A Guide to St. Edward’s Church – Chancel, Sanctuary, Altar, Apse and Tabernacle
To enlarge the pictures click on the photographs.
The chancel is the area before the altar reserved for clergy and choir and separated from the nave by a step. Beyond this is the sanctuary, on a raised step from the chancel. Within the sanctuary is the altar. Behind the altar at the front of the church is the apse, a recess with a domed roof. Against the west wall is the tabernacle where Holy Communion is reserved.
The tabernacle is located against the west wall at the front of the church. Within it is reserved Holy Communion. It rests on a section of altar that was used before Vatican II, at a time when the priest celebrated Mass with his back to the congregation. On this are the words “altare privilegiatum” which means privileged altar.
(A plenary indulgence could be granted for the soul of the person for whom the Mass was offered. Changes in church teachings have now rendered this invalid).
The West wall itself displays a cross and circle, known as a wheel-head cross (the circle is symbolic of a crown, a Halo, rays of Light or the circle of eternity). The crown of thorns is displayed under a triumphant crown with a background of rays of light. A vine twists around the cross, symbolic of life. Majesty and kingship are traditionally reflected by the use of gold in the cross. The cross is contained within a rounded arch, traditionally symbolising hands clasped in prayer or arms thrown up in worship of God. Above the cross, within the arch itself, are the symbols for God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God the Father is represented by a right hand (Manus Dei), extending downwards towards humankind with two fingers extended; this indicates God’s blessing and grace. God the Son is represented by the symbol X overwritten by P. It is a sacred monogram standing for Christ from the Greek word for Christ, XPICTOC. The symbol is known as Chi Rho, the names of the Greek letters that are used. The Chi Rho is used to emphasise Jesus’ position as the Son of God, the Messiah. God the Holy Spirit is represented by a dove with Cruciform halo, descending from Heaven to Earth.
In the apse, on the ceiling above the tabernacle, the dove represents the Holy Spirit and is surrounded by Wheat and the Vine, traditional symbols of the Holy Eucharist.
Located at the rear of the altar, on the left hand side of the apse, this window shows a basket of bread above a fish. The symbol of a fish has been used to represent Jesus for nearly 2000 years. The fish also later became a symbol for the Eucharist. Bread and fish together often refer to the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus in the New Testament.
At the rear of the altar, on the right hand side of the apse, this window shows a pelican feeding her young with her own blood. In mediaeval times it was thought that the pelican pecked its breast in order to feed its blood to its offspring. This selflessness is used as an analogy for Jesus’ sacrifice.
The window to the right hand side of the altar represents the Sacred Heart. There is an image of Jesus, holding open his red cloak (the colour red traditionally used to represent love), to display his heart. The heart is topped with a small cross and flames and ringed by a crown of thorns. The image helps us focus on Jesus’ inner spirit and to remember his love and courage. Above the figure of Jesus are three smaller lights. The left hand light again carries an image of the sacred heart, ringed by a crown of thorns, topped with a cross and flames, and showing rays of light coming from the cross. The right hand light pictures the Eucharist in the form of rays of light surrounding chalice and communion bread, against the background of a cross, symbols for the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood. The central light shows a picture of a sunburst monstrance, a vessel used to display the consecrated Eucharistic host during benediction. The monstrance is usually an elaborate decorated vessel, made of gold or similar precious metal, with a stand and topped by a cross. At the heart of the monstrance is a round glass, the size of the host, through which the Blessed Sacrament can be seen. A blessing by the Eucharist is considered a blessing from Christ himself. This window was donated by the local families of Langley and Mould.
St. Edward the Confessor is the patron saint of our church. In this window a bird rests on the shoulder of St. Edward as a symbol for the soul. Various stained glass pieces were found in the ceiling space of St. Edward’s during rewiring early 2006. These included a stained glass picture of St. Edward. Judged by an expert to date to about 1895, it is believed that the stained glass came from the original church (now St. Edward’s church hall) built in 1893. This stained glass window is now located to the left of the sanctuary, and backlit with an electric light. It was blessed in its new site on the feast of St. Edward, October 13th, 2006.
The Wilton Diptych. A copy of this famous painting is located to the right of the sanctuary. (A diptych is a painting on two hinged panels that close together like a book.) This painting depicts Richard II (1367-1400) presented to the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child by three saints. They are identified by their attributes: St John the Baptist holds the lamb, St Edward the Confessor a ring, and St Edmund, king and martyr, an arrow. Richard had a great personal devotion to St. Edward. The original is located in the National Gallery.
This painting hangs to the left of the chancel. It was painted by Peter Koenig (Canon Koenig’s brother) and donated to St. Edward’s church to celebrate the Year of the Eucharist that Pope John Paul II called for the New Millenium.
See A Painting for the Year of the Eucharist by Peter Koenig
A Relic of St. Faustina is located to the right of the chancel. Those wanting to know more about St. Faustina please check out the Divine Mercy Group Page.