Part VI – The Journey proceeds

Part VI – The Journey proceeds

After all the activity in the early 1960s, there was a prolonged lull in the Cathedral decoration which really only came to an end as the millennium itself drew to a close.

There were three reasons for the absence of activity. Cardinal Heenan had succeeded as Archbishop of Westminster in 1963, and although he allowed the work underway to continue, he believed that there things should end. In the words of his new Administrator in 1964 “it is time to turn our minds to the plight of men and women in undeveloped countries”. Secondly the Second Vatican Council was underway, one of its aims being to concentrate on essentials. Thirdly there was no money.

So it was that no new mosaics went up until 1982 when, to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II that year, a mosaic designed by Nicolete Gray was installed over the unused north-west entrance from Ambrosden Avenue. In 1895 John Bentley, the Cathedral Architect, had produced a pencilled sketch for a mosaic here, showing Our Lady and the Christ child seated with a saint on either side. This was now ignored in favour of the inscription ‘Porta sis ostium pacificum par eum qui se ostium appellavit, Jesus Christum’ (May this door be the gate of peace through him who called himself the gate, Jesus Christ).

Nicolete Gray was an epigrapher, a maker of designs with capital letters. She also designed the memorial of the Pope’s 1982 visit in front of the main sanctuary and the inscription on Cardinal Heenan’s tomb (1976) in the south aisle, but her design for the north-west entrance was her first in mosaic. It was executed by the mosaicist Trevor Caley. Fifteen years later he returned to the Cathedral for its next mosaic at the entrance to St Patrick’s Chapel. Caley initially envisaged an interpretation of the 7th century stone cross at Carndonagh in Donegal but this was changed to one of St Patrick shown holding a shamrock and crozier with a writhing snake beneath. Using a mixture of unglazed ceramic material and glittering glass tesserae from Cathedral stocks, Caley produced the mosaic on board in the studio and installed it in March 1999.

The next mosaic appeared on the opposite side of the nave two years later. It was of St Alban, the Romano-British soldier executed for his faith. Designed by Christopher Hobbs, it was assembled by Tessa Hunkin in the Hackney studio of Mosaic Workshop using the indirect method and installed in the Cathedral by her and Walter Bernadin in June 2001, in cement composed of ceramic tile adhesive with an additive to increase adhesion and flexibility. The striking representation of St Alban is heavily influenced by early Byzantine iconography, the saint carries a cross as a demonstration of his faith and his other hand is raised in blessing. The red line around his neck symbolises decapitation.

The next project was the completion of St Joseph’s Chapel with mosaics, a costly undertaking requiring £300,000. After his success with St Alban, Christopher Hobbs was again chosen as the designer. In 2002 his representation of the Holy Family, clearly also drawing on the Byzantine, was projected onto the apse of the chapel with an overhead projector, and outlines traced onto the surface. The mosaic was made and installed by Mosaic Workshop in 2003, once again using the indirect method. Hobb’s designs for the west wall show craftsmen building the Cathedral, while the vault has been decorated with a multi-coloured basket-weave pattern. Installation was completed in 2006

Meanwhile the Friends of the Cathedral, including those in America, have raised the £200,000 for the mosaics in the Chapel of St Thomas Becket (the Vaughan Chantry). Christopher Hobb’s designs for the east wall show St Thomas standing in front of the old Canterbury Cathedral and those for the west show his martyrdom, with a delightful pattern of tendrils, flowers and roundels against a deep blue background for the vault above.

The designs are a masterly combination of medieval English scenes with the Byzantine style. Installation by Mosaic Workshop took place in 2004. There are also plans for St George’s Chapel and mosaics of St Francis and St Anthony in the narthex, while discussions continue regarding St Patrick’s Chapel and the Baptistery.