The Chapel Before It Was A Chapel

Updated: Jul 14

Fr Alban McCoy has sent me these pictures of the Chapel before it was transformed. This is how I remember it as an undergraduate. Every Saturday evening, we had to bring in the altar and set the chairs out; after Sunday, it reverted to being a hall, site of the Craft Market, blood donor services, and various activities. It was where all our Fisher House parties took place. The band would usually be located on the raised dias, where the altar was placed, while there was a stepped area at the back of the hall where refreshments were served while we bopped in the centre.

Photo A: The old chapel, from the back.

The very provisional feel of the space comes across in Photo A. There was a permanent day chapel, next door, in what is now the Fisher Room.


Photo B: Looking towards the new choir loft.

It is hard to imagine the transformation that has taken place. The slatted window at the back is now covered up and is where the crucifix hangs (you can see the site of the window from outside, in the Fisher Square). To the left, where the crucifix is in Photo A, is now the priest’s chair. In the gap in the columns to the right, the tabernacle is now situated. You can just make out the steps and railings, which separated off the back of the hall.


Photo B looks towards where the choir loft is now situated. In those days, the choir sang on the floor of the hall; owing to the angled bricks, the acoustic was atrocious. The corner in the photograph is where the confessional now stands. There was no choir-loft: a lavatory was behind the brick wall, brilliantly converted into the current choir loft.


Photo C: The altar and crucifix of the old chapel.

In Photo C, you can see the altar and crucifix. The altar is decorated with its Lenten frontal. Note if you will that the candlesticks have survived!

Photo D: The old chapel, from the altar.

In Photo D, you can see the raised section at the back of the old chapel. One of the problems was that the chapel had no natural focus – something triumphantly resolved in the restoration.


Photo E: The old chapel with Cimabue’s crucifix. Credit: James Myatt.

Finally, Photo E illustrates the bare altar, likely on Good Friday. The angled bricks rendered the acoustic non-existent.


Photo E is a later photo, and it was taken by James Myatt, rather than shared with me by Fr Alban. You can tell it’s a later photo because you can see the new crucifix, a reconstruction of Cimabue’s c. 1270 crucifix, from the Basilica of San Domenico in Arezzo, Tuscany. The crucifix was created according to contemporary medieval Italian methods, and was completed in March 2008. It was consecrated by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.

 

This collection of photos was originally published on Facebook on 28 January 2016 and 24 July 2017 as a post and album by Mgr Mark Langham, Chaplain at Fisher House. In July 2022, it was edited and republished as a blogpost by Matteo Baccaglini, Pastoral Assistant.


Fr Mark Langham was the much-loved Catholic Chaplain to the University of Cambridge from 2013 to 2021. He had formerly been Administrator at Westminster Cathedral and spent five years on the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome. Fr Mark passed away on 15 January 2021.

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