Excellence in Gothic Revival Sculpture: St. Barnabas in London and the Cowley Church of Boston

In followup to our recent piece on the subject of good (versus poor) statuary in churches, one of our readers -- an accomplished liturgical artist in his own right, Davis d'Ambly -- sent LAJ some further photos of some of the beautiful work of the English gothic revivalists. This prompted some further digging on my part that I believe readers of LAJ will be rather interested in.

It obviously goes without saying that gothic revival sculpture is not going to fit into every church setting of course, and if that wasn't understood in the last piece I will make it clear here and now.  The intent is not to propose a "fit-for-all" solution (there are no such solutions) but rather to simply demonstrate good examples as we come across them. For the moment that places our focus squarely on certain manifestations of the gothic revival but other potentialities also exist.

Today I wanted to focus on two in particular, one in 'Olde' England and one in New England.

We begin with St. Barnabas Church located on St. Barnabas Street in Pimlico, London. The church was designed by Thomas Cundy and William Butterfield.  Of interest, St. Barnabas' was the first Anglican church that was specifically designed to embody the ritualist and theological principles of the Oxford Movement. Here is a general view of the church from the central nave.

St. Barnabas, Pimlico, London. Photo credit: Victorian Web
It is also worth noting that the church was designed a centre of social assistance for the poor and outcast, including an orphanage, a refuge for former prostitutes, as well as a boys school. You can read more about it on the Victorian Web.

Now as fascinating as that all is -- and it is -- our primary focus today is on the matter of statuary and sculpture.  You can get a hint of it above, but let's take a closer look at some details of the sculpture found in this remarkable piece of liturgical architecture.

The first thing worth looking at is a closer view of that rood which was design by G.F. Bodley in 1906 showing Christ the Priest flanked by the Archangels Gabriel and Raphael:

Detail from Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0 (Original photo)
Here is a still closer detail of one of the archangels on the chancel screen:

Photo credit: Oscar Rook via David Liddle
Next to the high altar is the Sacrament House, designed by Sir Ninian Comper. It is flanked by two thurible wielding angels with a statue of St. Barnabas above.

Sacrament House, Sir Ninian Comper. Photo credit: Victorian Web
Detail. St. Barnabas by Sir Ninian Comper
Photo credit: Victorian Web
A few more sculptural details from this splendid church:

Statue of the Virgin and Child designed by Sir Ninian Comper.
Photo credit: Victorian Web
Shrine of St. Barnabas by Charles Eamer Kempe.
Photo credit: Victorian Web
There is so much more that could be shown from this church -- we haven't even shown the high altar. A view of any number of the photos of it manifest all sorts of exemplary details of liturgical art. But we shall save some of those details for another day and turn our sights across the pond to Boston, MA. and Henry Vaughan's hanging rood.

Vaughan was also an Englishman and he apprenticed under G.F. Bodley. He would later come to America and settle in the Boston area.  The particular piece I want to show you today was located, until very recently, in the Cowley church of St. John the Evangelist in Boston -- which had, amongst other personages, T.S. Eliot as a onetime parishioner.  The church in question closed in September 2015 and the rood is soon set to find a new home in the chapel of Trinity College in Hartford, CT.

As you will see, it is a wonderfully rich piece of carving, pleasing in both form and in colour.

Photo credit: Roy Goodwin
Here are a couple of details:

Photo credit: Roy Goodwin
Photo credit: Roy Goodwin
LAJ will do some continuing exploration of this topic, particularly within the context of the gothic revival. We will, however, also turn our attention to other manifestations outside of the gothic revival, including more modern baroque forms as well the Other Modern. (Readers are encouraged to send in examples which they feel might be worth consideration.)

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