Thursday, 15 November 2007

A Visit to the Holy Souls' Chapel

To mark the month of the Holy Souls, a visit to the Chapel where we pray especially for them. It is a precious Catholic belief that the souls of the dead await in Purgatory their final purification before entering heaven, helped by the prayers of the living.
As befits its sombre theme, the walls of the chapel are clad in dark marble, and the vault decorated in ghostly silver, rather than gold, mosaic.
Above the altar, Christian Symons' altarpiece, finished in 1904, represents Christ in Judgement. His gaze is at once tender and intense. He displays his five wounds, a reminder of the dedication of the Cathedral to the Most Precious Blood.
Above, the archangels Raphael and Michael escort penitent souls through the flames of purgatory, until they rise, purifed, to the glories of heaven.
The figure of the first Adam is shown ensnared in the serpent ...
..while, opposite, the second Adam - Jesus Christ - tramples the same serpent underfoot.

In the west wall, a mosaic by Symons shows the Burning Fiery Furnace from chapter three of the book of Daniel, here represented as an image of Christ walking with the souls of the faithful, so that they are unharmed by the purifying flames of purgatory.
This mosaics of this chapel are the only part of the Cathedral to have been designed by Francis Bentley, himself suggesting the themes to Symons in precise and detailed instructions.


universal doctor said...

My most vivid memory of th Holy Souls Chapel is from June 22nd (?) 1999, when I was one of those fortunate to be present at the requiem of HE George Basil Hume- requiescat in pace. We were seated there awaiting the Mass, when one of the ushers beckoned the front row to a few seats which still remained in the nave. How fitting to have started there, and how privileged we were to be present as he was committed to Our Heavenly Father

John the organist said...

Thank you for these marvellous photos and a memory of Basil Hume. I went to his lying in state in the hall and it was very moving, also the service on the eve of the funeral.

Jude said...

This fine commentary is a fantastic example of the catechetical and theological nature of all of the artwork in the Cathedral. Often we walk by, marvelling at the beauty of the mosaics and the marble without recognizing the significance. Thanks Fr. Mark for this brief overview. I have prayed in that chapel for my family members more times than I can count, and never really seriously understood what this artwork was meant to convey.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering but I have often visited the Cathedral and the side altars are never vested. Surly it would be SO much nicer if the altars had at least a cloth on them and, preferably some candles and a crucifix. It is so depressing like it is right now, Good Friday every day. Please consider it, please!

Mark Langham said...

Dear Anonymous

As mentioned several times before, we are unable to dress the side altars regularly for security reasons. The altar fittings were specially created for each chapel and irreplacable. Sadly, we can only afford to dress the altars on their feast days, during which we have to keep a permanent watch on the chapels to avoid theft.

Anonymous said...

Well, could you not just have cheaper copies made? Of just by cheap ones for daily use. Surly you need to have the side altars vested for private Masses anyway. Finally, how come the London Oratory have no problem in keeping their side altars vested at all times? I think that the advice you have been given on this subject may be over cautious.