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The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary, High Altar beneath the baldachino.

Archbishop's throne or cathedra

From the narthex we see the nave stretching before us towards the high altar under its elegant canopy or baldachino. 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. Thirty feet high and carved in wood, the cross was made in Bruges from Bentley’s designs. The Sanctuary is 62 feet long and 50 feet wide. All the lines of perspective converge and focus on the baldachino and the high altar beneath it.

At the Gospel side of the high altar stands the archbishop’s throne or cathedra, a facsimile, though smaller, of the throne in the basilica of St John Lateran in Rome. It was the gift of the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales to Cardinal Vaughan.

At certain times of the day, particularly in Spring and Autumn, the morning sun streams through the east windows of the Cathedral onto the High Altar. In doing so it illuminates the glass beads around the central crucifix, giving it an aura of light.

The crucifix was first used at the consecration of the Cathedral on 28 June 1910 and matches the candlesticks on either side. It is 7ft 3in high and 2ft 9in wide and the base can be separated for carrying. The central figure of Our Lord is of gilt bronze with the support and base of brass. The symbols for the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha and Omega, hang from the arms of the cross, which is decorated with a pattern of red, white and turquoise enamel diamonds. Above the central figure the letters INRI appear and below is a chalice.

The crucifix and candlesticks were designed by the firm of Bentley, Son and Marshall after the death of the first architect, John Bentley. The six candlesticks are each adorned with a pair of pear-shaped pendants of milky-white opal. A seventh candlestick was also made, appearing when the Archbishop celebrated Mass at the High Altar. Many of the original glass beads surrounding the crucifix had become detached and damaged over the years. When an incident occurred in the Sanctuary some years ago, resulting in the need for repair, the opportunity was taken to replace them and bring the number up to eighty-five.