Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Images in the Chancel ! (A Good Example)

July 26th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

Previously here

Chancel of St. Paul’s Church, Bergen, Norway*

Crucifix, Altar Frontal, Ambo and Lectern Frontals

by Iconographer Solrunn Nes

Here is an example of what I think is a good use of imagery in a contemporary chancel. The images are employed in such a way as to be unavoidably a part of the Liturgy for they help define the sacredness of the space. They also extend the experience of the Liturgy in time to both before and after the Mass.

The crucifix dominates the chancel and is the most important decoration in the whole church. There are a variety of different Christological teachings expressed in different styles of crosses. This one represents just one type. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that the style and the teaching should be inspired from tradition and orthodox doctrine and not be the artist’s personal vision. I won’t go into the particular Christology of this crucifix as my intention is merely to give an example of what I consider to be a chancel that gives a prominent role to imagery. Do notice, however, that brilliant colors are employed to contrast with the neutral colors of the chancel walls, thus emphasizing the cross. The complexity of the shape of the cross also invites attention compared to the simplicity of the surrounding forms.

"Altar Frontal" by Solrunn Nes*

The colors of the altar frontal echo the colors and style of the crucifix and the subject draws from traditional imagery. Again, I won’t go into the particular Christology depicted here except to mention that represented is the traditional Majestas Domini or Christ in Majesty/Glory image flanked by images of Peter on the left, and Paul on the right. Altar frontals are an excellent place to introduce imagery into the chancel (much better than banners!) especially if your current environment is a theater-in-the-round arrangement. All sides of the altar can display images.

The smaller images on the fronts of the ambo and lectern are by the same artist and repeat the colors and style of the crucifix and altar frontal.

The stained glass windows are an inherited feature of the building as well as the sculptures. The tabernacle echoes the shape of the windows.

This does not appear to have been a terribly expensive renovation and probably could serve as a reasonable model even for our own St. Paul’s Church in Webster –not the particulars, of course, but the general principles.

I hope you agree that this creates a fitting feeling of sacred space in which to enact the most sacred ritual of the Mass.


The images for this post were scanned from:

*The Mystical Language of Icons by Solrunn Nes, (Grand Rapids/Cambridge, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004) pp 104 and 108. Email: and Website: I think this is a terrific book! You’ve probably noticed that this isn’t the first time I’ve cited it. The icons illustrated in the book are nearly all hers and beautiful. Equally great, however, are her prayerful reflections and explanations. St. Paul’s, Bergen is her home parish.

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One Response to “Images in the Chancel ! (A Good Example)”

  1. Nerina says:

    This chancel seems to have arrived at a wonderful compromise between a traditional and contemporary approach. As so often is the case in Catholicism, the “both/and” approach is a good answer. While I prefer more overtly traditional worship spaces, I can appreciate the effort here and applaud it.

    I looked around my church’s chancel this past Sunday and was less than impressed. There is almost no sacred imagery. We have a Risen Christ above our tabernacle and a small crucifix placed in the corner which is not visible to half of the congregation during Mass. That’s it. It is very plain.

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