High Altar Restoration to Begin This Month

The cathedral’s High Altar is a masterpiece of 19th century art and craftsmanship. Designed by Henry Harrison and carved in Belgium, the altar is the visual focal point for Eucharistic fellowship in the cathedral. It is also a teaching tool on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As originally designed, the altar is fully carved on all sides. The south and north sides of the altar depict the Annunciation and the Appearance of Jesus in Emmaus. On the east side of the altar are three scenes from the life of Christ: the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Crucifixion, and the Harrowing of Hell. On the west side of the altar are three scenes from the Hebrew Bible: the Temptation of Adam and Eve, the Sacrifice of Isaac, and Moses with the Bronze Serpent (as seen in original drawing by Harrison).

Due to changing liturgical tastes, the altar was revised in the 1960’s. The masonry work was not well done and the exquisite design and visual impact of the altar was undermined. The revised altar we see today inhibits use of the canon's stalls in the Apse and renders the presider’s stall unusable. As part of the ongoing restoration of the fabric of the cathedral undertaken in Dean Sniffen’s time, the High Altar will now be restored to its original glory.

In the coming weeks, the altar’s intricate stonework will be disassembled, cleaned and repaired. The brass pins which hold loose stones together will be replaced. The side panels which were rotated ninety degrees to enlarge the altar in the 1960’s will be put back into place. The marble inlays in the top of the altar will be repaired. Upon completion, the upper sanctuary will be as it was when the cathedral was completed in 1885; with more room around the altar and restored use of the canon's and presider's stalls.

Due to the restoration project timeline, the High Altar will not be in use during Lent. It is anticipated that the restored High Altar will be used for the first time at the Great Vigil of Easter with Bishop Provenzano presiding.