Saturday, March 21st 2015
In a recent post, A house near the river, I referred to the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer in Exmouth Market as a Catholic church but this designation was challenged in a comment, causing me to edit the description. Today, as we were passing near Exmouth Market, we decided to take a closer look at the church. From this visit I conclude that, although I was wrong to describe the church as “Catholic”, meaning Roman Catholic, I was also in a sense right. Our Most Holy Redeemer is an Anglican church but it clearly belongs to the Anglo-Catholic tradition and anybody wandering into the church without first reading the signboard outside could easily believe that they had entered a Roman Catholic church.
The church, which is Grade II* listed, was built in two phases, 1887-8 by John Dando Sedding, and 1892-5 by Henry Wilson. Wilson’s Lady Chapel was completed in 1904. As well as the church, the structure also includes a clergy house and parish hall.
The church was open, so we went in to take a look. It is quite large and the decor is elaborate. The altar is reached through a tall canopy called a baldachin (deriving from Italian baldacchino). I don’t know whether this is typical of Anglo-Catholic churches or whether it is a unique feature of this particular design.
As we approach Easter, the narrative of the passion and death of Jesus naturally comes to the fore, especially, you would expect, in a church named Our Most Holy Redeemer and with the motto ‘CHRISTO LIBERATOR’ written in giant letters across the façade.
A ceremony or ritual associated with Easter is the Stations of the Cross, in which the congregation processes around the church visiting in turn each of a set of images or tableaux representing the journey of Christ from judgement through execution to the tomb. The Stations of the Cross in this church were possibly done by F.W. Pomeroy who was recorded as being responsible for the interior sculpture.
The structure of the church seemed complicated to me and perhaps somewhat uncomfortable. For example, one of the main chapels lies behind the altar and is accessible only through either of the side chapels and without an obvious official entrance.
This chapel no doubt has a name of its own but I failed to find and note what this is. To one side of the altar is a sculpture group of the Virgin and Child and, on the other, a figure of St Pancras.
One might say that St Pancras is big in the local area, having two churches and a station named after him. This sculpture unfortunately reminded us both of early 20th century pictures of men showing of the latest in male swimming attire. This is presumably not the effect that the sculptor was hoping for.
St Pancras was not the only saint in evidence. In the body of the church, two other worthies are found, each with a tray for candles suggesting that they can be asked to intercede on one’s behalf. Why St Pancras was not offered the same responsibility, I do not know. The saints are not named but plausible guesswork suggests that they are St Francis and St George. To my eyes, St George looks uncomfortably like a young Elvis Presley waiting to go onto a film set.
Near the door stands the figure of an acolyte, altar boy or choir boy, holding a box for alms. He wears an expression of studied humility and turns his gaze away from the box as though discreetly avoiding knowing how little the alms giver has actually contributed.
The above mentioned saints are but extras compared with the one who presence pervades the church and of whom we are reminded at every turn – St Mary, Virgin and Mother of God.
Slap in the middle of the church is the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. It is this emphasis on St Mary that most conveys the impression that this is in reality a Catholic church.
We now set off to Holland Park where we visited the beautiful and uniquely styled Leighton House. The Grade II* listed building was built over about three decades to 1896 as the home of painter Frederick, Lord Leighton. The beautiful interior is worth visiting for its own sake as well as for the exhibitions of art that are held there. More information on the house will be found here. The domed section of the house is a court, with fountain, called the Arab Hall and designed in traditional and luxurious Middle Eastern style, a jewel of a creation.
We had come to see an exhibition of paintings entitled A Victorian Obsession. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed, whether in exhibitions or in the house itself. This is a great pity as I cannot show you any pictures of either.
After enjoying the art on show, we paid a visit to the garden. Public access to the garden is through a gate at the side of the house.
The garden is pleasant enough though it seems that not as much care was lavished on its design as on that of the interior of the house.
On the lawn is a sculpture. At a quick glance you might think it is one more treatment of the theme of St George and the Dragon, and I suppose this must have been in the sculptor’s mind. However, the piece is entitled A Moment of Peril and shows a warrior, wearing a feathered headdress and riding a horse that is writhing in fear, engaged in combat with a large serpent which he is trying to stab with his spear. Dramatic indeed. (Click on the picture to see a slideshow of images of the sculpture.)
A photograph of the garden façade of the house (below) concluded our visit and our outing. We look forward to other exhibitions that will offer opportunities to visit and admire Leighton House.