At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Alban's Catholic High School Chapel, Ipswich

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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St Alban's chapel

this stone was laid St Alban's Catholic High School

crucified   For a post-industrial working class town which doesn't always hit the headlines for the right reasons, Ipswich has a lot to be proud of, and not just in terms of the history of its football team. Take St Alban's, for example, the big Catholic High School on the eastern outskirts of the town, which regularly finds itself near the top of the national leagues for exam results, outperforming many smaller, wealthier schools in both the state and private sectors.

And it isn't just the exam results, because St Alban's has an impressive and enviable reputation for pastoral care. Ofsted inspectors consistently describe the school as outstanding in their reports. One of the aspects of the school that many people admire is its all-enfolding Catholic ethos, which attracts many families which are not Catholic themselves. Small wonder, then, that here at St Alban's is the only purpose-designed school chapel in a state school in Suffolk.

The chapel is a wide, simple, square space, with spot-lighting from a low roof. This simplicity enhances the drama of the view to the sanctuary, with three large floor-to-ceiling windows spanning the width of this wall. They are filled with abstract designs: water and fire in the outer windows reflect the themes of Baptism and Confirmation as well as of the beginning and end of Christ's mission on Earth, his Baptism and the Day of Pentecost. The central window depicts a huge sunflower which is also at once a raised host and the new sun of Easter. They were produced by a Norwich firm to the designs of staff and students; the translucent stretched glass creates a further abstract of the garden and trees beyond.

This wall is also punctuated by two excellent sculptured furnishings, the tabernacle with its design of a fish, a boat and an ear of wheat, and the fine silver crucifix which formerly hung in the school hall and was donated to the school back in the early 1960s.

The chapel was opened by Bishop Michael of East Anglia, and it is a point of pride in our house that my son was one of the servers at the dedicatory Mass. The chapel is open all the time, and students are encouraged to drop in and use it for private prayer and contemplation whenever they feel the need to. It is always possible to light a candle, and there are regular lunchtime prayer sessions. In addition, the chapel is used for class Masses and for RE lessons. The furnishings are designed to allow for student participation in their decoration - wall hangings, lectern hangings, sacred art and the like. Because of this, the chapel acts as a spiritual focus for the work of the school; a touchstone to all it is, and all it aspires to be.

  Mother of God

Simon Knott, September 2009

towards the altar from the altar altar lectern and pentecostal hanging
crucified crucified crucified crucified Mother of God
east window water (detail) fire (detail) east window
towards the altar tabernacle fish, boat and ear of wheat light a candle
one in Christ water Eucharist fire Easter hanging 


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