Tuesday, 30 January 2007

The Artery of the Cathedral

Several times every day, the chaplains walk down this corridor (called imaginatively 'the Long Corridor') connecting the Clergy House to the Cathedral. There is some indication that it was originally intended as part of a cloister, for the monks whom Cardinal Vaughan intended to staff the Cathedral. However, it is a fine and elegant space, and an artery to the whole complex - to the left lies the Archbishop's House, and to the right the Cathedral Choir School. In fact, it is rarely as empty as you see it above; schoolboys are to be found practising musical instruments early in the morning (you can just make out the music stands to the right), while during the day pupils spill out to use the Clergy House library, on the opposite side of the corridor, as a classroom. In the evening, the choristers line up here before processing into the Cathedral. On the right you will also see the cupboards where the Cathedral Chaplains keep their albs, cassocks and cottas.

I like the idea that the different elements of the complex mix like this, rather than stay confined behind their respective doors. It certainly brings us down to earth - you can never be too detached from reality when a classload of schoolchildren crosses your path and interrupts your reveries!

You can just make out on the left wall the fine set of Stations of the Cross by Roy de Maistre (1894 - 1968) which runs the length of the corridor.


Anonymous said...

"...the Clergy House..."

Where you on the Cathedral Staff when the "Two Fat Ladies", Jennifer Patterson and Clarissa Wright, visited the Clergy House to prepare a meal? I would love to see that episode again.

Wasn't Jennifer's uncle connected with the Cathedral in some capacity? An aide to the archbishop?

Mark Langham said...

I was indeed on the staff, as sub-Administrator, and knew jennifer Patterson well. The filming took place in the summer of 1996, and was enormous fun for all the Clergy; both Jennifer and Clarissa were fierce Catholics, and used every opportunity to advance their monarchical views on the Church.

Jennifer was niece to three remarkable brothers, all intimately connected to the Cathedral. Mgr Francis Bartlett was my predecessor as Administrator 1967 - 1977, and greatly advanced the decoration of the Cathedral. Anthony Bartlett was the Cardinal's 'gentiluomo', and was allowed to continue in the position even after the post was abolished - making him the last in the world. He would accompany the Cardinal, in breeches, ruff and sword, at Christmas and Easter, Anthony served several Cardinals (in 'Two Fat Ladies', Jennifer declares "he has three Cardinals under the sod"!). Aelred Bartlett was an artist, and designed some of the mosaics in the Cathedral.

You may be pleased to know that a mosaic to commemorate Francis and Anthony is in preparation, and we hope that work will begin on it this year.

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating family history. (Jennifer Patterson and her uncles.) Now, more than ever, I would love to see that episode again. Thanks so much for the reply.

Anonymous said...

"... Stations of the Cross by Roy de Maistre (1894 - 1968)..."


That sounds like another hidden treasure that few people are aware of. Could you elaborate a bit on this set and the artist? (an article in Oremus, perhaps?)

Mark Langham said...

Dear Ivo
Indeed, the Stations of the Cross came to us through Bishop Konstant (formerly auxiliary in Westminster and now emeritus Bishop of Leeds) who was a godson of Roy de Maistre. We have aniother work - a crucifixion - by de Maistre, and are soon to recieve another work from a parish which feels that it belongs here. That will be occasion for a 'de Maistre fest' in Oremus. I was thinking of posting about them in Lent.

Anonymous said...

Dear Monsignor
I hope you are keeping well. You may remember me, Nigel Wright, as you instructed me prior to my reception into the Roman Catholic Church in 1996 - and we had a chat a few years ago. Goodness how time flies! I was fascinated by your comments on Roy de Maistre. The idea of a de Maistre fest sounds brilliant. I haven't seen the Lent Oremus yet, so don't know whether you wrote about him or not. I knew him well until his death in 1968. My grandmother & he were friends (they both lived in Victoria) and I'd often pop along to his studio at 13 Eccleston Street. Although a teenager, I was seriously preoccupied with painting, and the impact of his studio was overwhelming. It has been described as an Aladdin's Cave. De Maistre's pictures were complex: rectilinear; the colour powerful, radiant. Throughout his career he was preoccupied with the relationship between music (he trained as a musician when very young) and colour, and some early abstract paintings exploiting this relationship were the first abstracts produced in Australia (1917-19) where he was born and brought up. I will never forget the Eccleston Street studio, radiant with these extraordinary pictures - colour-music abstracts, still-lives, figure compositions and religious paintings - some on a large scale.
Francis Bacon was an old friend of his (de Maistre was Bacon's principal source of technical 'know-how' in painting), and some of Bacon's early work from the inter-war years was in the studio: small paintings in water-colour and gouache, a hinged surrealist screen and a Bacon-designed white leather sofa (frightfully uncomfortable). He and De Maistre were as different as can be imagined - the one an atheist, the other a devout Catholic; one with an ebullient zest for 'life', alcohol, gambling - the other fastidious, gentle, courtly. De Maistre was a big influence on me during those impressionable years - not least his Catholicism and serenity in the face of illness (mostly diabetes-related)and encroaching blindness. A lot has been written about him. The best accounts to my mind are those by Sir John Rothenstein in his 'Modern British Painters' volumes, and Rothenstein's autobiography (from which it is clear that de Maistre was his closest friend during & after the difficult days of the so-called 'Tate Affair'). Heather Johnson's two volumes on de Maistre are well known, but Rothenstein gets straight to the core of de Maistre's art: its complexity, its preoccupation with an interlocking formal unity between design & colour, its occasional harshness, its capacity to address complex and sometimes obscure issues in strong, clear pictorial statements.
Of the Tate's five de Maistres, I recall particularly 'Marriage', as it used to hang above a low cupboard on the far wall of the studio. Another, as I daresay you know, is a much larger version of the Cathedral's 'Pieta' given to the Tate by RAB Butler. The studio is now a restaurant. When passing by occasionally I peep through the window and the years seem to roll away, and again it is the 1960s, and I almost expect to see Roy de Maistre's diminutive, welcoming figure at the door. He has been dead now for almost 40 years.
My very best wishes to you.