Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Brentwood catholic Cathedral preparing for Olympics

For England's newest cathedral, the Olympic torch relay could be an opportunity to get extra visitors through its doors.

The cathedral dedicated to St Mary and St Helena is near the High Street in Brentwood, Essex.

It was built between 1989 and 1991 to cope with growing numbers of people from the county and east London taking part in diocesan events and services.

And - it is hoped - with throngs of people arriving in the town on 6 July to see the torch pass by on its way to the Olympic venues, it might be able to encourage even more visitors from the local community.

Dean Father Martin Boland said the cathedral parish was formulating details of a celebration for the whole community in the town.

He said that although the place of worship was always open to everyone, he hoped this occasion would allow them to show off the cathedral to more people and encourage them to come again.

He said even 20 years on from the opening of the cathedral the numbers of Catholics visiting were continuing to rise.

The Catholic population of the Brentwood diocese covering Essex and East London is nearly 250,000 and it is estimated between 10% and 20% attend church regularly.
'Sacred place'

The late Cardinal Basil Hume, then head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, dedicated the new enlarged building in 1991.

It had a capacity of 1,000 people but at some annual gatherings this now increases to more than 1,200.

Funding for the new cathedral came from an anonymous donor in 1989 when building work started.

The design was the dream of Bishop Thomas McMahon who wanted a "sacred place" and a venue that would be architecturally "beautiful".

The former cathedral was late-Gothic in design - typical of the time it was built in the Victorian period.

However, Bishop McMahon preferred a more "classic" look, Fr Boland said, "but parts of the original building were incorporated".

"Architecturally, the new cathedral takes its inspiration from the early-Italian Renaissance crossed with the English baroque of Christopher Wren. All the Classical architectural orders are represented in the interior. There are four giant Doric pilasters, a Tuscan arcade of arches, Ionic pilasters on the Palladian windows in the east and west aisles. Corinthian and Composite influences are evident throughout."

The cathedral reaches capacity at Christmas and Easter which are feasts that traditionally bring many visitors as well as regular worshippers from the parish.

Fr Boland said the cathedral was also a parish church with about 1,200 people attending services on Saturdays and Sundays.

It also has other links to London 2012 as Bishop McMahon is head of a diocese with many parishes in East London close to the Olympic stadium and other venues.

Many of the Catholic athletes from all parts of the world are expected to worship at the various parish churches around the Olympic village and venues.