The Murals - Introduction
The interior of the church was decorated by Phoebe Anna Traquair in three stages. In 1893-5 she worked on the west wall of the immense chancel arch, from 1895 to 1897 on the two chancel aisles, and, lastly, the nave and west wall decorations in 1898-1901.
Traquair was aware of the challenge presented by such a huge building. The wall of the chancel arch alone is sixty-six feet in height. But, as a professional, she was given good quality wooden scaffolding (delightful, comfortable, just like the artists have in Paris) and the church authorities agreed to pay a substantial fee, not only the cost of materials.
The decoration complemented not only the fabric of the building but its varied usage throughout the Christian year. Traquair responded to the needs and liturgy of the Catholic Apostolic Church to complement the meaning and form of the services rich in symbolism.
The liturgy of the Church involved the use of lights, incense, ointments, holy water and chrism. It also had its own rich musical tradition, here led by Paul della Torre. On weekdays and especially holy days, a sensuous mix of colour, sound, smell, texture and movement would dazzle the senses.
The religious symbolism of the building partially dictated the artists designs. The deep chancel played a vital role in the Churchs belief in the imminent Second Coming of Christ. During services this was used by the priests of the Church dressed in robes coloured according to their offices. Traquair directly reflected these in the four great Cherubim painted on the west (congregational) side of the chancel arch.
With the exception of the roof (painted by the firm of commercial decorator Andrew Hutton), the chancel itself was therefore left undecorated. In the intimate chancel aisles, however, Traquair illustrated the journey of the spirit through the New Testament Parable of the Ten Virgins.
The walls of the nave, that part most used by the congregation, were decorated with New Testament sequential scenes from the life of Christ to the north and with corresponding ones from the Old Testament on the south wall.
Angels heads were painted in spandrels above the nave clerestory windows. The scheme was completed by a vast scene of the Second Coming covering the entire west wall which would be viewed as the congregation left the building.
The Italianate Renaissance values of the decoration were immediately recognised by Traquairs contemporaries. In 1898 the London art journal The Studio, referring to its freshness of arts springtide, compared it to the Riccardi Chapel in Florence and the paintings of Gentile da Fabriano. The decoration was so rich and so little anticipated the whole [South] Chapel scintillates and glows like a jewelled crown.
These notes were written by Elizabeth Cumming © 2000