Whether you have just arrived via the internet or you are making a personal visit to the Cathedral, please feel most welcome. This Listed Grade II* building holds much of interest to the enquirer and it is hoped you might stop, pause and reflect during your visit.
In August 1965 the architects Percy Thomas Partnership were commissioned to undertake the design and construction of a new Cathedral, on a new site in Clifton. They immediately set up a dialogue with the church and its advisors to formulate a design brief. The Second Council of the Vatican was meeting in Rome, Italy, discussing the renewal of the Church in its relationship to the world, and the Council's decree on liturgical worship helped to focus attention at Clifton on the role of the people, with the bishop and their priests in the celebration of the Eucharist.
You may wish to refer to the History section on this site for further information about the former ProCathedral Church of the Holy Apostles in Clifton.
After some months of discussion between the architects and the Bishop's Liturgical Briefing Committee it was agreed that the major requirement was to provide a space where a congregation of 1000 could be grouped closely around the High Altar so that they take a full and active participation in the celebration of the mass. The other main requirements were for the placing of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the Baptismal Font and the Lectern. The arrangement of these main parts of the building in relationship to the movement of people entering and leaving constitutes the design concept and determines the shape of the building.
See the floor plan at the top right of this page.
The impressive doors offer a welcome to all who visit the Cathedral. They incorporate the Coats of Arms of the City & County of Bristol and the Shield of the Seventh Bishop of Clifton, Joseph Rudderham and were originally presented by the City of Bristol at the opening in 1973, which year also marked the 600th centenary of the granting of the City of Bristol Charter in 1373. A reminder of the continuing and developing relationship between the Cathedral and its people in giving Christian witness and service in the wider civic community of which it is part.
The main doors of the Cathedral Saint Peter Portal [East] and Saint Paul Portal [West] lead into the Narthex that contains two coloured glass windows by Henry Haigh. Over 8,000 pieces of glass gathered from many locations throughout Europe, were used in their construction.
The window, Jubilation, on the left, expresses the freedom and the joy we might experience in the discovery of God's Spirit in the wonders of the natural world: walking on an open beach where earth, sea and sky meet and intermingle in the beauty of the natural world. This human joy in creation is at the heart of our concern for the world environment and the peoples who live on earth.
The longer window, Pentecost, expresses the joyful experience of the presence of God's Spirit, the wonderful Gifts of the Spirit, the new creation and freedom that comes with Christian faith. The re-creation of mankind with the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is the good news we experience and share with the apostles whose lives were transformed and renewed in spirit.
Here at the entrance to the Cathedral people enter through their own baptism into the Christian community, being born again of water and the Holy Spirit. Here they begin a new relationship with God in the family of the Christian Church.
The Font carved in Portland Stone and Spanglebed Purbeck by Simon Verity stands in a pool of water, and inscribed upon the rim of the bowl the words, 'Once you were no people now you are God's People' [1 Peter 2:10]. The architect has used the natural white light to emphasis the importance of the baptistery in the life of the Christian. In the early centuries of the church, baptism was called 'illumination' and we still speak of Christ as the light of the world, or the light of faith.
The sign of the fish carved in the bowl is an ancient symbol for Christ who saves us through his death and resurrection. When Simon Verity was dressing the stone with his chisel he revealed a complete fossil fish across the width of the bowl, but it was too late to make this a lasting feature of his design. But possibly his was a significant discovery given that the Î¹Ï‡Î¸Ï…Ïƒ - the sign of the fish - was that ancient Christian symbol for Christ. The five Greek letters - a 'secret' message translates: Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour.
Those entering the Cathedral take water from the stoops in the wall near the baptistery to remind themselves of their own baptism, and to renew their faith in Christ, as they assemble again as the People of God.
Note the Baptistery is the point at which we enter the Church, but as you will see the font is also at the front of the church so the whole people can join in the celebration of Baptism.
In the adjacent wall, the Holy Oils are enshrined. These oils are used in celebration of various Sacraments and are reverenced as enshrining the presence of Christ's Spirit bringing healing, restoration and holiness to all mankind.
The Oil of Catechumens
used as a preparation for Baptism
The Oil of the Sick
to bring healing forgiveness and strength to the sick
The Oil of Chrism
used at in the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism Confirmation and the Sacrament of Vocation: Ordination.
The visitor is then drawn into the main seating area which accommodates 1,000 people arranged around three sides of the hexagonal shaped Sanctuary area, so that no person is more than 15 metres (48 feet) from the Altar. From the Cathedra (Bishop's Chair), the Bishop presides over the whole community assembled for the Eucharist, with the priests, and deacons who assist the bishop in his work as pastor and teacher. A major design requirement was to provide a space where the congregation could be grouped closely around the High Altar so that they should feel and be part of the celebration of the Mass. Note that when the Sacrament of Baptism is being celebrated in the presence of all the assembly, the Baptistery and Font are now in full view at the front of the Cathedral so that all can take part in the celebration.
The fusion of the basic parts of the Cathedral, the entrance movement through the Baptistery, with the grouping of the Nave seating around the Lectern and Sanctuary are the key to the design. The other important elements, the Cathedra, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Organ space are easy to attach around the hexagonal Sanctuary space.
Greek and Roman Temples of the classical period were designed on the basis of a module or controlling dimension, namely the diameter of the base of the columns. The architect searched for a sympathetic rule, or control, based on the functional requirements within the building and found that the critical dimensions of the aisles, ambulatory, seat rows and steps were multiples of 1 ft. 6 in. (metric equivalent approx. 45 cm) All the dimensions and angles within the building are based on an equilateral triangle height 1 ft. 6 in. base to apex and this is the controlling order that runs throughout. The votive candelabrum hanging in the Lady Chapel is constructed of twenty such triangles and was made by Brother Patrick of Prinknash Abbey.
The requirements of both the environmental and structural consultants was realised by the erection of an in situ reinforced concrete structure, with the in situ walls a minimum 3.2 cm thick (8 in) and the whole cocooned in 0.8 cm. (2 in) expanded polystyrene. One of the main concerns is to direct attention to the Altar, with this in mind windows within sight lines that could cause distraction by glare have been eliminated. All day lighting in the Cathedral is by natural roof lights, with daylight washing down on the ring beam walls so that overall illumination is by reflected light with intensity increasing towards the sanctuary area.
The reflective interior wall surface has been achieved by using a white Portland sand and concrete mix having exposed in situ concrete as the internal finish. The high quality of the concrete construction is noted.
It is a feature of the building that the men and women involved in the design and construction gave that 'bit extra' to ensure that only the highest quality was achieved.
So pause to remember, the carpenters who constructed the Cathedral in timber to make the formwork in which the concrete was poured to give that perfect finish of the grain of the Red Redwood pine timber from the Kara Sea in northern Russia; or pause to remember the single worker who personally, over a three-year period, mixed every bag of sand and cement on site to ensure that it was the perfect chemical mix to get the required result. We of course, should also remember the architects, engineers and other members of the construction team in those 'heady days' between 1969 and 1973 while the Cathedral was being constructed.
The acoustic quality of the building is a compromise between the demands of both speech and music. High level spaces created by the concrete star beam, with the suspended functional absorbers, supported by the addition of computerised high quality sound reproduction equipment ensures that one of the primary design requirements of being able to listen to the Word of God is met. In recent years, a computerised sound system and hearing loop has been installed, although for many years such a system was not thought necessary as good speakers could make themselves heard with ease throughout the nave space.
Central to the design of the building is the High Altar around which the assembly gathers in celebration. One of the chief design features was that all in the assembly would be able to a take a full and active participation in the sacred liturgy. The people and ministers are located in close proximity to the Altar to see and hear what is being celebrated. The other ministers at the altar are gathered around along with the singers and other musicians. Indeed it is only 15 metres (45 feet approx.) from the Altar to the back row of the Nave seating.
The Lectern, designed by architect Ronald Weeks and made by artist William Mitchell, is free standing. From here the Word of God is proclaimed so that many may hear the Good News of salvation in Christ. So moving from baptism to hearing God's word, the faithful assemble about the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. Made of plywood and covered in fibre glass the Lectern emphasises the importance to the community of the reading and listening to the scriptures as the word of God.
The bishops' chair or Cathedra â€“ in his Cathedral Church the bishop presides over the people in the name of Christ. From his chair he teaches them and serves them as pastor and priest. The simplicity of the design is used to emphasise the fact that the Bishop is the servant of the Church, an equal among the baptised.
The Church of Clifton comprising the bishop, priests, deacons and people of the diocese is one of many such local churches bound in communion with the See of Peter and with the bishop of Rome in historic succession. In the neighbouring ambulatory the engraved brass plate records the previous incumbents and the bishops of the Western District and Diocese of Clifton
The Christian altar is seen as both a table for the commemoration of the Last Supper of the Lord, and as a place of sacrifice reminding us of the death of the Lord until he comes again. Here the assembly comes together united in Christian faith to worship God, and to celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord. Believers recall Jesus' words: 'For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.' (Matt 18:20)
The relics of martyrs and saints are traditionally contained within the altar, and here the relics are of Pope Saint Pius Tenth a leading papal reformer of the liturgy who died in 1914, and the relic of Saint Oliver Plunkett martyr â€“ hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in 1681. His remains lay at the nearby Benedictine monastery at Downside in Somerset until their translation to Dublin where Oliver Plunkett had been archbishop prior to his execution on a false charge of High Treason.
The Cathedral organ is a three manual pipe organ built by Rieger Orgelbau of Austria for the opening of the Cathedral in June 1973. The specification was drawn up by Joseph von Glatter-GÃ¶tz, then managing director of Rieger Orgelbau, in conjunction with John Rowntree of the Society of Saint Gregory Organ Advisory Group. The contract price in 1973 was £18,000 - the Brustwerk Cimbel being donated by Herr Glatter-GÃ¶tz at his own expense.
The design of the case for the Rieger organ was by Herr Glatter-GÃ¶tz in collaboration with Ronald Weeks the architect, and reflects the triangles, hexagons and the proportions (1:âˆš3) on which the overall design of the Cathedral building is based. The case is made of ash, great care having been taken to match the wood throughout the Cathedral to the extent that it was sourced from all over Europe. The pedal pipes have the copper flamed to complement the scheme. Copper was more economic as a pipe metal than lead or tin in 1973. Although of modest proportions and scale for the Cathedral, it speaks with great clarity (largely due to a neo-Baroque voicing style) and control (due to a sensitive, atmospherically compensated, mechanical action). It is the only instrument of its type in the South West of England, and attracts recitalists, recording artists and students from throughout the UK and abroad.
This chapel is a place for private prayer and for the celebration of the Eucharist on weekdays. From here Communion is taken to the sick and dying. The Tabernacle which is used for the reservation of the Sacrament, is made of stainless steel to a design by John Alder, and reminds us that God lives among his people, the tent of dwelling pitched among us. The iron Ambulatory Screen around the chapel, to a design by the architect Ronald Weeks, was made by the monks of Prinknash Abbey. The Chapel also contains a location for the private celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation - Penance - for the forgiveness of sin.
Christians have traditionally held Mary, Mother of the Lord, in great respect because of the way in which she as a woman of faith responded to the Good News given her. She is the spiritual mother of all Christians, and intercedes with her Son on their behalf. The Lady Chapel contains the bronze statue of Mary, Mother of the Lord, designed and made by Terry Jones.
From earliest times Christians have followed in the footsteps of the Lord, tracing the road to Calvary pausing for prayer and recollection with the Lord in his Passion, and rejoicing with him in his Resurrection. The Way of the Cross [Via Dolorosa] is in Jerusalem but throughout the centuries Jesus' disciples have followed the Stations of the Cross in their Churches and Cathedrals.
At various periods there have been as many as thirty-six different Stations, recalling the various points of the Lord's last journey. In the Sixteenth Century fourteen Stations were chosen, which are familiar. Now, with the approval of the Church authority, a new set of fourteen Stations has been chosen specially for the Cathedral at Clifton. Beginning with the Last Supper we are invited to follow the Way with Jesus from the Last Supper and ending with the Risen Lord once again with his disciples breaking bread with them. These low relief sculptures in concrete designed and executed by William Mitchell are 14 in number. Specially approved by the Vatican the selected events are based upon the biblical accounts of the Passion.
Working from his sketches, the artist William Mitchell had just 60 minutes to complete each panel as the composition material of Portland sand, cement and resin set very quickly.
Showing a group of young children around the Cathedral only recently, I was asked by one young child, 'Why are there no ears?' That taught me there is always something new to learn in the Cathedral!
©copyright Peter J Harrison
picture details, left to right, top to bottom:
1 windows, Jubilation and Pentecost
2 Chrism Mass oils
3 sound speakers and roof with acoustic panels
4 the Ambo, where the Word of God is proclaimed
5 the Cathedra, or bishops' chair
6 the Organ
7 the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the Tabernacle
8 the candelabra from Prinknash