Sunday, 22 April 2018

Church of Saint Thomas Becket Lewisham :
Maundy Thursday Tenebrae

Figure 1
High altar and chancel wall of
Saint Thomas Becket's church during  Tenebrae.
Image : Latin Mass Society of Australia.
By courtesy of the Latin Mass Society of Australia * we are able to share a brief video presentation of the Office of Tenebrae for Maundy Thursday celebrated in the Church of Saint Thomas Becket, Lewisham (Archdiocese of Sydney).

The videographer was able to capture the newly-decorated walls of Saint Thomas', completed in December according to a design prepared by the Saint Bede Studio.  Further posts about Saint Thomas' church appear below.

The Guild of Saint Thomas the Martyr of Canterbury sang this Tenebrae office and are recorded singing a polyphonic setting of one of the Responsories.

Figure 2
Saint Thomas Becket's church during  Tenebrae.
Image : Latin Mass Society of Australia.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

* An incipient organisation.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Old Church of Saint Thomas (1851)
Restoration of a Landmark Sydney Church : 5

This rare image is reproduced from a glass plate negative in the collection of the NSW State Archives.  It was taken on the railway lines running eastward from Summer Hill towards Petersham in 1885 or 1886.

Catholic Church Lewisham

A section of the image was discovered to depict the old church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury (found 1851) and the adjacent Catholic cemetery.  The cemetery, as shewn in this photograph, extended from the church fully to the righthand side of the image.  It is believed that almost 4000 burials took place in the cemetery, but all of the graves were relocated in the first 40 years of the twentieth century.

The image was digitally enhanced by The Saint Bede Studio.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Restoration of a Landmark Sydney Church
Re-decoration of the Chancel :1

As part of our series of posts on the refurbishment of Saint Thomas of Canterbury's church, Lewisham, we are pleased to include these two photographs taken before and after the major redecoration of the sanctuary.  Further photographs, with a detailed description of the work, will be the subject of forthcoming posts.

(April 2017)
Catholic Church Lewisham
Copyright of the Saint Bede Studio

(December 2017)
Catholic Church Lewisham
Copyright of Mulholland Restoration and Decorating.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Restoration of a Landmark Sydney Church : 3
The Old Church of S' Thomas (1851)

Lewisham's first Catholic church was built when the city of Sydney was less than 65 years old.  In 1851, when this church was commenced, Lewisham was known as Canterbury and was a village some seven kilometres south-west of the centre of Sydney. It is thought that this early church was given its name because of the village where it was built, but hallowed by the name of the great English mediaeval martyr, Saint Thomas Becket, who was murdered in his own Cathedral of Canterbury in 1170.  Subsequently, the district Canterbury became known as Petersham and Lewisham, all English names.

Lewisham Cemetery
Figure 1.
This photograph depicts the chancel of old Saint
Thomas' church and the graves of a number of
Australian pioneering priests.
From this photograph we see a fine four-light tracery
window in the east wall of the sanctuary.
Part of the two-room sacristy is shewn on the left.
The old church was designated Saint Thomas of Canterbury when its foundation stone was laid in 1851 by the coadjutor bishop of Sydney, the Right Rev'd Charles Henry Davis OSB.  Thus far, research has failed to reveal the name of the local architect and builder of Saint Thomas' church, but it is reasonable to assume that the design was derived from plans prepared for the use of the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney either by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin or by Charles Hansom, the renowned Gothic Revival English architects.

The laying of the foundation stone in May, 1851, was reported in the Sydney Catholic newspaper The Freeman's Journal :

On Monday last, the first stone of a new Church at Petersham was blessed by the Right Rev. the Bishop Coadjutor, assisted by the Clergy and Choir of the Cathedral. The Church is to be dedicated under the invocation of St. Thomas of Canterbury. It will be of simple but strictly correct architecture in the Early English style, with nave, chancel, sacristy, and, we believe, a tower, and spire.

The old church was not very large, but fine in its proportions and charming in its appearance.  All its Gothic detailing was "correct" and well built.  It comprised a nave and separate chancel, both made from stone, and roofed with slate.  It had an entrance porch on the northern side of its nave, in the usual position for small churches of this design.  A two-room sacristy with pitched-roofs projected from the southern wall of the chancel.  Evidently one of these rooms was also intended to provide accommodation for the resident or visiting priest.  No details have been uncovered of the appearance of the church's interior, but it is certain that the nave ceiling would have been of open-timber work, as all the pioneering Sydney churches were.

Lewisham church
Figure 2.
This photograph of an old English
church shews a twin-gabled
bellcote similar to the one which
surmounted the western facade
of old Saint Thomas' church.
Although there is a reference in The Freeman's Journal report of the church having a tower and spire, these were not part of the completed building.  But the distinctive feature of the old church was a twin-gabled bellcote over the western facade.  Bellcotes were not an uncommon feature of nineteenth Australian churches, but very few had the twin-arrangement.  Two bells were hung in this bellcote.

Old Saint Thomas' did service as the parish church for only 37 years before it was replaced by a larger stone church built a very little distance away.  In those intervening years, however, a very large graveyard grew around the church containing the remains of around 4000 pioneering Catholics.  Australia's first Catholic bishop, John Bede Polding OSB, was laid to rest in this cemetery in 1877.  Many other pioneering Benedictine monks and secular priests were also buried in that ground, some of whom remain buried in the precinct.

Figure 3.
Old Saint Thomas of Canterbury's church, Lewisham, as it appeared in the late 1870s.
Surrounding the church is the cemetery in which burials commenced from around 1865.
Copyright of the Saint Bede Studio.

Over the intervening years, all but a handful of those gravestones have disappeared, along with the handsome structure of Old Saint Thomas'.  When it was demolished in 1939, its stonework was re-used to make substantial fences around the church ground which are everywhere in evidence today.

Lewisham Catholic Church
Figure 4.
The substantial stone wall in the foreground was built
from the stone walls of old Saint Thomas' church.
From the quantity of stone now forming such walls
around the churchyard, it is obvious that
the old church was taken down stone by stone.
Copyright The Saint Bede Studio

Lewisham Catholic Church
Figure 5.
Buried upside down in a concrete path behind the present church is a capstone from
one of the gables of the old church of Saint Thomas. The tracery, which can be seen 
in one face of the stone, was carved on each of the four sides.
This stone would have sat at the apex of the eastern gable of the nave
or of the chancel, and can be viewed in situ at Figure 1.
Copyright The Saint Bede Studio

Friday, 29 December 2017

Restoration of a Landmark Sydney Church : 2
Christmas Update

Figure 1.
Medallion figuring
Saint Thomas Becket.

Image :
Mulholland Restoration
and Decorating.
Today is the Feast of the great English mediaeval bishop, Thomas Becket, who was martyred for his defence of the Church in 1170 within his own Cathedral of Canterbury by knights of King Henry II.

To commemorate this Feast, we wish to continue our description of restoration work on a church in Sydney (Australia) which is under the patronage of Saint Thomas.  The church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury (also known as Saint Thomas Becket's) was erected in 1887 in the Sydney suburb of Lewisham. Because of its proximity to the railway line which runs into the centre of Sydney from the North, the splendid Gothic Revival tower of the church is seen by thousands of people each day as they pass by in the city's trains.

Earlier this year, the Saint Bede Studio was approached to be a consultant on the restoration of the interior of this church.  Walking into Saint Thomas' for the first time on Easter Monday 2017, the impression was of an Old Lady of great dignity, largely intact, but of greatly faded glory, cluttered by successive generations of alterations and accretions. It was a great challenge to devise a near-complete interior re-ornamentation within the constraints of available time.

Figure 2.
The splendid tower of Saint Thomas' seen through
the wiring and gantries of the railway.
The Studio's commission was to devise a colour scheme for the repainting of the church, to devise an ornamental scheme for the Chancel and its adjacent chapels and to advise on heritage restoration generally.  In this work, we received much practical support from the pastor, Father Samuel Lynch,  parish assistant Mr Stephen Smith and artisans Mulholland Restoration and Decorating of Melbourne.

Figure 3.
A photograph taken in Saint Thomas' before the
reinstatement of the pews.
This illustrates the newly-polished timber floors, the new
central aisle of tessellated pavement
and the new colour scheme for the walls of the building.

On this blog, we will be presenting a series of posts detailing the philosophy underpinning the Studio's work at Saint Thomas' as well as the stages of the buildings development and restoration.

For today, however, just a few photographs of the interior work, as an appetiser.  The quatrefoil shewn in Figure 1 was designed by the Studio as part of the ornament of the East wall of the chancel of Saint Thomas.  It is a stylised rendering of the initials  STB  Saint Thomas Becket, the  being rendered as a sword in order to depict the manner of Saint Thomas' martrydom.

Figure 4.
Detail of the stencilwerk designed by the Studio
for the east wall of the chancel.

The photograph was taken before the completion
of the decoration.
Image : Mulholland Restoration and Decorating.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Restoration of a Landmark Sydney Church

Tower and northern transept
of Saint Thomas' church, Lewisham NSW.
Earlier this year, the Saint Bede Studio was approached to be a consultant on the restoration of the interior of a famous church in Sydney NSW.

The church of Saint Thomas of Canterbury (also known as Saint Thomas Becket's) was founded in 1887 in the Sydney suburb of Lewisham. Because of its proximity to the railway line which runs into the centre of Sydney from the North, the splendid Gothic Revival tower of the church is seen by thousands of people each day as they pass by in the city's trains.

This is the first in a series of posts about the restoration of S' Thomas', to which the Saint Bede Studio has been pleased to contribute.

Friday, 29 May 2015

English Altars 2 : Walsingham

Splendid reredos of the High Altar in the
Church of Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston USA

In a previous post, we described a style of altar commonly known as The English Altar. As the name would suggest such altars developed into a particular style in England, although since the nineteenth century they have come to spread to other parts of the English-speaking world. 

The form of reredos complementing the English Altar falls into two principal varieties : (a) a dossal or curtain of rich fabric, suspended from a railing and carried around three sides of the altar; (b) a low wall which is either of painted timber or carved from stone (or an admixture of the two). In this post, we are pleased to discuss an English altar of the second variety and, indeed, one built in very recent years.

The splendid reredos of Our Lady of Walsingham Church
whilst faithfully reproducing the original altar in England,
succeeds in improving its proportions.
For reasons that are not clear,
the freestanding altar does not follow the literate design of the reredos
but happily is usually covered with an antependium.

This is the High Altar found in the Church of Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston (Texas, USA), a building conceived and built in a very simply Gothic idiom as recently as 2003. The church was designed by the architectural firm of Cram and Ferguson. The High Altar of this church is a near-replica of the altar in the Slipper Chapel, being the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in the United Kingdom. The work of reproducing this reredos in Texas was given to the Spanish firm of Granda Liturgical Arts, and is of the highest quality. It is a welcome relief from their usual Spanish oeuvre.

The English shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was founded in the eleventh century. Walsingham became a renowned place of pilgrimage in England - second only to Canterbury Cathedral. Although several kings and queens of England, Scotland and France had made the pilgrimage, this did not prevent the Shrine being despoiled and brought to ruin by the vile King Henry VIII.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a building used as a barn was discovered to be the original Walsingham Shrine. It was rebuilt and restored to religious use through the efforts of a devout woman, Charlotte Boyd. In 1934, the first Mass was celebrated in the Chapel in more than four centuries. The altar in the chapel was designed and built in the early twentieth century by a local artisan named Lilian Dagless. It is an interpretation of the form of reredos commonly found in England until the time of the Reformation. A carved bas-relief of the Crucifixion with Our Lady and S' John is the central scene of the reredos; on either side there are reliefs of the martyrs S' Catherine of Alexandria and S' Lawrence carrying the instruments of their martyrdom. All of these bas-reliefs are crowned by slightly-projecting canopies of Gothic tracery. Blue and red polychrome, highlighted with gold gilding, completes the ornament of this wonderful work.

Reredos of the Altar of the Slipper Chapel
in the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, England.
This reredos is smaller than the Houston replica
but has an additional arcade of tracery at its base.
The cresting along the top of this reredos is also more robust than in Houston.
We also note riddel curtains on either side of this altar
and that the not-very-large tabernacle is fittingly veiled.

General view of the wonderfully-liturgical chancel of
the Church of Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston.
The freestanding altar is usually covered with an antependium
so that it becomes visually central and not over-powered by the gilded reredos.
Little shelves added to either end of the reredos (on which flowers are placed)
are infelicitous later accretions and detract visually from its aesthetics.
Despite Mass usually being offered ad orientem in the Church of Our Lady of Walsingham, the altar is detached from the reredos and therefore is free-standing. It is possible for Mass to be offered versus populum at this altar. Here is another example of how a flexible approach to the General Instructions on the Roman Missal can result in a suitable setting for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy which respects both aesthetics and liturgical principles.

The Cardinal-Archbishop of Galveston-Houston offering Mass at the High Altar.