At the time of writing it has been announced that churches will soon be opening again for private prayer. Let us hope that some form of public worship, with amendments if necessary, will not be far behind.
At St Mary’s we have been dealing with some incursions by the weather, particularly damage to the bell tower roof and the flint facings to the front stairs.
What appeared to be a fairly routine check on the internal decorations has proved to be more challenging. St Mary’s is unusual in not having been built with an east window. The original plan was to extend the church to the east at some later stage, but these plans did not come to fruition. The east wall was originally decorated with murals designed by our founder Fr Alfred Douglas Wagner, depicting four saints in canopied niches. Work on these ceased upon the death of Fr Wagner in 1902. Work resumed in 1917, with the project completed by Fr Roe. Both Fr Roe and his wife are buried in the churchyard.
The murals were painted over in 1951, at a time when they were less than forty years old and presumably in good condition. One is reminded of some of the excesses of the Reformation, but perhaps there was a more mundane reason for it. The grand carved wooden altar and reredos were also removed, and it is unclear where they ended up. The only thing to survive was the centrepiece of the reredos, a depiction of the Immaculate Conception painted by Fr Roe himself. This now hangs in the ante-chamber to the Walsingham Chapel.
Four years ago St Mary’s was internally re-decorated, and the murals were exposed. At that time we were advised that it would not be feasible to restore them, so regretfully they were again painted over. The paint on the east wall does not however seem to have adhered very well, and most of it came away last month when a few exploratory scrapes were tried by our contractor.
The Churchwardens and Diocesan Architect have inspected the east wall, and the Diocesan Advisory Committee have been asked to investigate whether at least part of the exposed sections might be retained. We could then have a small reminder of the ‘lavish decoration and furnishings’ as described by commentators as late as the 1960s.
Another important part of our re-opening plan is the pilgrimage programme. We hope to again welcome pilgrims in 2021. These will be whole day occasions, as in 2019. As a part of these days there will be a talk on the history of the church, with some interesting props, delivered by Colin Woolgrove. We will make sure that the dates and times are publicised here, and of course you do not need to be a pilgrim to attend.