Sisters of St. Martha Bethany Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Prayer is a gift of God through which we experience in faith the mystery of Godâ€™s infinite love. Constitutions 39
The Narthex As you go into the chapel area from the main building, you enter the narthex. The narthex is a gathering space for ritual and celebration. This spacious area, in various tones of white and oak, has stained glass windows of pale whites, ochers and umbers.
The Teardrop Motif The teardrop design occurs frequently throughout the narthex and in the chapel, reminding us of the Paschal Mystery. Just as suffering and death are part of our daily lives, so is resurrection and new life. We are reminded, â€œAnd God will wipe every tear from their eyesâ€? (Rev. 21:4). In different shapes and sizes, this design is found in the stained glass windows in the gates to the chapel, in the altar and tabernacle and in the panel behind the altar.
The Entrance Gates The gates from the narthex into the nave of the chapel are of wrought iron and bronze. These beautiful gates remain open, except for moments of celebration.
The Windows Eight long stained windows to left and right of the main body of the chapel are representations of the eight beatitudes, as expressed by four active women saints on the left and four contemplative women saints on the right. Each women is shown in the color and symbols that indicate her mission in life.
Saint Martha As you look to the first window panel on your left, you meet Martha. It is very appropriate that she should be seen first, for she is our own patroness. Martha is clad in shades of brown and carries a dish of food with the tamed dragon under her feet. Folklore has her taming the dragon (evil) in France where she and her brother Lazarus and sister Mary journey after the resurrection. Martha is that holy woman who waited on Jesus and his companions and was eager to set a fine table. She is also the woman of Scripture who declared in her profession of faith that Jesus is the Messiah, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ…” (Jn. 11:12). Warm ochres and sienna earth tones are very appropriate for Martha as she is an earthy woman who exemplifies the essence of hospitality and simplicity. Martha’s beatitude is, “:Blessed are the merciful…” (Matt. 5:7).
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus The second window to the left portrays Therese, who has been named a Doctor of the Church. She is arrayed in pure colors, hues of blue, red, brown and gold. Her head is covered in brown, indicative of the Carmelite habit, while the golds remind us of her virtue in seeking God with all her heart. Appropriately, Therese is holding a crucifix surrounded by roses which are falling to earth. Before she died, Therese promised to send roses from heaven. Therese’s beatitude is, “Blessed are the clean of heart…” (Matt. 5:8).
Saint Margaret of Scotland In the third window on the left is Margaret of Scotland, crowned and holding a cross, and is arrayed in blues, greens and grays. Margaret was married to King Malcolm III. She was known for her prayer and spirituality, and she was also a very active worker for the Church. In her society she encouraged the arts and education. Although she lived 1000 years ago, Margaret’s faith and untiring ministry are marks of encouragement for women today. Margaret’s beatitude is, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matt. 5:9).
Saint Joan of Arc In the last window on the left you meet Joan of Arc. Joan is ablaze in fire colors, reds, oranges and yellows, symbolic of her death. Joan was a shepherdess who lived with her family in France. At this time France was at war with England, losing badly. Joan believed that God was calling her to save her country. She listened with her heart to what she heard, and went into battle as the leader of the troops. The war was won, the king crowned and there should have been great victory for Joan. But it was not to be. Her friends let the enemy capture her and she went to her death by being burned at the stake. In our chapel she is aflame in color. Joan’s beatitude is, “Blessed are the persecuted…” (Matt. 5:10).
Saint Clare of Assisi On the right side, nearest to the sanctuary, Clare of Assisi is holding the Blessed Sacrament and palm in her hands, and is portrayed in muted greens, blues and grays. Clare was greatly inspired by her contemporary, Francis of Assisi, who committed his life to serving God and to living a poor and simple life. Clare founded the religious order known as the Poor
Clares, who follow a cloistered lifestyle where they pray for the needs of the world. There is a wonderful story told about Clare. When the city of Assisi was besieged by war, Clare carried the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament outside her convent, and when the army saw her, they fled. Clare’s faith and bravery had saved the city. If you look at Clare’s image in our window, you can easily see the monstrance. Clare’s beatitude is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matt. 5:3).
Saint Bridget The second window, right side from the sanctuary, represents that wonderful woman from Ireland, Bridget. Bridget wears muted earth tones. She became a religious and served God by ministering wherever the needs of the day called. She moved around Ireland, often building schools and hospitals and serving those who were poor. You will notice that Bridget has some corn cobs in her hands, a barn at her feet and flames over her head, symbolic of her generosity in serving the poor of the day. Today Bridget and Patrick are the Patron Saints of Ireland. Bridget’s beatitude is, “Blessed are the meek…” (Matt. 5:4).
Saint Mary Magdalen In the third window from the front, on the right, is Mary holding the ointment box in her hands. Her colors are blues, purples and gray -blacks. Mary had the wonderful experience of knowing Jesus personally. Scripture tells us that she was the first to witness the Resurrection. In each Gospel we see her as the one who brings the good news that Jesus is risen. She reminds us that we too are called to serve in the mission of the Church. Mary was one of those loyal women who followed Jesus through his public ministry to his death. Mary’s beatitude is, “Blessed are those who mourn…” (Matt.5:5).
Saint Catherine of Sienna The fourth window on the right from the front portrays Catherine of Sienna. Catherine is attired in pewter tones. Catherine holds a cross signifying suffering, and rays emanate from the stigmata in her hands. Above her head is a dove, and a city lies under her feet. The dove represents the Spirit who guided her into a deeper awareness of the needs of the Church and society. During her life time, the Church was beset with problems. Catherine was aware of this and did not hesitate to confront the issues and speak her truth. She was recognized for her wisdom and sound advice. Catherine’s beatitude is, “Blessed are the just…” (Matt. 5:6).
The Nave The interior of the chapel has been developed in such a way as to bring the altar as close as possible to the congregation. Following this same plan, the pews are so arranged as to bring the community around the altar. The console of the pipe organ is also placed in the midst of the congregation, facilitating congregational singing.
The Panel Above The Altar Behind the altar is a painted panel with a crucifix and four large teardrops; the number four symbolizes the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The gold -plated bronze corpus does not dominate the space behind the altar, so that attention may be focused on the table of worship.
The Altar We gather around the altar to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This beautiful altar is designed with two fish, five loaves, twelve tongues of fire and a large host radiating to all parts of the design. The fish and loaves with the larger, radiating host, remind us that Christ did not come in order to feed a few people on a particular day but to give daily bread to all forever. The twelve tongues of fire represent the twelve apostles. The designs on the two sides of the altar represent sacrifices spoken of in the Hebrew Scriptures, prefiguring Christâ€™s perfect sacrifice.
The Tabernacle The tabernacle is rectangular in shape and is of gold and vitreous enamel. The motif is that of the teardrop. The interior has an oriental cedar floor with sides of gold-plated bronze.
The Ambo Since the Word of God is proclaimed and shared from the ambo, the design on the ambo depicts the Scriptures with a sword. â€œThe Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged swordâ€? (Hebrews 4:12).
The Stations of the Cross Progressing around the rear of the nave are fourteen plain walnut crosses with a bronze symbol to represent the individual stations. Unlike traditional procures, these stations in symbolic form invite us to comprehend the deeper meaning of Jesusâ€™ journey to crucifixion and death. The following are examples:
First Station: Jesus is condemned to death. The symbol of the pitcher and basin is a reminder of Pilate washing his hands.
Fourth Station: Jesus meets his Mother. The symbol of the cross represents Christ. The letter M is for Mary, his mother.
Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry His Cross. The symbol of the helping hand recalls the assistance given by Simon to Jesus.
Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the Face of Jesus. The veil is symbolic of the charitable act of Veronica.
Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the Cross. The sun is the symbol of the New Testament, and the moon that of the Old. With the death of Jesus the sun is rising and the moon is setting.
Fourteenth Station: Jesus is placed in the Sepulchre. A simple tomb is symbolic of the burial.
A History of our Congregation Chapels The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Martha was founded in 1900. The first motherhouse was on the campus of St. Francis Xavier University. The chapel was located in our first motherhouse, which is still standing on the campus today. The building presently is a part of the Coady International Institute. If you visit this building, you can actually see the location of our first chapel. The altar from this original chapel is in our Heritage Place, Bethany. The second chapel was located in the new motherhouse built on the outskirts of Antigonish in 1921 when St. Marthaâ€™s Convent on the campus was no longer adequate for the needs of the growing congregation. This chapel is presently part of our retreat center complex. As the congregation grew, it became necessary to build an addition to the motherhouse which included a new chapel and was opened in 1937. This chapel seated about 200 and was the centre of community
worship until 1963. At present it serves the sisters as an assembly hall. Again, as the congregation continued to grow, another wing became necessary. A beautiful chapel on the east side completed the project and serves as the centre of worship today. The dedication service for the new chapel took place on December 11, 1963.
Interior Design: Architects:
Rambusch of Canada Ltd., Toronto, Ontario
Govan, Kaminker, Langley, Keenleyside, Nelick, Devonshire & Wilson, Toronto, Ontario
Sisters of St. Martha Bethany - 45 Bay Street Antigonish, Nova Scotia B2G 2G6