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Friday, 16 May 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: St Alban's Romford

St Alban,Protomartyr, Romford has been transformed from a modest suburban church into a place of beauty and excellence that can be seen as a centre for significant works of Ecclesiastical Art. Father Roderick Hingley, the Parish Priest who has led this transformation, believes the visual arts are “a great vehicle for communicating the Christian Gospel,” thinks that we are living through an exciting period in Ecclesiastical Art and, therefore, encourages others to be bold, creative and adventurous in the commissioning of original art.

Fr. Hingley’s work at St Alban began with a major re-ordering of the church from 1992-1995 which removed the cluttered and over-furnished interior that he found on arrival. This work laid a foundation on which it has been possible to build well in excess of 20 separate commissions leading to twenty-one Diocesan Advisory Committee Design Awards. Among the most significant of these are fifteen Stations of the Cross by Charles Gurrey, a Christus Rex by Peter Eugene Ball, seven stained glass windows by Patrick Reyntiens and a chancel ceiling mural by Mark Cazalet.

Gurrey’s Stations are carved in European Oak with their irregular sizes governed by each individual design. They speak with an eloquent minimalism; each piece focussing on a detail from the station and stimulating the viewers imagination to picture the fuller scene. Christ’s face remains unseen until the final resurrection station.            

The Christus Rex at St Alban is the first that Ball has carved of Christ as Supreme and Eternal High Priest. This Christ, gilded with red and gold and clothed with chasuble and stole, springs forth from the brick wall to embrace and bless the congregation below. Cazalet, on first coming into St Alban, was struck by the visual link between this golden Christ and the rich colours of Reyntien’s sanctuary stained glass. 

Reyntien's helped redefine the medium of stained glass through his collaborations with John Piper. Among their numerous ecclesiastical and secular commissions in Britain and USA were the iconic Baptistery Window at Coventry Cathedral and their 'Crown of Glass' at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. On his own Reyntiens has also made windows from Washington DC to Southwell Minster and his work has been an inspiration to contemporary glass art workers. It was his windows at Southwell Minister - as here, filled with angels - which encouraged Fr Hingley to approach him regarding work at St Alban's. 

Here, five angelic windows fill the sanctuary with light and movement, their colours washing over the stone altar and steps. The central three angels hold the crucifix, host and chalice while the north and south angels are less dense in colour to allow for a greater play of light on the altar and echo each other in their interplay of rose and fire imagery combined with words from Mother Julian and T.S. Eliot.

Cazalet then further linked the Angel windows with the Christus Rex through a mural covering the chancel ceiling and depicting the angels of the four elements of creation: air, fire, earth and water. Mirroring the church’s transition from the variegated blues of its baptistery window to its light-filled sanctuary, Cazalet’s mural moves from the dark blue of the winter night to the light and yellows of the summer sun. The light touch of this work extends to Cazalet’s humorous angels soaring above and engaging with the sights and sounds of Romford including its commuters, shoppers, clubbers and parishioners.

Fr. Hingley has a significant involvement in the schools of the parish and groups of schoolchildren often visit the church. Many of the commissions at St Albans have been made with children in mind, including Cazalet’s mural. Hingley’s community links have also been a major source of support in raising funds for the many commissions. In addition to the support of the schools, funds have also been raised by church members and local businesses (Hingley has been Chaplain to the local Chamber of Commerce) and through bequests and grants (including a major award from the Jerusalem Trust for the Cazalet mural).  

As a result, these commissions have given the parish a 'beyond-the-parish ministry' in that other parishes considering commissions are regularly recommended to visit St Alban's in order to see what has been achieved, be inspired, gain ideas and be put in touch with artists. Visits also come as a result of the parish participating in borough-based Open House and Art Trail events as well as school visits. As Chairman of Governors and Link-Governor for Art and Design at The Frances Bardsley School for Girls, Fr. Hingley has played a significant role in the development of the School as a centre of excellence for the Arts including the Brentwood Road Gallery and commissions at the School by Reyntiens and Cazalet. This engagement, which has led to the School joining the Chelmsford Diocesan Board of Education Affiliated Schools Scheme, enables the School, Parish and Diocese to "support each other in the spirit of Christian fellowship and service" finding "innovative ways of working together and learning from one another." One outcome is the inclusion of artworks by students which will feature in the church as part of its forthcoming Fan the Flame mission week.

At St Alban, Protomartyr, Romford, a rather dull traditional church building has been made to sing by becoming a treasure house filled with high quality and varied works of art; all in the context of a church aspiring to do all it does as well as it possibly can. Most churches which have significant commissions have accumulated their holdings over many years and through the ministry of many priests. It is a rare and special achievement to re-order and re-fit an entire church within the ministry of one parish priest and to do so with such a degree of attention to both quality and mission.


Igor Stravinsky - Symphony Of Psalms.  

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