AFTER a restoration programme taking 13 months and costing £1.9m, St Marie’s Cathedral reopens its doors tonight (Thursday).
It will be the first chance for visitors to see the extent of the refurbishment of the Roman Catholic church in Norfolk Row, which is 162 years old and listed for its historic importance.
A mass of rededication will be held tomorrow (Friday) at 11am when the Bishop of Hallam, the Rt Rev John Rawsthorne, will be joined by his Anglican counterpart, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, and other local faith and civic leaders.
Then St Marie’s congregation, which has been worshipping during the week in a former hair salon next to the cathedral and on Sundays at St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Carver Street, will move back home.
“Afterwards there will be bits and pieces to tidy up, but overall we’ll see a building that has been completely renewed,” said the dean, Father Chris Posluszny, who has been steering the project. “Everybody who has come in has said ‘This is great. This is going to be a wonderful place for worship’.”
The restoration includes new lighting, sound and security systems, under-floor heating and seats, a new font, altar and confessionals and a new glazed porch. Stonework has been cleaned, original features restored and many of the unsympathetic changes made in the 1970s have been corrected.
“The lighting system was desperately needed. The best lit place before was the ceiling. There was a bit of a dingy feel.”
There have been a couple of surprises during the revamp. Seven rare 15th Century alabaster carvings depicting scenes from the life of Christ were discovered in a sacristy cupboard, and more was found of the sarcophagus of the church’s founder, Father Charles Pratt.
St Marie’s is reopening slightly later than planned, but Father Chris said: “Generally there was nothing that created a problem. The building turned out to be very structurally sound. There were only minor things that we needed to adapt to. It was a very large job and we expected some delays. Overall it has gone reasonably well.”
Money for the restoration has come from legacies, donations and loans, and the fundraising will continue as another, albeit smaller phase, is planned over the next two years at an estimated cost of around £200,000. Repairs are needed to the church spire and to the 1875 Lewis organ. A temporary organ is being used from this weekend.
The last few days seemed to have been “absolute madness”, said Father Chris, but the church is ready for its formal reopening.
Cathedral leaders praise St Matthew’s, which has hosted four Sunday services and celebrations of weddings, baptisms and confirmations.
“They have been so friendly. They have opened their doors to us, and we have a lasting relationship with them.”
The Bishop of Hallam will be able to appreciate the improvements while he waits for a formal date for his retirement.
For Father Chris, the pressure will start to lift. “I am looking forward to two weeks time when all the nitty gritty of getting the place going again has been sorted out. There’ll be a bit of time to relax, but I am looking forward to being back there. It will be nice to be back at St Marie’s, back in our home.”