AUGUSTUS WELBY PUGIN DEEMED IT A GREAT PRIVILEGE TO BE CHOSEN TO PLAN THE FIRST CATHEDRAL IN ENGLAND FOR MANY CENTURIES, AND DR. WISEMAN LENT HIS COMMANDING INFLUENCE TO THE WORK. WHEN HE HAD COME TO ENGLAND AS A PRIEST AFTER HIS LONG STAY IN ROME, HE HAD EXPRESSED SURPRISE AT THE CRAMPED CONDITION OF CATHOLICISM IN ENGLAND.
BUT THE LOT OF MOST OF HIS FELLOW CATHOLICS HAD BEEN WIDELY DIFFERENT FROM HIS. THEY HAD NOT LONG EMERGED FROM A PERIOD OF PERSECUTION, AND THOUGH THE PENAL LAWS HAD BEEN REPEALED, CATHOLICS HAD NOT YET AWAKENED TO THE FEELING OF FREEDOM. THEY CONTENTED THEMSELVES WITH THE MINIMUM OF CATHOLIC FORMS OF DEVOTION, AND HAD ALMOST COME TO REGARD THEMSELVES AS MEMBERS OF SOME DISSENTING SECT, WITHOUT A HISTORY, WITHOUT INFLUENCE, WITHOUT PROSPECTS. DR. WISEMAN, ON THE OTHER HAND, HAD SPENT HIS LIFE, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF A SHORT PERIOD OF HIS YOUTH, IN CATHOLIC COUNTRIES. HE DID NOT SHARE THE TIMIDITY OF ENGLISH CATHOLICS FOR HE HAD NO EXPERIENCE OF THEIR BITTER STRUGGLES OR CRUSHING ANXIETIES.
From Wiseman, when a mutual understanding had been established, Pugin received hearty co-operation and the scheme of the Cathedral became a common bond between the artist and the ecclesiastic. Ou October 29, 1839, the first stone was laid by Bishop Walsh, and as months went by the excitement among Catholics increased.
At the same time, the walls of Bishop's House, on the opposite side of Bath Street, also designed by Pugin, were rising. To-day, the house is occupied by Canon Roskell, the Administrator of the Cathedral, and his curates, and it is also used by the Archbishop for administrative engagements. His Grace's residence now Is in Norfolk Road, a peaceful and secluded part of Edgbaston.
Enshrining of the Relics
On Saturday, June 19, 1841, a fast was observed by the Catholics of Birmingham as an immediate preparation for the solemnities of the opening of the Cathedral, and on the next day the relics of the Patron Saint, which had recently been discovered, were brought over from Oscott. These were placed in a rich shrine.
Early on Monday the Cathedral was consecrated. Crowds gathered outside the building as the Bishop, at the door of the Church, addressed the people, exhorting them to provide for the temporal support of religion. Mr John Hardman stepped forward with a number of Catholic gentlemen, and read the following from a parchment document:
"In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. We, the Catholics of Birmingham, mindful of God's r:erey towards us, and trusting to share His bounty for the time to come, do by these presents, make a free and voluntary surrender of all we have hitherto given towards the erection and the advancement of the Cathedral about to be consecrated to-day."
The ceremony then proceeded. Wednesday, June 23, saw the solemn opening of St. Chad's. Bishop Walsh was the celebrant of the Pontifical Mass, and round his throne were no fewer than twelve Bishops Wiseman, Griffiths, Wareing, Baines, Briggs, Brown (of Wales), Brown (of Lancashire), Kostyn, Kyle, Gilles, Poulding (an Australian Bishop), and Miles (Bishop of Nashville, U.S.A.). It was the ceremonial inauguration of a new era in Catholic worship in England, a day of magnificent rejoicing. The latter part was given over to great reunion and banquet in the Town Hail, but the devotion of Birmingham Catholics and their guests could not coa tent itself with the solemnities of th., opening day. Every evening during the whole period the Cathedral was opened for special services, and St. Chad's became a monument of Catholic solidarity, an expression of common interest in our great Faith.
The Heart of England
The spires of St. Chad's rise : . the midst of a thickly populated locality of commerce, among a people who, by their skill, have made Birmingham's wares known throughout the world. Hera, perhaps, may be found the heart of England, which beats evenly in joy or distress. St. Chad's is Gothic in r--ery detail and ancient in design, for in Pugin's days there had sprung up in the country a spirit of admiration for the old abbeys and cathedrals which were a part of England's inheritance from the ages of Faith.
When we pass through the doors of St. Chad's we seem transported into the Middle Ages. Those massive pieces of oak immediately inside are the monuments to the great love Canon Roskell has for his spiritual home.
Nave and aisles are spanned by a single pointed roof. This is mainly supported by a double line of lofty pillars whose arches run up into the roof without leaving room for clerestory or tri
forlorn. Though the building is not actually cruciform, the architecture and windows below the chancel suggest e double transept. The church has quite the spacious air of a cathedral, yet it is but 156 feet in length and 58 feet t-roaii. Its height is 75 feet.
Looking up the church to the sanctuary, attention is at once arrested by the high screen of wood surmounted by the Holy Rood. It is the figure of the Crucified raised up high In the dimness of the chancel arch, which dominates the whole building, as if teaching that sacrifice and prayer and devotion in the Catholic Church are offered " in the face of Christ Jesus."
The chancel is 45 feet long and 26 feet wide. Formerly it extended only to the chancel arch, but when the stalls wero set apart for the Cathedral canons, awl a surplIced choir established in 1854, the choir was extended some distance into the nave.
The altar and reredos are of stone. The beautiful baldachino or canopy over the altar is of wood, carved and enrichers with cusps of angels intermixed with clusters of flowers. It is flanked on each side by two shafts to support the later al or altar curtains. Each of these shafts is surmounted by an angel holding a standard and waxlight, and clustered near the capitals are bishops in canonicals.
The Bishop's throne is on the gospel side. The lower part consists of a largo reredos of ancient oak, the centre part
containing a quaint image of the L:essed Virgin and Child, with two kneeling monastic figures. On each side c the throne is a canopied wing under which stands a full length figure of a monk holding a book. This lower portion is of Flemish workmanship and came from the ancient church of Santa Maria in Capitolio at Cologne. The canopy over the throne was designed by Pugin. It is nearly 30 feet high, running up into finials with crockets and enclosing a figure of St. Chad in pontificals.
Our Lady's Statue
The whole Cathedral is one of sombre beauty. At the end of the north aisle is the Lady Chapel, 20 feet long and 15 feet wide, and the image of Our Lady which stands outside it is of ancient oak carving from Germany, and a gift of Pugin. This figure is said to be the first image of the Blessed Virgin which was set up for public veneration in England since the Reformation. Of course, the Cathedral contains a statue of St. Chad, robed as a Bishop and bearing the Cathedral of Lichfield.
The Stations of the Cross were erected in 1875, and are of original casts by De Vriendt, of Antwerp. They should be studied by any visitor to the Cathedral. The pulpit is of ancient carved oak. It is attached to the first pillar on the epistle side as Is the custom in Cathedral churches. It shows four sides to the church and on each is represented a seated figure of one of the four doctors of the Latin Church, viz., St. Jerome, St. Gregory, St. Augustine and St. Ambrose. The whole is of Belgian workmanship, came from the Church of St. Gertrude at Louvain, and was the gift of the 'hen Earl of Shrewsbury.
Beneath the Cathedral is a crypt dedicated to St. Peter extending the whole length of the upper church. In 1931 the present Archbishop (Dr. T. L. Williams) laid the corner stone of a mernorial chapel to Dr. Edward Miley, the first Archbishop of Birmingham, whose body lies in the crypt. The chapel has been moulded into the main building with the weathering of the past few years and makes a handsome addition to the Cathedral.
Many Catholics who have been staunen in the Faith are remembered through the offerings of the beautiful glass windows which further glorify the Cathedral.
Perhaps the most outstanding the Hardman window. It is to the memory of John Hardman, who died in 1867. He was the founder and for many years the chief cantor of the choir, and, as a have already recalled, one of the chief benfactors of the Cathedral. The subject of the design is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and occupies 4n important position in the Cathedral because the diocese of Birmingham is placed under the special patronage of Mary Immaculate.