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Thursday, 17 July 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: St Andrew Bobola Shepherds Bush

St Andrew Bobola Shepherds Bush is one of London’s hidden gems. St Andrew Bobola was a Polish Jesuit missionary and martyr, known as the Apostle of Lithuania, and this Roman Catholic Church dedicated to him opened in 1961 in a former Presbyterian Church building which has been extensively and beautifully restored as a living memorial to Poles who died during World War II. The church holds the main shrine in Britain to the dead of Katyn, the Second World War massacre of Polish officers by Soviet soldiers.

Alexander Klecki was the architect responsible for the transformation of the building. Klecki, who died earlier in 2014, also undertook architectural projects which included Brighton Marina, Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 3 (with Sir Frederick Gibberd), and Sheik Ali Al Qureishi Palace in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. His sculptural work included a bronze Our Lady of Ostra Brama, Wilno (presented to Pope John Paul II at the Vatican), Katyn Memorial in Clifton, Bristol, an aluminium Christ for an Anglican Church in Newcastle under Lyme, and murals at Putney House, the Curzon Club and in the City of London. He was a member of the Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain.

Klecki's Stations of the Cross at St Andrew Bobola are rectangular bronze reliefs showing stylised figures from the Passion narrative. His sculptures include the large Christ figure forming the altarpiece as well as figures of both St Andrew Bobola and St Maximilian Kolbe. Ten of the stained glass windows at St Andrew Bobola are also his work. Given his involvement with the church it is no surprise to find that he was appointed as its custodian.

A bas-relief icon in the chapel of Our Lady of Kozielsk was carved by a lieutenant in the Polish army, Tadeusz Zielinski, who survived imprisonment in the Soviet camp at Kozielsk. The icon was carved in secret, using for tools fragments of steel lying in the ruins, on a limewood plank from a door of a Russian Orthodox church that had been converted by the Bolsheviks into a prison. Being transported to a camp at Grazowiec, Zielinski hid the carving in the false bottom of his suitcase: there he added colour using paints intended for communist slogans. The icon eventually travelled to England by way of Persia, Palestine, Egypt and Italy, and was installed in the church in 1949. (Extracted from an article by Jan Pieńkowski in the Hammersmith and Fulham Historic Buildings Group Autumn Newsletter)

Jan Pieńkowski has also described the stained glass windows which have been skilfully integrated into the church and which relates to the Polish soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought alongside the Allies in World War II:

“Their most distinguished leader was General Wladyslaw Anders, whose memorial fills the triple lancet stained glass window in the south transept. General Anders led the Polish Second Corps in the final push against German troops in Italy, including the heroic assault on Monte Cassino. The window depicts the crucifixion and includes the most revered Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari Cross …

The second remarkable window – in the north transept – commemorates Polish airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain. This was designed by the painter Janina Baranowska, who won the competition set by the Union of Polish Airmen in 1979 … The window was made by the firm of Goddard & Gibbs and inaugurated by Cardinal Rubin on 3 April 1980. The three lancet windows cleverly integrate the Cross with two swooping plane trails. The composition is surmounted by the icon of Our Lady of Ostrobrama.

Another interesting window commemorates the Polish secret underground men who were trained at the SOE centre at Audley End and then parachuted into German occupied Poland.”

Janina Baranowska was born in Grodno and remained there until the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1940 she was arrested and deported to Russia. Two years later she was released and joined the Polish Army in its march to the Middle East. In 1946 she moved to London where she studied under Professor David Bomberg at the Borough Polytechnic in 1947-50. For a number of years she was on the Board of the National Society of Painters and Sculptors, and Association of International Arts. In 1980 she became President of the Polish Artists Society in Great Britain, later the Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain and she was a member of the Catholic and Christian Artists group. Baranowska practises painting and graphic art, and designs stained glass windows. She has exhibited in leading galleries in the UK, France, Poland and the United States. Stained glass windows by her can be found at Holy Trinity Church in Wolverhampton, as well as at St Andrew Bobola.

For the last twenty years Baranowska has been working as a Director of the Gallery in the Polish Social and Cultural Centre (POSK) in Hammersmith, in London organising exhibitions and helping artists from Poland and other countries. The mission of POSK is “to promote and encourage access to Polish Culture in all its forms to Poles and non Poles.”

Many Polish artists were forced to flee mainland Europe during the Second World War. Some of these artists journeyed through many countries before settling in the UK, while others were captured and imprisoned before finding their way to British shores. Marian Bohusz-Szyszko was one of the key organisers in this group of artists. Douglas Hall has recounted how Bohusz-Szyszko organised art classes:

“at first in a reception camp, later at various addresses in London and finally at the St Christopher Hospice at Sydenham. The classes became known as the Polish School of Painting, and were eventually taken under the wing of The Polish University Abroad. The relatively younger artists, including [Stanislaw] Frenkiel, founded in 1948 the Young Artists Association … A group calling themselves Group 49 took its place a year later and mainly consisted of pupils of Bohusz-Szyszko … In 1955, with Polish artists beginning to be more successful commercially, a society was formed with the neutral title of The Association of Polish Artists in Great Britain (APA) … Although APA was intended to be a broad church, the pupils of Marian Bohusz were still the most important element.” A former pupil, Halima Nałęcz, was the founder of the Drian Galleries which also regularly hosted “a plethora of personalities from the artistic world of London, both English and Polish.” In addition, Bohusz-Szyszko and other exiled Polish artists (such as Frenkiel, Adam Kossowski, Henryk Gotlib, Marek Zulawski and Alexander Zyw) were part of a consistent but under-recognised strand of artists utilising sacred themes. Bohusz-Szyszko’s work can be found at St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham, where he was artist-in-residence.

Many of these artists featured in the recent Pole Position exhibition at the Graves Gallery in Sheffield. Specifically religious paintings in this exhibition, such as Janina Baranowska's Crucifixion and Marian Bohusz-Szyszko's Christ Crowned with Thorns, were “on the anguished side of Christian art” and “agonise in brilliant, almost hellish colour” (Pole Position: Polish Art in Britain 1939 - 1989, Graves Gallery Sheffield, 2014).

As well as organisations like POSK and APA, the Church has been a key source of support for many in the émigré community. Monsignor Bronisław Gostomski was a recent parish priest at the church who was known for working hard to support and unite the Polish community. As parish priest since 2003, he had spearheaded a £1 million renovation project at the church and worked to unite older and younger generations of Poles within his congregation. As the chaplain of  the Polish Ex-Servicemen’s Association (SPK), he cared spiritually for those who had been left in England when the dramatic events of the Second World War and the Cold War took their course.  Moreover, he cared also for those who had come to England in more recent  years in pursuit of a new life and opportunities.  As the Parish Priest he could bring everyone together as one family, regardless of age or personal history. Tragically, he was among 96 victims of a plane crash on April 10 2010, which also claimed the lives of the Polish president Lech Kaczynski, Polish president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski and many of the country's top officials and dignitaries.

With these connections and links St Andrew Bobola is a significant space for memory and memorial, specifically for Poles who died during World War II, but also, more generally, for the Polish community in the UK as a whole.


Krzysztof Penderecki - Utrenja I: The Entombment of Christ.

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