St Mel's rises from ashes as altar installed in €30m project
TRAIN tracks had to be installed to move a mammoth, freshly carved 7.8 tonne Italian marble altar into the newly refurbished St Mel's Cathedral in Longford.
St Mel's was left a smouldering shell after an accidental chimney fire broke out during the early hours of Christmas Day morning 2009 destroying the marble fittings and original limestone altar.
Fr Tom Healy described the installation of the new altar as a "significant turning point" in the five-year restoration plan for the cathedral.
"The altar is the centre of the cathedral, the focal point, so it was a hugely significant day for us," he told the Irish Independent.
"There is a sense of momentum and excitement surrounding the restoration. The finishing line is in sight."
The refurbished and restored cathedral will open its doors on Christmas Eve 2014.
The installation of the altar took close to four hours, tracks had to be installed in order to move it into the cathedral and a temporary gantry was constructed so the 4.75ft altar could be safely and securely lowered into place using winches and pulleys.
The specially commissioned altar, designed by master craftsmen Thomas Glendon, is part of the church's new layout which aims to bring the congregation closer to the clergy.
The parish did not disclose the value of the piece but the restoration project is valued at €30m – 95pc of which is funded by Alliance Insurance.
"I wanted the piece to be a sort of invitation to the community to gather round," the sculptor explained.
The altar is Carrara marble – the same rock used in the creation of Michelangelo's 'David'.
"It also decorates the cathedrals of Florence and Milan," Mr Glendon said. "I wanted to show the beauty of the rock, so the design is quite simple."
The altar will also feature a 5ft-wide octagonal baptismal font, which will be installed at a later date.
After the installation of the altar, Bishop Colm O'Reilly conducted a private prayer, attended by the construction workers.