Before and After: The Chapel of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem

Today, as part of our Before and After series, I wished to turn our readers' attention to the chapel of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem (CRNJ), a clerical institute of consecrated life located in Charleston, West Virginia. 

The CRNJ celebrate the usus antiquior and when they took over their present church, they quickly set about establishing a traditional arrangement for their sanctuary. For quite some time this has been their arrangement, but they recently undertook a renovation which, amongst other things, saw the installation of a new high altar as well as the modification of the chancel and sanctuary generally.

Left: Before    Right: After
The former arrangement included a traditionally oriented altar with predella and a kind of riddle curtain behind that was changed according to the liturgical season. There was, however, something of a temporary and transitional feel about it -- which, as it turns out, is exactly what it was.

The new arrangement and furnishings, by contrast, present us with a much more substantial altar -- one of greater artistic merit -- placed higher than was previously the case -- thereby giving it greater prominence. What's more the altar has been situated much closer to the furthest end of the sanctuary, thereby better utilizing the architectural space and better integrating the altar with the building and stained glass -- the latter of which, you will note, has now been partially covered over. I suppose some might lament the loss of this little bit of stained glass, but the new arrangement has the effect of unifying the stained glass with the altar and reredos -- particularly the cross in the window which now appears almost as though it were part of the reredos itself; the net result is that the stained glass has become significantly more important than it was before.

Let's step back a little further to see it as it was before and as it now:


In the before arrangement, the parts were much more disparate which gave it a rather busier feel.

In the new arrangement, there is a greater unity of the parts in relation to the whole, which in turn gives it a greater nobility and simplicity.


Readers will no doubt agree that the visual richness and beauty of the sanctuary has increased. There is also a better sense of the various hierarchical parts of the church; from the nave to the chancel, finally leading to the sanctuary and high altar.

Here are a few details of the splendid new high altar:

And finally, how can we not show the new altar in liturgical use:

For more information, please visit the website of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem.

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