The Sanctus (‘Holy, Holy, Holy’) acclamation has its origins in the book of Isaiah (6:1-8), as well as the book of Revelation (4:1-11). It begins with the words from Isaiah: “‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Added to this are the words with which the crowds praised Christ when he entered Jerusalem: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)
This song, which has been included in the Mass since the earliest days of the Church, is understood to reflect the worship of God in heaven. The Bible says that two types of angels, the cherubim and seraphim, repeat the song in their praise of God (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). The cherubim and seraphim are described as winged angels, which is why the heavenly host are often pictured that way in art (cf Ezekiel 10:19-21).
The beautiful sanctuary of Sacred Heart, Caterham, has the Sanctus as its unifying artistic theme. Around the walls are 10 painted murals of cherubim and seraphim, each playing a musical instrument and featuring a portion of a scroll. On the scroll, the lines of the Sanctus from Isaiah are written in Latin. Beneath the choir of angels, the walls are covered with stencils of the word ‘Sanctus’ (Holy), repeated over and over to reflect the endless song of the angels.
The murals are the work of Joseph Aloysius Pippet and date to 1889. Pippet worked for the Gothic Revival studio Hardmans, where he was its chief artist. In the 1950s, his Sanctus stencils were painted over, but the original scheme was repainted in 2017 as part of an extensive restoration project. The stunning sanctuary of the church is crammed with many other biblical murals, as well as stained glass scenes, making this church well worth a visit. Below you can see five images – one of the entire scheme, three of the angels and lastly, a close-up of the Sanctus stencilling.
The sanctuary as a whole:
Detail of individual angels:
Detail of the Sanctus stencilling:
Where to find this work of art
Sacred Heart, Caterham
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: The Sanctus has its origins in the call of the Prophet Isaiah.
- From the New Testament: The words of the crowds when Christ entered Jerusalem were later combined with the words of Isaiah to form this hymn.