Saturday, 9 December 2006

Sub Tuum Praesidium

In honour of yesterday's Feast of the Immaculate Conception, an early morning glimpse of the altar of the Lady Chapel. The altarpiece, a rare full-length version ofaa'Our Lady of Perpetual Succour', was created by Robert Anning Bell RA in the 1920s. Around the mosaic is the text of the ancient prayer to Our Lady: Sub Tuum Praesidium confugimus Sancta Dei Genetrix; nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus nostris (Under your protection we flee, Holy Mother of God. Do not ingore our prayers in our time of need).

The vault of the apse was created in 1930 by Gilbert Pownall. It is easy to see why the Lady Chapel is one of the most beloved areas of the Cathedral, for its present beauty, and its future promise - we hope one day that all the Cathedral will receive its mosaic covering and shine in glory like this.

The imagery on the apse vault is beautiful, and clearly draws upon the elaborate mosaics of the Church of San Clemente in Rome. The cross here is the Tree of Life, wherein Christ rules in majesty. From the tree spread vine branches, bearing fruit and giving rest to the birds of the air. At its fleet flow springs of living water. To the left stands Mary, patroness of London, standing before images of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Next to her is the archangel Gabriel, and then a host of saints particularly noted for their venenration of Our Lady. To the right of the cross stands St Peter, patron of Westminster (Westminster Abbey is more correctly the Abbey Church of St Peter), who stands before a mosaic representation of Westminster Cathedral.

1 comment:

Naomi said...

I can't help but feel that the Cathedral derives its awe-inspiring presence to no small degree from its incomplete character. There is much to Aristotle's observation that potentiality is experienced all the more acutely in the form of its privation; the challenge he sets is to discern a glimmer of this promise even once it has passed over into actuality. I recall your once (on the Solemnity of St John Southworth?) emphasising the living presence of the relic over its status as an historical monument irreparably consigned to the past. That the rest of the Cathedral remains unfinished reminds us that the Lady Chapel itself is still a work in progress (a foretaste of glory) and hence inspires us with hope. To experience it as finished would be to foreclose the possibility of its future fulfilment in the world to come. Besides, the impact of the ceiling dissolving into the darkness of the night sky at the Easter Vigil is simply magical!