where heart speaks to heart
A monk once reported proudly to an admiring visitor to the Abbey of Fecamp in Normandy "it prays of itself".
If those entering Blessed John Henry Newman Church in Warrington experience anything like this, we would be delighted and proud.
The design of the church is unashamedly contemporary conveying our conviction that the Gospel and the Liturgy can be lived and celebrated in a contemporary idiom.
A basic rectangular plan was adopted providing a level of flexibility of use without compromising the integrity of the worship area. Movable walls maximise this flexibility so that the narthex can be expand the worship area for larger congregations or divided up into smaller spaces for meetings.
The exterior clad in natural stone and extensive glazed areas makes a clear statement that this is the home of a community that readily engages with the present day. The corner window frequently houses displays to give passers a glimpse of the liturgical season. The main entrance is a prominent and welcoming threshold.
Natural light combines harmoniously with the natural tones of the stonework to invoke a spirit of restful contemplation when we gather for worship or as individuals spend time in personal prayer.
The roof, shaped in tent like form suggests an element of transience (For us our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the Saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3: 20). We are part of God’s pilgrim people who in this generation commit ourselves to walking the path of faith within the wider story of God’s revelation.
The narthex (our gathering space) where we greet each other before and after any liturgy is also be used to welcome candidates for baptism, the blessing and distribution of palms on Palm Sunday and Candles at Candlemass. It is also the gathering space for our Children's Liturgy, meetings, seminars and social events.
As we enter the worship space our first encounter is with the font which gracefully reminds us that the Spirit that hovered over the waters at the dawn of time creates something new in each baptised person. The font is placed in direct line with the altar to highlight the unique connection and primacy of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.
Crafted out of the same Bath Stone as the altar and ambo, the font is an octagonal form representing Christ's Resurrection on first day of the New Creation or Eighth Day.
And the seventh age will be our Sabbath,
a day that knows no evening,
but is followed by the Day of the Lord,
an everlasting eighth day,
hallowed by the resurrection of Christ
prefiguring the eternal rest,
not only of the spirit, but of the body as well.
Then we shall have a holiday,
and we shall see and we shall love
and we shall love and we shall praise.
Behold this is how it shall be
at the end without end.
For what else is our end
but to come to that reign.
The City of God (Book 22, Chapter 30)
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE)
(this same octagonal form is found in the roof and the corona hanging above the labyrinth)
When we raise our eyes to the apex of the roof the star of Bethlehem reminds us of the wonder and beauty of the Incarnation . Whereas Christmas crib scenes are cleared away this is a constant reference to this great truth of the Christian faith.
The design on the ambo from where God’s Holy Word is proclaimed reflects the trust we place in the words from Isaiah 55: 10-11 For, as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and do not return without having watered the earth, fertilising it and making it germinate to provide seed for the sower and food to eat, so it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled and having achieved what it was sent to do.
The altar at which we gather to celebrate the gift of the Eucharist is formed of one piece of stone. (Christ being the cornerstone of all we do and say in this place). The carvings of the wheat and the grapes crushed to produce the bread and wine of the Eucharistic banquet remind us of the one true sacrifice when Christ's body was subjected to the torments of crucifixion.
The stone used for the altar font and ambo is also used for the pedestals on which the tabernacle and the Lady statue stand. This stone comes form a small underground quarry at Limpley Stoke near Bath. The artist who carved the stone is Angela Godfrey.
Angela also provided the models and inspiration for the tabernacle. The doors are inscribed with this text from the Gospel of St John:
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6: 33-35
Working from original carvings by Angela her collaborator, metal craftsman, Eddie Norris moulded and cast the doors. Eddie also crafted the cross and star of Bethlehem in polished steel.
The oil stocks are individually crafted in glass and were designed and made by Charlie MacPherson of Notarianni Glass. The large ampulla has a golden hue to represent the Sacred Chrism. The Oil of Catechuemen in blue glass anticipates the waters of Baptism while verdant green suggests the healing potential and purpose of the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick.
The organ is a three manual digital organ by Phoenix organs.
The display of organ pipes provides an attractive and discrete disguise for the speaker systems.
The Lady Statue is based on that associated with England’s great Marian shrine at Walsingham and was carved by a craftsman in Bolivia.
A representative gathering of those who were involved in the design and building of the church greeted Bishop Noble for a handing over ceremony prior to the Mass of Dedication of the Church on 5 June 2010. Those present included David Horne who was the principal architect, Neil the site manager, Angela Godfrey (Sculptor). Tony Greaves of Hume Upright holds a copy of the architect's drawings.
Eddie Norris at work in his workshop. Eddie made the tabernacle, processional crucifix and Star of Bethlehem. Each posed different challenges which he found great statisfaction in overcoming.
Angela Godfrey was the artistic inspiration behind the majority of the items that provide a focus in the worship space. She worked exposed to the elmements right through the cold winter of 2009-2010 to ensure that the stone work was ready in time.
Charlie Macpherson and his assistant working on one of the glass oil containers.
Dave Bostock of Phoenix Organs, Lancashire collaborated with Renatus of Bideford to produce the fine digital, custom built organ and pipework.