the various Masses which occur day by day. In the early centuries, the sacrament was reserved so that people confined by sickness could be visited at home or in hospital and given participation in the communion which those in the church had received. That is still one of the reasons for the tabernacle. Gradually the place of reservation became a place of prayer or vigil, and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament remains a characteristic of Roman Catholic life and practice.
The mosaics of the Chapel were designed by Boris Anrep as a meditation on its special purpose and its dedication to the Blessed Trinity.
On either side of the arch we have lively mosaics of the phoenix and the peacock. In Christian art the peacock is used as a symbol of immortality, the hundred eyes of its tail-fan symbolising the omniscient God to whom are desires are known and from whom no secrets are hidden.
The phoenix was first introduced into Christian symbolism by St Clement of Rome, as early as the first century. This mythical bird was said to renew its life every few hundred years by burning itself on a funeral pyre. It was often put on gravestones to represent the resurrection of the dead and belief in the life to come.