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Scotland unveils marble chair and altar

By on Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Stonemason Neil Reid works on a lectern, or ambo, to be used by the Pope in Glasgow                (Danny Lawson/PA)

Stonemason Neil Reid works on a lectern, or ambo, to be used by the Pope in Glasgow (Danny Lawson/PA)

A Scottish stonemason is putting the finishing touches to the chair, altar and lectern to be used by Pope Benedict XVI at the Mass at Bellahouston Park.

Neil Reid, who has been building church altars for 18 years, said he was working “flat out” to make sure the project was completed in time.

The structures are made out of marble and were designed in 3D with the help of computer experts at Strathclyde University.

They are likely to be compared with the papal chair, altar and lectern (or ambo) made in wood for the Cofton Park Mass by teachers in Coventry.

Mr Reid, of Reid Carrara Ltd, served his apprenticeship under Tom MacMillan, who built the altar for John Paul II’s visit in 1982.

He said: “It is a real privilege to be asked by the Church to do this job. I’m really flattered that after seeing my previous work they trusted me with such an important task. I’ve been making altars for churches for 18 years now but this is the big one.

“I’m pernickety,” he said. “Everything has to be just right, but I’m like that whether I’m doing a piece for a parish priest, Mrs Smith from around the corner or the Pope.

“I can picture the altar in my head already but I can’t wait to get it finished and see it being used by the Pope at Bellahouston.”

Artist Niamh Quail, from Glasgow, was given six weeks to complete the design. She said: “I was told to design a chair and that was about it. I wanted to keep it simple but also to have a Scottish and religious aspect to it as well.

“The design is Celtic, incorporating a cross, within each of the four arms are three interwoven leafs representing the Holy Trinity, with the entire design having no beginning nor end.”

“Normally I would have one-dimensional sketches but with the CAD [computer aided design] we were able to make 3D models of the chair, altar and lectern together. It was great to see them like that and we were even able to put a model of the Pope in there too.

“When the Vatican saw the models and all the work that had gone into it they were really confident in what we were doing.”

  • Justin Wong

    Lectern? Catholic liturgy knows no such furnishing as a lectern.

    The word of God, proclaimed in the course of the liturgy, is not a lecture delivered by a professor with his notes on a lectern. The term that is commonly employed is of course the ambo, and one would have expected the UK's leading Catholic newspaper, to get the terminology correct.

    Having said that, the fact that this is a stone altar (which begs the question – is there any other kind?), is definitely something to be pleased about.

  • The Catholic Herald

    Thank you pointing that out. The feeling here is that most Catholics would not actually know what an ambo is, even though it may be the correct term – so we have decided to keep, at least in part, the original term “lectern”. Thanks for keeping us on our toes, however. It is very helpful.

  • Justin Wong

    I noted the change to the article :) Many many thanks for your response anyway.

    Indeed this is a good moment for catechesis – when the attention and excitement of many Catholics is focussed on the upcoming Papal visit – not just on the obvious like the role of the Pope in the Church, religion in public life, the conversion of Card Newman, the oratorian fathers and St Phillip Neri, other great intellectuals of the Oxford Movement, Anglicanorum Coetibus, but also since much of it centres around the Papal liturgy – liturgical catechesis as well. The Catholic Herald must seize this opportunity (this Christian duty even?) especially given the antipathy and ignorance of the secular press with which Catholics will no doubt be reading.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    Nonsense. If you look at church documents, you'll see that there certainly is such a thing as a lectern (leggio). A lectern is portable and gets moved around; an ambo is stationary and stays where you put it, possibly even built into the church's physical structure. Ambos are preferable to lecterns, because they're more dignified. Seeing as my church's Liturgy of the Word gets read out in a different position from Mass to Mass, it's ridiculous to call it an ambo for any reason but politeness and buzzwords.

    That said, the marble papal visit ambo probably isn't portable without serious equipment, unless it has castors built into the base. :)