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.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Altar Frontal : 2

In a previous post, we introduced why altar frontals or antependia are desirable to cloth altars, based on liturgical law, sacred symbolism and aesthetics. These are compelling reasons for the use of the frontal, but so frequently two objections are offered why the altar frontal is not used :

The altar is so beautiful, why would we cover it up?

It is too difficult to be changing frontals frequently.

The answers to the first objection may be found by re-reading our first post.  But in this article we wish to begin to discuss the second objection.

A splendidly designed and embroidered altar frontal
clothing the High Altar of Westminster Cathedral (UK).
The use of the original High altar for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy
was reintroduced by the present Archbishop of Westminster,
shewn in the photograph offering Mass.

Firstly, some terminology. The words frontal and antependium presuppose that the covering is applied only to one face of the altar namely, the front of it. This is perfectly proper when considering an altar which is attached to a reredos, or very close to a wall and therefore not freestanding. An altar, however, is a three-dimensional structure and - if it is freestanding - it ought to be fully clothed, not just clothed on those sides which are generally visible. Consequently, we also find the term altar pall which describes a parament which covers all sides of the altar or, at the least, two of them, the front face and the back face.

A free-standing altar placed in a central position which can be viewed from all sides, requires coverings at the front and the back (we leave aside the question of the linen altar cloths) in order for the covering to fulfil its purpose. It is unseemly to cover the front and not the back of an altar, unless of course, one takes the view that the altar frontal is purely used for aesthetic effect.

Where possible, and for reasons of adequately expressing sacred symbolism, the altar pall or frontal ought to be changed in accordance with the colour of the Liturgical Day or Season. It is quite acceptable, however, to have a worthy form of altar pall which is changed hardly ever. It is when several frontals or palls are used and have to be changed that the second objection becomes more prominent.

At present, as in the past, very few altars are designed with any thought given to their being covered with a pall or frontal. This is a serious deficiency in the vision of designers, but it is hardly a new one. It is very important when designing altars that serious consideration is given as to how they will be clothed. If no arrangement, or a clumsy arrangement is made for clothing an altar with a pall, quite quickly this will be cited as the reason NOT to use an altar pall or frontal. "It's too much trouble".

We will pass over without comment those execrable and unbefitting creations which, being multi-sided instead of four-sided, arrogantly defy sacred Tradition and any form of altar covering.

To be continued ...

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Abbey-Churches :
Sainte-Trinité, Lessay (Normandy)

Romanesque architecture
Abbey-Church of the Holy Trinity, Lessay (Normandy).
A magnificent expression of Romanesque.
Source :

Dotted across Europe are so many churches which are, or have been, attached to religious houses. This post concerns one such church which is almost a thousand years old attached to a former Benedictine Abbey in Normandy, France. The following description of the Abbey-Church of Sainte-Trinité (Holy Trinity) in Lessay, Normandy (France) is adapted from a brief essay found at this link.

This Benedictine Abbey was founded around 1056. By 1098 the choir of the abbey church had already been built and the nave was built in the first years of the twelfth century. The church was consecrated in 1178, but it was not fully completed at that date. It continued as a monastery until the French Revolution but became a Parish Church at that time, the monastery buildings passing into private hands.

The Benedictine plan in the form of a Latin cross is used in most of the large abbey churches of Normandy: apse with chapels to scale, abutting the aisles and the arms of the transept, and a long nave with aisles. The interior elevation is that of the Norman Romanesque churches : large arcades, an intermediate level of tribunes and high windows. The Lessay Abbey-Church features ceilings of tracery vaults : one of the earliest examples of such vaults and well before the development of rib vaults in Gothic architecture.

The church was almost totally destroyed on two occasions by war. In 1356 during the Hundred Years' War, Charles II of Navarre directed his army to destroy the Abbey and Church. The church was reconstructed between 1385 and 1420. In July, 1944, the German army, retreating after the D-Day Landing, blew-up the church, reducing large parts of it to piles of rubble. It was reconstructed with the greatest care and fidelity in the period 1945-1958 and continues to serve as a Parish church.

A more detailed history of the Abbey can be found here .

Romanesque Architecture
The austere nobility of Romanesque ecclesiastical architecture :
Nave and south transept, with the Crossing tower.

Romanesque Architecture
The rugged Crossing Tower
pierced by arcading and crowned with a pyramidal roof.
Source :

Romanesque Architecture
The splendid ribbed vault of the nave
reconstructed faithfully after World War Two.

Source :

Romanesque Churches
The nave and crossing of Sainte-Trinité :
a perfect expression of the monumental and noble art of the Romanesque period.
A new timber sanctuary, constructed in the eastern end of the Crossing,
is indifferently furnished, but at least is all
easily removable without injury to the building.

The ruins of Sainte-Trinité in 1944 :
another sad victim of war.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Ruined Churches : The Great War

World War One Churches
A shell exploding on the city of Saint-Quentin;
The partly-ruined basilica dominates the skyline.

March 1918
In Australia on this day, 25th April, we commemorate the centenary of the beginning of the campaign at the Dardanelles (modern day Turkey), which was the brainchild of Winston Churchill. This eight month campaign on the beaches and cliffs of Gallipoli was a dismal failure without any strategic gain and which resulted in the deaths of many thousands of Australian, British and New Zealand soldiers (in addition to some Canadian and Indian troops) and their Turkish adversaries. Since that day in 1915, Australia especially has commemorated this particular campaign of the First World War.

World War One Churches
French soldiers and workmen amidst the ruined nave of the Basilica of Saint Quentin 1918.
Juxtaposed with the incomprehensible scale of casualties throughout the Great War (1914-1918) is the destruction of towns in Belgium and France - the victim of heavy artillery shelling. We should not be surprised that when human life counted for so little, the sanctity of the House of God would not be respected either. Quite a number of centuries old churches and cathedrals were reduced to rubble in this horrific, senseless conflict. In this post, we illustrate just one such destruction - the Basilica of Saint-Quentin in that region of northern France called Picardy.

World War One Churches
The Basilica of Saint-Quentin, Northern France
pictured before the Great War began.
Its eclectic mixture of styles is the consequence
of being built and rebuilt over many centuries.
The city of Saint-Quentin was overrun by invading German forces in September 1914 and remained an on-and-off focus of battle to the very end of the war. Much destruction on the town and on the basilica was wrought during Operation Michael in March 1918. But the basilica had been damaged previously in 1916 and 1917.

In 1914, the Basilica of Saint Quentin (the city bears the name of the basilica) was eight centuries old. It is believed to have been commenced in the eleventh century, but of this work, the western tower seems only to survive. The eleventh century program replaced earlier churches on the site. From the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, the basilica was constructed from its east end to the western tower. A more detailed description of its history and architecture can be found here.

World War One Churches
Ruins of the Saint-Quentin Basilica 1918.
The basilica survived an attempt by the German forces to demolish it completely with high-explosives upon their Retreat in 1918. It has been undergoing reconstruction and restoration in stages over an entire century.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

World War One Churches
The rubble-filled ruins of the choir of the Saint-Quentin Basilica.

World War One Churches
The rebuilt apse with its chevet chapels.

World War One Churches
A recent photograph of the southern side of the Basilica.
The eclectic style of the building, the product of several centuries of construction,
was preserved during the long years of reconstruction after the Great War.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Saint James' Church
A Suburban Melbourne House of God

The Church of Saint James in Brighton, formerly known as Gardenvale, and before that Elsternwick is one of many Gothic Revival churches of the Archdiocese of Melbourne (Australia). For Easter Day, we are writing this post about Saint James', because its parishioners cannot fully share the joy of Christ's Resurrection today. Their church was gutted by fire on Monday of Holy Week, the victim of an arsonist.

Saint James' church Brighton:
North transept, nave and belltower.
Saint James' church, a brick cruciform building with stone facing, was commenced in 1891, but enlarged in 1924 with the addition of transepts, apse and sacristies complementing the original design of Edgar Henderson.

In most respects, Saint James' church was not an exceptional building, but its great glory was the magnificent decorative mosaic work on the walls of the apse and adjacent chapels. This decoration, in a style known as opus sectile, was completed in 1939.

Of all this beauty, nothing now remains. The interior of the church was completely destroyed this week past and parts of its brick and stone walls are imperilled. This is the first of a series of posts on Saint James, aimed at keeping this tragedy in people's minds and in the hope that this House of God might - to some extent at least - be rebuilt. In the meantime, let us pray for its sorrowful parishioners.

Send a message of support to the Parish here.

Charming interior of Saint James church.

A section of the magnificent decorative work
of the apse and Sacred Heart Chapel.

Saint James' ablaze early on the morning of Monday 30th March:
the view on the south side of the church.

Dramatic view of the blaze, looking through 
the tracery window of the southern transept.
Image: The Herald-Sun.

Fireman bringing the devastating blaze under control.
Image : The Herald-Sun.

Charred ruin of the transepts.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Church Towers : 1

church tower
A muscular tower:
Saint Michael and All Angels, Bothwell Tasmania.
It may be argued convincingly that the most identifying feature of a church is its tower. And even though this feature signifies firstly that the building is the House of God, towers remain a potent symbol of community life. There is such a variety in the design of church towers as will afford us many posts on the subject.

Church towers originated in ninth century Italy, but obviously the tower as a fortification existed long before they became part of church architecture. Nevertheless, many communities came to appreciate the defensive advantages of having a tower in their midst and indeed the term belfry is of teutonic origin and means a defensive place of shelter. In most places, however, mediaeval church towers were simply intended to accommodate bells, an altogether different meaning of the word belfry. In Italy the term is campanile.

The tower under discussion in this post is of the Anglican Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Bothwell Tasmania (Australia) and looks very much like a defensive place of shelter. This church was built in stages between 1887 and 1923 to the design of Tasmanian architect Alexander North a Gothic Revivalist of no mean ability. The tower of the church, which abuts the chancel, was the last to be built and is distinctive for its robust design.

Although in that muscular vein of the later period of the 19th century Gothic Revival, this squat and robust tower is at least reminiscent of Norman architecture. Four square turrets support this tower and each turret is flanked by two unstepped buttresses, creating clean lines and a keep-like appearance. The pyramid-shaped terminations to these turrets enhance this castle-like feeling (although those four celtic crosses atop are perhaps a little "twee"). No tracery or crenellations break-up the solid parapet of this tower. The eight louvred openings clearly indicate the true purpose of this tower.

church tower
The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Bothwell, Tasmania.
The tower and porch of this church are the most successful features of its exterior.

The church seen from the south east.
A semi-circular turret, which serves as the stairwell to the tower,
is well-placed against the east wall

and also serves as the exterior entrance to the vestry.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The White Church, Blackpool (UK)

The former shrine-church of our Lady of Lourdes
known in Blackpool as The White Church
because of its portland stone exterior
The former shrine-church of our Lady of Lourdes in Blackpool was built between 1955 and 1957 to a design by the Catholic architect Francis Xavier Verlarde. During World War II, the Bishop of Lancaster, Thomas E. Flynn, sought the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, to protect the Diocese from war damage. At the end of the war the Diocese had been relatively undamaged, and the bishop conceived the idea of building a shrine to Our of Lourdes in thanksgiving. 

The churches designed by the architect Verlarde were decidedly modern in appearance. He designed relatively simple churches in a style derived from the Romanesque churches of rural France but in a greatly simplified, even severe form. It would not be correct to describe his work at art deco, but nevertheless they blend with the streamlined architecture of that period. The Blackpool shrine was built towards the end of Verlarde's life.

The Shrine seen from the south,
shewing the tracery windows of the aisles.
Wikipedia tells us that shrine-church of our Lady of Lourdes is constructed in brick and concrete clad with Portland stone.  The church is roofed in copper sheets and has copper cladding to the flèche or spirelet. The nave is flanked by box-like aisles in which rectangular panels of cast concrete glazing are filled with geometric patterns, their pink and pale blue glass giving good light to the interior. At the west end there is single-bay narthex, and at the east end is an apse forming the sanctuary, and projecting vestries. 

The exterior of the church is decorated in a most striking manner with marvellous stone carvings by David John. In the west front over the fine timber double doors is a bas-relief of the Crucified Christ surrounded by the angels. God the Father is depicted above the Cross and the Blessed Virgin at its foot.  

David John's marvellous
carving of the Crucifixion.
David John also designed the pinnacles at the corners of the building; these depict Our Lady of Lourdes appearing to Saint Bernadette, Christ appearing to Saint Margaret Mary, Saint Thomas of Canterbury, and Saint Edward the Confessor. 

At the entrance to the building are York stone steps with splayed flanking walls. The interior arcades columns are clad in gold mosaic. The ceiling is coloured blue, red and gold, with deep coffering around the light fittings and the floor of the body of the shrine is tiled. The sanctuary is raised and approached on marble steps through a round arch; its floor is travertine with mosaic panels. The altar rails are bronze with an Art Deco design. The altar reredos was carved by David John.

Unhappily, the shrine was deconsecrated in 1993, and passed into the ownership of the Historic Chapels Trust (a secular charity), in 2000 in a poor state and without an endowment. 

Several recent photographs of the exterior of the church may be found here.

Carved statue as a pinnacle of the northern aisle
in juxtaposition to the spirelet on the nave roof.

An imaginative composition.
Note the clean - almost severe - lines of the apse.

Another view, from the southwest.
The box-like sacristy and porch (shewn in the right corner of the photograph)
which abut the southern aisle and the apse
are part of the original design but greatly detract from the building.

The now derelict interior of the Shrine Church is partially shewn in this photograph.
A free-standing altar with carved antependium by David John
is part of the original sanctuary furnishings.
The austere and oddly-shaped reredos is a great disappointment.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Altar Canopy

The manner of decorating an altar which has been hallowed by ancient tradition and is distinctly a Catholic practice, is to build over the entire altar a large canopy, usually standing on four columns. Such a canopy is often referred to as a  ciborium,  or a  baldacchino  or  a civory.  In mediaeval times, particularly in England, a different form of canopy came to be suspended from the ceiling above the altar, usually being square but sometimes circular in shape.  Later still the canopy evolved into an adjunct to the altar which jutted out at right angles from the topmost part of its reredos. These different forms of canopy all have specific names, which are often confused. This is the first of many posts illustrating canopies, in their various forms, over our altars.

The canopy, according to Canon J.B. O’Connell, “was a traditional mark of reverence and honour, emphasising the royal dignity of the altar...without any infringement of the inviolable sanctity and detachment of that sacred stone.”  Canon J.B. O’Connell, Church Building and Furnishing: the Church’s Way, 1955, pp. 185-86.

The great bronze canopy over the High altar of St. Peter's Basilica.
Designed by the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini, it was intended to mark,
in a monumental way, the place of Saint Peter's tomb beneath.
Commissioned by Pope Urban VIII, the work began in 1623 and ended in 1634.

The most famous example of such a canopy is in Saint Peter’s Basilica; but there are numerous such canopies throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, North America and in Australia. Many of these were built in the first half of the twentieth century, when liturgical ideals were being practically espoused.

The former Ceremonial of Bishops and various decrees of the Congregation of Sacred Rites required a canopy of some sort to be built over an altar - a directive which, unfortunately, was largely ignored. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Shrines of the Blessed Eucharist : 2

Although reservation of the Blessed Sacrament is of great antiquity in the practice of the Church, the oldest and primary purpose of reservation is formally stated in the 13th canon of the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) : "With respect to the dying, the old rule of the Church should continue to be observed which forbids that anyone who is on the point of death should be deprived of the last and most necessary Viaticum."

In this post, we wish briefly to trace the manner of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in the Western Church.

Hanging Pyx
A Eucharistic pyx made in Limoges France
first half of the 13th century.
This pyx was designed to be suspended above an altar.

In the Collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
The first official regulation for reservation in the Western Church comes from the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, when it was already the custom to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in cathedrals, parish churches and the chapels of religious orders on (or more usually) near the altar. The Council did no more than direct that the Reserved Sacrament should be kept with strict care under lock and key. There appears to be no reliable evidence before the year 1000, or even later, the Blessed Sacrament was kept in churches in order that the faithful might visit it or pray before it.

As to the manner and place of Reservation during the early centuries there was no great uniformity of practice.

In the early mediaeval period, caskets in the form of a dove or of a small tower made for the most part of one of the precious metals, were commonly used for the purpose, but whether in this period these Eucharistic vessels were kept over the altar, or elsewhere in the church or in the sacristy is not clear. But after the tenth century the most common usage in England and France seems to have been to suspend the Blessed Sacrament in a pyx or dove-shaped vessel over the High Altar. Nevertheless, fixed and locked aumbries were also found.

Sacrament House
Sacrament House in the church of Saint Denis
Rheine, Germany, late 15th century.
This splendid construction, which is still used for the
Reservation of the Blessed Eucharist
is located just outside the sanctuary in the northern transept.

Germany and the Low Countries developed the Sacrament House, an elaborate structure of stone and metalwork, usually standing a short distance away from the altar on the northern or Gospel side of the sanctuary.

A 14th century English Aumbry of the Blessed Sacrament
St Peter's Anglican church, Claypole, Lincolnshire:
The aumbry, set into the chancel wall,
is enriched with stonework in the Decorated Gothic style.
Image :

A cupboard or Aumbry in the wall of the sanctuary was customary in parts of Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Scotland and elsewhere. They were most frequently enriched with stonework and polychrome work.

The reforms following the Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) prescribed a Tabernacle fixed to the centre of the altar. But earlier usages were not formally forbidden. Furthermore, specific Chapels for the reservation of the Blessed Eucharist were arranged in Cathedrals and Greater Churches, separate from the Sanctuary. After Trent, the tabernacle became the usual mode of reservation in all Catholic churches, although there were exceptions in Germany and Belgium, where the old sacrament houses were permitted to be used.

High altar in the Church of Saint Euphemia,
Ravenna mid 18th century.
It was not untypical for High altars in Italy to have tabernacles
which resembled miniature temples in the classical style.

The term tabernacle to denote this kind of receptacle fixed to the altar for the reserved Sacrament was introduced by the reforming bishop of Verona, Matthew Giberti, about 1525 and his ideas were later endorsed by the Council of Trent.

Further posts in this series will discuss each of these methods of Eucharistic Reservation. For this post, we have adapted essays in the Catholic Encyclopaedia (1911) by Father Herbert Thurston and in the Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (1972) by Archdale A King.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Do you know?

This early 20th century postcard shews a fine Gothic church in either France or Belgium. Its name and place are unknown. It is unclear as to whether it is a mediaeval church or of the 19th century Gothic Revival, but the presence of a Confessio immediately beneath chancel suggests something mediaeval (at least in part).

Despite the ample proportions of the building, the chancel is relatively small and there are no quire stalls or other furnishings to suggest this is a Cathedral-church. There is, however, a very fine civory or ciborium above the High altar.

Suggestions would be welcomed :

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Mediaeval Churches 1 : " Saint Mary Mead "

Murder at the Vicarage
The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Hambleden.
This view from the south east shews the chancel
partly obscured by a chapel flanking it
and the south transept.
Devotees of BBC television dramas frequently see fine old English churches as a backdrop to the story. The writer of this column is often more interested in the churches than the storyline. In some cases, such churches figure more prominently than others, as in a re-screening last night (Australia) of the 2004 production of Agatha Christie's Murder at the Vicarage. This novel is set in the fictional village of Saint Mary Mead and the famous amateur sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, lives opposite the church and vicarage.

In this instance, the church exterior and interior depicted were two completely different buildings as, I expect, was the vicarage location.

This post concerns that church outside which parts of the production were filmed, Saint Mary the Virgin in Hambleden in Buckinghamshire (UK).  It seems that the church was used for another BBC Agatha Christie mystery Sad Cypress

Murder at the Vicarage
View of the church looking up the path 
from the lychgate. 
At the southwest corner of the nave
can be seen a timber porch constructed 
in the 19th century to protect 
the original stone
doorway of the 14th century.
Like so many old English churches, Saint Mary's was built and rebuilt over many centuries and yet has a certain harmony of appearance because the same basic materials - flintstone and chalk with stone dressings - were employed at most stages of its development. It has its origins in the 12th century, as a cruciform building in the Norman style, but this basic plan was much altered in the two centuries which followed, so that Norman features are not immediately obvious from the exterior.

The church had a central tower over the Crossing which seems to have been part of the original building, but this collapsed and a new tower was built in a different situation at the west end of the building in the eighteenth century, and heightened to its present form in the late 19th century. The appearance of this tower, built when Gothic architecture was at its lower ebb, nevertheless in its simplicity complements the older work. 

A detailed description of Saint Mary's Hambleden may be found here.

Murder at the Vicarage
View of Saint Mary the Virgin from the north east.
The northern transept, although much altered, is the oldest part of the building.
Another chapel (built in the 19th century) flanking the chancel
adjoins the transept. Also shewn is a small vestry.

The late Gerald MacEwan with some of the cast of the
BBC production " Murder at the Vicarage ".
They are standing outside the lychgate of Saint Mary's church.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Chancel Screen : 1
Choirscreen of Hereford Cathedral

Gothic Revival Splendour :
The choirscreen of Hereford Cathedral (1862), shewn in an early 20th century postcard.

Although not a feature of primitive Christian liturgy, differing forms of screen nevertheless can be traced to the early centuries of the Church. In the East, these forms developed into the iconostasis. In the West, a form of screen which separated the chancel (that place which contains the schola and the altar) from the nave of a church. These have variously been known as Rood Screen, Pulpitum or Choirscreen, but each of these term describes a different expression of a structure which performs much the same function. There will be posts on each of these in the future in these columns.

This post, however, illustrates a wonderful screen of the English Gothic Revival in the Anglican Cathedral of Hereford (UK). It embodies a second stage in the Gothic Revival, in which architects more confidently experimented with the elements of Gothic, rather than studied reproductions of particular buildings. Sadly, this marvellous composition is no longer in place in the Cathedral, but is now housed, fully-restored, in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London). The following description of the screen is adapted from the website of the Museum.

The great choir screen made for Hereford Cathedral is one of the monuments of High Victorian art and a masterpiece in the Gothic Revival style. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, a leading Victorian architect, and made by the Coventry metalworking firm of Francis Skidmore.

A 19th century photograph of the Hereford choirscreen.
From the side, its three-dimensional design
can readily be appreciated.
Scott's most impressive screens were largely of iron, as at the [Anglican] cathedrals of Lichfield (1861), Hereford (1862) and Salisbury (1869-72), and all were constructed by Skidmore of Coventry. Medieval screens were not made of iron - then far too costly - but always of stone or wood. Scott regarded iron as an important "modern" material and used it extensively, both structurally and decoratively.

Before it was installed in Hereford Cathedral, the screen was one of the major exhibits at the 1862 International Exhibition in London, and was praised the Illustrated London News as "the grandest, most triumphant achievement of modern architectural art". It helped to win for its maker a special medal for manufacturers in metal, brass and copper, for progress, elegance of design and excellent workmanship.

The screen is 10.5 m high and 11 m long and weighs over 8 tons (around 1000 kilos). Its basic structure of timber and cast iron is embellished with wrought iron, burnished brass and copper. Much of the copper and ironwork is painted in a wide range of colours. The arches and columns are decorated with polished quartz and panels of mosaic.

Passion flowers in many forms are dominant motifs on the screen. They symbolise the suffering of Christ upon the Cross (the Passion). The bearded figure of Christ is the focal point of the screen. On either side, angels play timbrel and harp. The figures look as though they are made from cast bronze but are in fact electroformed copper, a revolutionary new technique at the time and much cheaper than casting bronze. Electroforming is the process of using electricity to cast a metal object. It is done through the electrical deposition of metal upon a plaster pattern or model, while it is immersed in a suitable liquid.

Beautifully restored, but standing somewhat forlornly in its own room in the
Victoria and Albert Museum.
Although completely lacking the effect of its context in a large church,
nevertheless the magnificent detail of this screen can be studied
in the secure environment of the museum.

The central axis of the Hereford choirscreen,
shewing our Saviour in Glory flanked by the angels.