The scale and size of the Cathedral’s High Altar reflect its significance in the church’s life, but also the more practical need to be seen from the far end of the nave, one-tenth of a mile away. In fact, the golden cross at the center of the altar stands nearly six feet tall.
Curious fact: The Cathedral’s east-west axis is actually slightly off-center — there is no straight line from one end of the nave to the Majestus carving of Christ. In fact, there’s a six-foot difference. The reasons are twofold: shifting the axis changes the perspective from the back of the nave, and medieval cathedrals often contained an element of deliberate asymmetry or mistake to signify the imperfection of the world.
The High Altar is made from limestone taken from an ancient quarry outside Jerusalem, the same quarry where tradition says stones were taken to build Solomon’s temple. In front of the altar, ten stones from the Chapel of Moses on Mount Sinai symbolize the Ten Commandments.
Behind the altar, the massive reredos is officially known as the Ter Sanctus (thrice holy), which comes from the hymn sung during the Eucharist: “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name.”
The 110 carved figures surrounding the “Majestus” sculpture of Christ are composed of saints and angels, but the six prominent figures on either side are actually anonymous, and recall the Works of Mercy from the Gospel of Matthew: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
The figure of Christ is carved from Texas limestone, and the design was approved in 1967. It took two years for master stone carver Roger Morigi and his associate Frank Zic to carve the figure.