An introduction by the Rt. Revd. Thomas McMahon, Bishop Emeritus of Brentwood
Welcome to Brentwood Cathedral. A Cathedral takes its name from the Greek word for
chair, Cathedra, from which the Bishop presides as shepherd of the diocese. The
Cathedral is therefore the centre and mother church of the diocese. Brentwood Cathedral
is also, in a very special way, the parish church of those who live nearby and who
worship here each Sunday.
Cathedrals were built to proclaim and celebrate the Christian mysteries in an environment
of excellence and beauty, and so lift up the spirit. When we wish to express our
experience of the sublimity of God, the most eloquent way is often in stone, music,
colour, art, vestments - all enhancing worship and so combining to raise the heart
and mind to God. In some way they supply a language to express what lies beyond
words. A cathedral should try to offer the very best in these things for it is through
beauty that we catch a glimpse of eternity.
The new Brentwood Cathedral was dedicated by Cardinal Hume on May 31st 1991. The
donors chose to remain anonymous and the money was given solely for this purpose.
The architect Quinlan Terry was commissioned to build the new church in the Classical
Architecturally, he took his inspiration from the early Italian Renaissance crossed
with the English baroque of Christopher Wren. This, it was felt, would be appropriate
for the town and its conservation area, but above all it would provide the right
space and light for the liturgy to be celebrated.
Work began in 1989 and was completed two years later. The north elevation consists
of nine bays each divided by Doric pilasters. This is broken by a huge half-circular
portico, which was inspired by a similar one at St Paul's. If you stand just in
front of it, you get some idea of its giant scale!
The Kentish ragstone walls have a natural rustic look, which contrasts with the
smooth Portland stone of the capitals and column bases. The handmade traditional
Smeed Dean brick of the clerestory leads up to the octagonal lantern, or cupola,
the high point both of the outside and inside. It would be rare to find an ancient
house, parish church, let alone a cathedral, that doesn't have a blend of styles.
A conscious decision was taken to retain part of the Gothic revival church of 1861
alongside the new classical cathedral. The east elevation juxtaposes the old and
the new, linking them through the scale of the 1991 building and the sympathetic
use of ragstone and Welsh slate roof tiles.