Holy rosary

The bishop’s chair in the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary has a rich history – BC Catholic

Vancouver’s historic Metropolitan Cathedral is filled with works of art and memorabilia from the past, true to its old foundation and historical associations.

This is only suitable for all cathedrals, as cathedrals are the seat and mother church of the local diocese.

Each cathedral has a “throne” (in Latin, cathedra) which is in its sanctuary, where the local bishop sits, designating the official seat of a diocesan bishop.

In fact, this is where the word “cathedral” comes from, which means “seat” or chair. Rich in symbolism, the bishop’s throne symbolizes his authority.

The throne is usually fixed and motionless, located only in cathedral churches.

It is generally placed halfway up the shrine (on the traditional Gospel side of the altar), facing the shrine.

Meanwhile, the Cathedral in downtown Vancouver is no ordinary cathedral – it’s a metropolitan cathedral, which means it has an Archbishop.

The Metropolitan Archbishop of Vancouver has jurisdiction not only over Vancouver, but also over suffragan dioceses of the same ecclesiastical province (such as Kamloops, Victoria, etc.).

The title of metropolitan comes from the ancient custom of calling the bishop of a major city metropolitan.

The Vancouver Cathedral Throne was created in 1984 by a local Vancouver artist who was a refugee from the Czech Republic, Denis Sedláček. (JP Sonnen)

This custom dates back to the days of the early Church when the first bishops, the apostles, began their work in important cities such as Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Ephesus, Alexandria, etc.

Very often the territory of these bishops coincided with the civil province and the main cities, establishing an ecclesiastical structure first in the occupied metropolitan centers.

The Vancouver Cathedral Throne was created in 1984 by a local Vancouver artist who was a refugee from the Czech Republic, Denis Sedláček.

The creation coincided with the 1983-1984 renovation of the cathedral in preparation for the 12-day papal visit to Canada in September 1984.

The event culminated with the largest religious event in British Columbia history, an open-air papal mass at Abbotsford Airport which drew over 200,000 people.

Denis worked day and night for about a month to complete the project in his Mission studio, completed just in time for the papal visit.

The chair made its debut at Papal Mass in Abbotsford on Tuesday, September 18, 1984.

Pope Saint John Paul II, canonized a saint in 2014, was the first prelate to occupy the new chair.

A few days later, the chair was transported to the downtown cathedral for permanent use, where it still stands today.

The acquisition of the chair was organized and paid for by the generous members of the Canadian Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM).

Originally, Vancouver residents Frank and Terry McCullough contacted the Archbishop’s office to ask if the Order could offer a chalice as a commemorative gift for the papal visit.

Weeks later, they received an answer: the donation of a throne for the open-air papal mass would be a better idea.

Vancouver resident Harry Dobrzensky, a friend of the McCulloughs and member of SMOM, was able to hastily organize the project, ordering the chair and helping to design it.

With little notice, Harry from the Czech Republic found the perfect woodcarver, a local artist from his homeland, a recent refugee in Canada.

Denis had managed to escape from Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia, settling in Vancouver with his wife and son where he lived on the West Side of Vancouver.

Harry’s connection to Denis came from Harry’s cousin Prince Karel Schwarzenberg, a Czech politician who during those years helped many Czech refugees.

The political leader asked Harry to keep an eye on Denis and his family, who were homesick and struggling to adjust to their new home in Canada.

At the request of SMOM and with the blessing of Bishop James Carney, the chair was made in time for the open-air papal mass.

Afterwards, Denis remembered that he had barely slept, that he was working alone, it was the most difficult and the most rewarding mission he had ever undertaken.

About thirty years later, a brass plaque was installed on the back of the chair to mark the story, given in a spirit of largesse on the part of local Catholics. The chair remains a piece of living history, a true work of art accompanied by a story, an important link with the past, present and future.

The finished product is crafted from stained solid wood that has been nobly and simply fashioned in an abbreviated Gothic Carpenter style, an application of the Gothic Revival.

The top of the chair is surmounted by two Gothic mini spiers and between them at the top is fixed in the middle a golden Maltese cross, symbol of SMOM, recently re-gilded.

The cushions are in blue velvet, in honor of the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.

On the front of the chair above is carved a Gothic shamrock or trifold outline, depicted in a circle.

This is symbolic of the Holy Trinity, created by three overlapping rings, an ornamental foliation that is in a circle, denoting the infinity of God without beginning or end.

Engraved on the front of the chair below is the familiar Christogram emblem, the “Chi Rho” as well as the year of its creation, engraved in Roman numerals: MCMLXXXIV.

A few months after the papal visit, Denis was commissioned by the rector of the cathedral to create two small stools that would correspond to the throne, usually used by deacons who attend the altar.

Finally, there was a special mass organized with the Archbishop at the Cathedral, a small gathering for members of the Order of Malta to formally install the new chair.

Denis, very grateful and proud of his work, kindly gave Harry and his wife Aline a small exact replica he made of the chair which is about two feet tall.

It was for their baby, born in March of the same year. The chair remains in the family living room.

The papal visit was a real success and is still warmly remembered today by all who participated and volunteered.

By the way, the Pope stayed in the presbytery next to the cathedral, for security reasons in a back room on the second floor.

The room has been specially fitted out for the occasion with a chapel adjoining the master suite, with windows overlooking the lane.

The Pope’s meals were prepared in the cathedral rectory by an Italian chef named Sabatini, who was also one of the main chefs in those years at the Vancouver Club.

JP Sonnen is a Travel Writer, Tour Operator and History Specialist at Orbis Catholic Travel LLC.