6 November 2023

Chapel of the Holy Cross celebrates centenary

On Thursday 2 November, we were delighted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our Chapel of the Holy Cross.

A special Centenary Celebration service led by School Chaplain, the Revd Dr Karen Hyde and the Rt Revd Gavin Collins, Bishop of Dorchester, invited deputy and form leaders, Sixth Form prefects, Governors, alumnae, and staff from past and present to gather and celebrate the centenary of the building.

Former senior mistress Sister Frances Beatrice instigated the project in her first meeting with the school governors in 1922; it was originally planned to seat 300 and was designed by architect Frank L Pearson. Bishop Shaw laid the Foundation Stone on 6 December 1922 and the newly completed Chapel of the Holy Cross was dedicated on St Luke’s Day 1923 by the Bishop of Oxford. The eye-catching ‘Star Cross’ was a later installation in memory of Paul Egerton Comber, who was the son of former School Chaplain Revd Tom Comber.

To mark the centenary, bespoke sets of alter superfrontals, lectern falls and priestly vestments in each liturgical colour were designed and printed on silk by Yvonne Bell. In addition to this, a specially commissioned artwork entitled ‘Space Whispers’ by Michael Brennand-Wood has been installed in the central recessed bay as a focal point to aid contemplation. Parts of the piece were constructed in student and staff workshops, incorporating elements inspired by the Chapel’s communal chalkboard where members of the community can share their thoughts, concerns, feelings and prayers.

Reflecting on the centenary, Revd Dr Hyde said: “It was a joy to bring together so many representatives from our whole school community to celebrate on Thursday as we not only looked back at how far we’ve come during this past 100 years but also as we now look to the future and what lies ahead in this special place. Through worship, music and prayer we gave thanks to God for our inheritance from generations past and for all those who today work tirelessly to support the amazing work of this school.

During the service itself I found myself thinking about the many chaplains who have presided here, and how each of us will likely have approached the role of shepherd to this transient flock, of both students and staff, rather differently over the years! And yet, how all of us will have tried to model Jesus, the perfect shepherd, and to be a witness to God’s love, that everyone in our school community might know that God delights in each one of them. May we continue to pass on our faith, hope and love to succeeding generations.”

Bishop Gavin added: “At centenary services and similar commemorations, I inevitably consider the generations who have worshipped and prayed in the building during the long years of its life, but at the Centenary Service for the Chapel of the Holy Cross, I found myself also looking ahead and considering the generations of girls and young women who we trust, over the next 100 years, will continue to use the Chapel as a place of worship, prayer and reflection, and who I pray will find during those times a sense of guidance, peace and of the love of God that will help to strengthen and sustain them not only during their time at St. Helen and St Katharine’s, but also in all that they go on to do and to achieve in their lives beyond the school.”

Over the years, the Chapel has served many different purposes – including as a NHS covid test centre – but remains a place of quietness and calm which all students and staff are welcome to visit for personal reflection.

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