Parting of the ways

THERE are pews where the wash bowls were.

The pulpit has replaced a perming stall. Stations of the cross hang where previously there were mirrors. And a pair of confessional booths have been installed in a storeroom which, until just last week, housed shampoos, straighteners and styling creams.

There’s still the faintest whiff of conditioner but the scented candles are starting to work that away.

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Welcome, reader, to perhaps the strangest cathedral you will ever come across – the temporary Cathedral of St Marie’s.

A fortnight ago customers came into this little unit in Norfolk Row, city centre, asking for a bob – now visitors are here to communicate with God.

Why? Because Sheffield’s main Catholic Church has set up base in the salon for the next year while a massive £2 million restoration of next door’s grade II listed, 19th century Cathedral of St Marie (proper) is carried out.

“It’s an unusual place to find ourselves,” admits Father Chris Posluszny, himself in no need of a haircut. “But hopefully we’ve created a cathedral feeling in here. Our regulars have been impressed by the transformation and I’ve noticed plenty of people looking in through the window, interested to see what’s happening. You never know – having that glass front might even encourage more people to come in.

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“We’d been looking for a temporary base for some time with no luck. We own this building where the salon was and a couple of weeks ago they asked if we could terminate their contract because they wanted to leave the premises. It was perfect timing.”

The Lord really does, it seems, move in mysterious ways.

Now daily services and confessions will be held there – though Saturday vigil and Sunday services will take place at St Matthew’s in Carver Street – while workmen get on with the mammoth job next door.

That job, incidentally, isn’t anything to turn your quiff up at.

The entire church will be overhauled to bring it into the 21st century while restoring its Victorian elegance.

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New underfloor heating covered by a sandstone floor will be installed.

A new entrance area will replace the old confessional booths, which themselves will be positioned on the opposite side of the church. And a new glass and metal atrium will be created at the entrance to the west door.

A new cathedra – a stone chair where the Bishop sits – will be installed further forward within the sanctuary, while the original ceiling, covered by plasterboard in the 1970s, will be restored.

Other original stonework will be cleaned and the sarcophagus of the church’s founder Father Pratt will be moved into a more central and prominent position.

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The 19th century Lewis organ meanwhile – one of only three of its kind anywhere in the world – will be taken apart, cleaned and retuned.

“It’s an exciting time,” says Fr Chris. “There’s no doubt this work will bring the church to life.”

In the meantime, think about lighting a scented candle when you visit the temporary cathedral – if only to get rid of that conditioner smell.