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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: St Alban the Martyr Holborn

St Alban the Martyr Holborn is reached via an alleyway from Chancery Lane and is entered via a short passageway and courtyard leading to the south transept where the entrance to the church and a small chapel dedicated to Father Mackonochie (the first incumbent of St. Alban's and a pioneer in bringing Anglo-Catholicism to the slum dwellers of Victorian London) can be found.
The original building by William Butterfield and dating from 1859 was burnt out in 1941 as a result of firebombs before being restored 1959-61 by Adrian Gilbert Scott. The building has therefore experienced its own death and resurrection and the resurrected Christ is encountered both at its entrance in the form of Hans Feibusch’s sculpture Resurrected Christ and on its East Wall where Feibusch’s immense mural of The Trinity in Glory features the resurrected Christ at its centre.

The mural from 1965-6 which fills the east wall with colour and vitality measures 29 ft. by 50 ft. (8.8 m by 15.2 m) and contains more than fifty principal figures but was executed by Feibusch, with assistance from Phyllis Bray, in only three months. Among those fifty principal figures, Fr. Mackonochie, is shown wearing green vestments, together with other clergy who have worked in St. Alban's, including the Vicar at the time of the painting, Father Peter Priest. In 1969-70 Feibusch then painted fourteen Stations of the Cross which were marouflaged to the north and south walls of the Church.

As a German Jewish émigré who became a refugee from the Nazis, Feibusch would no doubt have profoundly understood a ministry like that of Fr. Mackonochie which was described by a non-Christian contemporary as bringing “light into the dark places, and beauty and orderliness and peace before weary eyes and harassed minds, and sweet and ennobling music to ears accustomed to discordant curses, and screams of anger, and cries of pain.” Enthusiasm for humanity in whom the divinity of Christ could be seen was the essence of Fr. Mackonochie’s faith and actions.

Feibusch captures this essence in the most expressive set of Stations with bold yet bleached, non-naturalistic pastel colours painted in oils specially mixed for him by Winsor and Newton. Greens, yellows, pinks, mauves and blues are utilised to convey pathos in every panel. The sorrowing sadness of his selfless sacrifice is fully realised in paintings which image passion without straining for effect.

These same colours then explode in a vision of glory which both ascends in diagonals of green, yellow and blue while also circling the risen Christ with images of liberation and devotion. Freedom from imprisonment, healing from handicap, filling with the Spirit; all lead to adoration of the Trinity which then results in ministry to those requiring release. In the words of the artist, “a continuous upward-flowing stream of anonymous worshippers.” The Trinity in Glory is a celebration of liberation; a depiction of Christ’s Isaianic manifesto which fuelled and fuels the ministry of this church.  

My mid-morning visit comes too soon for the daily lunch‑time mass in Fr. Mackonochie’s chapel which ministers to office workers in the area as well as to St Alban's regulars;  Fr Mackonochie's emphasis on the Mass remains as the heart of worship here. As I sit in the silence of echoes which is the soundspace of empty churches, echoes of footsteps reverberate in the silence from the passageway to courtyard to church. A black-suited, shaven-headed man enters, approaches the sanctuary, kneels for an instant before The Trinity in Glory rises and exits, crossing himself on the forehead with holy water as he leaves. What brought him and what touched him? Light in dark places, beauty and orderliness and peace before weary eyes and harassed minds, sweet and ennobling music to ears accustomed to discordant curses, and screams of anger, and cries of pain?


Woven Hand - The Good Shepherd.

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