Pope's hi-tech Celtic altar unveiled

IT IS the altar from which Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate the largest mass in Scotland for a quarter of a century. The design of the marble chair, lectern and altar to be used in the forthcoming papal visit to Bellahouston Park were unveiled yesterday.

• Neil Reid is working around the clock to ensure the altar is ready for Pope Benedict on 16 September. Picture: PA

In the Reid Carrara workshop in Glasgow, stonemason Neil Reid is working around the clock to complete the massive marble furniture, which has been designed by Glasgow artist Niamh Quail with the assistance of 21st century design technology.

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The design of the altar, from which the Pope will say mass in front of an estimated 100,000 people, was rendered into a 3D computer model and presented to the Vatican in July for final approval.

The construction is being carried out by Mr Reid, who served his apprenticeship with Tom MacMillan, the stonemason who built the altar used by Pope John Paul II during the papal visit to Scotland in 1982.

Yesterday, Mr Reid said it was a "real privilege" to build the altar, which will be see by millions of people around the world. "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. It's a big job, but we're working around the clock and it will be ready in time. I can picture the altar in my head, but I can't wait to get it finished and see it being used by the Pope at Bellahouston."

The mass will take place on 16 September, the first day of the Pope's four-day state visit to Britain.

The altar, chair and lectern were designed by Ms Quail, 32, who said: "From the time I was given the brief, I only had about six weeks to design the altar, the Pope's chair and the lectern to show to the people at the Vatican. I couldn't have done it without the people at Strathclyde University's 'rapid prototyping unit'."

The team at Strathclyde University turned her designs into 3D images and allowed them to drop the Pope "in situ" behind the altar. The idea behind the design was to make the altar as uncluttered as possible as the Pope will be joined by as many as 170 people.

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 leaves representing the Holy Trinity, with the entire design having no beginning nor end."

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Ms Quail added: "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."

Yesterday, Father Andrew McKenzie, director of liturgy for the Papal Mass, thanked everybody who contributed to the design and production of the items. He said: "Creating the Papal altar, lectern and chair has been a very enjoyable process, greatly helped by the generosity and technical abilities of all those involved.

"I would like to express my deep gratitude to all those who have contributed to the creative, technical and production stages of the project.

"I am certain that, together, we will be able to create a fitting environment in which the Pope can celebrate mass in Glasgow."


CANDLES, musical instruments and alcohol are on a list of banned items for pilgrims attending the papal mass at Bellahouston Park next month.

The list is on the official papal visit website, which encourages worshippers to bring sunblock, flags and folding chairs for the events in Glasgow, London and Birmingham, but says alcohol, gazebos and lit candles should be left at home because they "could pose a threat".

While it did not mention the vuvuzela, so popular among fans at this summer's South African football World Cup, the noisy monotone trumpet could be considered out of bounds under the category of banned instruments and whistles.

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Bulky hampers are also prohibited - the website advises that hampers and cool boxes "should not exceed 20in x 13in x 8in". People are welcome to "bring a pilgrim picnic", though they should consider bringing non-perishable foods or "make arrangements to share picnics".

Up to 100,000 are expected to attend the mass on 16 September.

The design idea behind the entire altar was to keep it as clean and simple as possible to allow as many people as possible a clear view of the Pope.

The altar, lecturn and chair are made of carrara marble. The total weight of marble used is four tonnes.

The central design is Celtic, incorporating a cross, within each of the four arms are three interwoven leaves representing the Holy Trinity, with the entire design, like the concept of God, having no beginning or end.

The papal chair is two and a half metres tall at its highest point and also has the Celtic cross design at the top of the back piece, which is made of Scottish oak.

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