Monday, 19 March 2007

St Joseph's Chapel

For today's feast of St Joseph, we had the joy of celebrating in his chapel newly decorated with mosaics. The decoration was designed by Christopher Hobb, and the work interpreted in mosaic by the Mosaic Workshop of London. The posting below has a short clip of them in action. The decoration was only finished at the end of 2006. The apse mosaic is a fine depiction of the Holy Family, in a traditional Byzantine fashion, set on a gold background.

It was a particular joy to see the altar dressed with the cross and candles especially made for the chapel, but which we can rarely set out because of security fears. Above the altar is a tryptich with a central panel depicting St Joseph and the child Jesus.

The mosaic decoration of the vault is especially effective: the woven pattern recalls basket weaving or wicker-work, a reference to the workshop of St Joseph. You can also see above the battered galero (Cardinal's hat ) of Cardinal Hinsley, who died in 1942, and is buried in this chapel.

The western wall dispays a monumental depiction of a workshop, a powerful and splendid image. The design is perhaps clearer to see in Christopher Hobbs' preparatory drawing, below.

The depiction of the workshop recalls, of course, the workshop of St Joseph, but also has overtones of the crucifixion, of the creation of Westminster Cathedral (hence the plan in the background), and even of the creation of the world (the figure with the dividers in the middle recalls William Blake's image of God creating the world).

The marble in the chapel is some of the finest in the Cathedral, and was completed in 1939. The great column in the middle is of fleur de peche marble. The smaller columns are of Algerian onyx, and the arcade above the columns a rare onyx from Canada.

The pavement, too deserves mention, following a Byzantine design and containing seven discs of green and red Egyptian porphyry. In the centre are four symbols of Christ - the Lamb, the Peacock (symbol of eternity), the Chi-Rho sign, or monogram, of Christ, and the fish. Followers of this blog will recall that it is in this chapel that the Crib stands at Christmas.


acwo said...

Tiptop blog, I like it :)
keep it up!

Anonymous said...

A beautiful chapel for a wonderful saint - but then, I am patronally biased!

Anonymous said...

A brilliant blog and breathtaking mosaic. I wonder if Mgr Mark could help answer a little niggle I have always felt when visiting the cathedral - why are there a chapels dedicated to St Andrew, St Patrick, Saints Gregory and Augusitne but not St David? This has always puzzled and diaspointed me somewhat as a Welsh catholic!

Mark Langham said...

As the mother Cathedral of England and Wales, we should indeed have a chapel to St David. One was planned, but the marquis of Bute approached Cardinal Bourne, and offered to pay for the decoration of a chapel if it were dedicated to St Andrew - an offer His Eminence felt that he could not refuse!

However, plans are well under way for a plaque to St David, outside the chapel of St Andrew, and opposite the mosaic of St Alban acorss the Cathedral. Funds are in place, and we are in the process of comissioning a (hopefully Welsh) artist!

Anonymous said...

Love the big six hate the far too short altar cloth how about a coloured cover with ora pro nobius

Sprezzatura said...

I love the cathedral, but I hate to point out that the mosaic, allegedly 'in a traditional Byzantine fashion', according to those same traditional Byzantine rules of iconography, contain two very vexing heresies.

In traditional Byzantine iconography, the only person allowed to hold our Lord with bare hands is the Mother of God - she being his natural mother. By permitting St Joseph to hold our Lord with a bare hand, this mosaic proclaims to the world that St Joseph was the natural father of our Lord.

St Joseph's other hand, on the shoulder of the Mother of God, in the language of icons, indicates that St Joseph had marital relations with the Mother of God.

It is not enough for a work to look like an icon - the designer must be thoroughly conversant with the language and symbolism of icons to avoid making a blasphemous statement, which unfortunately now adorns the chapel in question. As a Greek-Catholic, I feel I must make a stand on this question, as too many Western Catholics, who enjoy icons for their beauty, may not realise the full meaning in them.

Sprezzatura said...

Alright, I'm going to be a curmudgeon and point out that having a Chi-Rho on the mosaic floor is also inappropriate. Placing a symbol representing the name of our Lord on the floor, where it may be stepped upon, is highly offensive to Eastern Christians.