Monday, 23 April 2007

The Mosaic designs for St George's Chapel

Tom Phillips has been commissioned to produce a mosaic design for the chapel of st George, and an appeal to raise funds for it will be launched after Mass this evening. Tom has envisaged the vault of the chapel as a striking blue sky, filled with flames (which may also be falling leaves) each bearing the name of a martyr. The east wall above Eric Gill’s altarpiece will be filled in marble emphasising the sculpture, echoing the red and white stripes of the Cathedral exterior. At the summit of the east wall is an inscription from Luke 12; ‘I have come to send fire on the earth’ - the famous motto on the Martyrs’ picture in the English College at Rome.

The legend of the dragon is present in the edging of the design, while the west wall will feature the gallows at Tyburn (now Marble Arch), close to the Cathedral. Here many of the martyrs, including St John Southworth, suffered. The design is surmounted by a text from the Te Deum, the hymn of praise sung at the news of a martyr’s death.
Tom Phillips CBE, RA is one of Britain’s foremost contemporary artists, winning wide respect in most aspects of the arts. He has collaborated with many great figures across the art world, and his paintings hang in major galleries - notably the National Portrait Gallery. Tom has already competed major commissions in the Holy Souls’ Chapel at Westminster Cathedral.


Londiniensis said...

I know that our Cathedral cannot become a mausoleum of pastiche byzantine or be stuck in the faux-1930s, but I hope and pray that these fussy, candy-pop designs look better in the execution than they do on paper, and do not overwhelm Gill's altarpiece.

How different from the serene Gerontius panel.

It is our misfortune and that of succeeding generations, that a monumental work started at the junction of the 19th and 20th Centuries, and bearing so much inspired art, should be nearing completion - and gaining much of its surface decoration - at the beginning of the 21st.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I love most about the cathedral, is the vast starkness of the nave and some of her side chapels. Of course, the mosaics, particularly in Holy Souls, and Lady Chapel are especially beautiful, but I also love the raw and terrifying beauty of the unfinished nave. To me, it's almost as if the cathedral has no ceiling - the darkness makes the cathedral look vertically endless, and blends seamlessly with the sky above and the great vaults of heaven, making it a place where heaven and earth meet.

The other advantage of the black above is that your attention is immediately drawn to the altarpieces. The altars in the cathedral are great works of art in itself of course, and it is only fitting that one should admire them. But even more than that, the mere fact that they are altars, the place where Christ is offered for us, should be worthy of our undivided attention. The way the Cathedral is now, it's shape and form, really compels one to focus on the altar. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the nave, but also we find this in the Chapel of St George. I'm not against decorating it. Nor am I against contemporary art. But I'm afraid, that given how the designs looks like on paper, it does seem as if the altar will be overwhelmed. And with all due respect to the artist, the design of flames against a sky (not the West Wall) do seem almost Sunday school-esque. I hope and pray that it will look better in the execution.

Anonymous said...

...i hope that whatever is done will have an air of beauty and permanence, unlike the nave altar platform which always makes me think of an exhibition centre (and no, i'm not a Tridentine Mass fan, I just think it's ugly).

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this is an example of a gifted artist not understanding the medium of mosaic.

I feel the design is over-complicated, and that the rather saccharine colours chosen clash most unfortunately with the restrained palette of the marble below.

The literal approach of naming every martyr on a flame is not a subtle one, and I can't help feeling that flames would be more appropriate for Cranmer and Ridley rather than the Catholic martyrs!

I am a fan of the programme to continue the mosaics, and think that the Vaughan chantry, completed recently, was most successful, but the work can only be justified if the designs are of the highest quality and will stand the test of time. I wince every time I look up at the apse mosaic, where there appears to be a unicorn on a rainbow which is a spitting image from the 'My Little Pony' cartoons.

If in doubt, keep it simple - an utterly plain silver mosaic would complete the chapel in a very appropriate fashion. Is there any chance of a rethink?

Anonymous said...


Is it the final, officially approved design, or just a 'working' proposal?

Is Westminster Cathedral being turned into a pop-art gallery?

What's wrong with a plain golden ceiling?

Mark Langham said...

The design has been approved by the cathedral Art & Architecture Committe, and the statutory body, the Historic Churches committee.

Anonymous said...

Whatever is the matter with the original mosaic designs, which, I gather, are still stashed in a drawer somewhere?

Mark Langham said...

There are no previous designs for the mosaics in the chapel.

Anonymous said...

My apologies if I sounded cynical in my first reply. I didn't mean to.

I now understand the mosaic decoration of Westminster Cathedral will always remain a difficult and controversial issue.
I have just been re-reading Patrick Rodgers' series about the mosaics on the Cathedral website (, and it seems that there has been controverse from the very beginning: the Holy Souls chapel; Pownall's blue Sanctuary arch and his ill-fated apse mosaics; the outside mosaics above the West Door; the Thérèse of Lisieux mosaic; ...