A CHURCH is replacing its altar – a white marble bath installed in its religious surroundings in 1964 – with a new one made, in part, from recycled marble pieces.
The one and a half ton bath, worth thousands of pounds, has played an important part in worship at St Edmund’s Catholic Church, in Westgate Street, Bury St Edmunds, for almost 50 years.
It was removed from the church on Friday and will be sold to pay for the redecoration of the building, as well as the new altar which will be made from the flat marble pieces and pillars that once formed part of the old altar.
“The church isn’t a museum, it’s a place where people come to worship and it’s got to move on,” said Father Philip Shryane, who celebrated 10 years with the church last month.
Recounting the history of the mysterious bath, Father Shryane described how former parish priest Father Bryan Houghton, ‘a man of grand designs’, arranged to have the heavy item shipped back from Italy after a visit to the country.
The church’s altar was then designed around the bath, which was stored in the garden of a local doctor until preparations for it were complete.
Father Shryane knows parishioners who remember the bath being installed in the church and who remember it being stored on view in the doctor’s garden.
It was installed in the church during September 21-25 1964 by JP Coffey, a marble mason and fixer who worked in King’s Road, Bury, and left a note attesting to his work inside the bath.
An old 1964 penny was also discovered within the bath’s non-polished interior – a surface that has led Father Shryane and others to believe it was never used as a bath.
“The decision to take it out is largely to do with the safety of the people who minister here,” said Father Shryane, pointing out the large scale of the old altar and its position dangerously close to narrow steps on each side.
“We’re going to replace it with a temporary wooden altar and will experiment with its size,” he added.