Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Beautiful Sacred Art at Ss Gregory and Augustine Parish Church in Oxford, England

What a small parish can achieve with good taste and the will to have a beautiful church, even with limited means.

Here are some photographs from my recent visit to the little parish church of Ss Gregory and Augustine in Oxford, England. The art and furnishings have been carefully chosen to match the simple but elegant early 20th-century architectural design. (The parish was founded in 1912). It is has an arts-and-crafts feel to it, and I was told that it is modelled on a Flemish Renaissance style. Grahame Greene and Tolkien both have associations with the church, and Msgr Ronald Knox visited as a preacher. The current parish priest is Fr John Saward, who is known for his books and writings on the liturgy and art, especially the recently re-published classic, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty: Art, Sanctity, and the Truth of Catholicism. He told us that he has a new book coming out soon, to be published by Angelico Press, on angels. I can’t wait!

Fr John is the driving force behind the current look of the interior, and he very kindly gave us a guided tour himself. Some of the art is from the period following the founding of the parish, but most of it has been commissioned by him within the last 15 years or so, and was painted by the excellent Catholic artist James Gillick. James is a successful portrait and still-life painter who works in oils in a naturalistic style. The color schemes and blend of styles he has used are all carefully chosen to work as an integrated whole. The furnishings, many of which have also been commissioned for the church by Fr John, including a spectacular reredos and other wood carvings, are overseen by James and his brother Gabriel, who is an architect. Together they have a church design and restoration company, Gillick Brothers. Other members of their family have also contributed to the project: the statues have been restored to their original decoration by their father Gordon; curtains in dark purple have been made by Hannah, a seamstress, to cover the reredos and side-panels during Passiontide; and the carpentry for the new exposition throne and crucifix niche above the tabernacle was done by Benedict Gillick.

Here we see the church interior, with its reredos dominating the sanctuary.

The artworks in the reredos are in a variety of styles that blend very nicely. The pictures of Ss Gregory and Augustine have a Baroque look to them, while the Madonna and Child, with its gilded background and cherubic child, has the look of a late 15th or early 16th Italian Renaissance work. The cherubic quality is present but understated, which makes it more accessible to the modern eye.
The other saints on the reredos are more in the style of the Flemish Renaissance (or late Gothic); notice how the heads have been made proportionately larger than the body.
Detail of the polychrome wood carving in the reredos
The Lady Altar. and some of the other statues, paintings and furnishings in the church. Fr John inherited the Stations of the Cross.

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