• Jeanette Lewis

Birmingham Oratory Crucifix Restoration

Updated: Mar 21



Birmingham Oratory courtyard crucifix
Birmingham oratory crucifix & canopy after restoration

It was a cold wet morning in early March when we drove into the greyness of the car park. Passing under the archway into the Oratory courtyard, we were met with italianate beauty, in the form of the neat garden, and a warm greeting from two of the brothers. It helped us shrug off the cold weather (which had felt all the colder for the early start we'd made from Liverpool that morning.)


Inspection

The brothers directed us to the crucifix in question; the painted surface was weathered from many years exposure to the elements.

From the top of a ladder, David inspected the figure more closely. Flakes of loose paint fell like confetti onto my head as I footed the ladder. The brothers giggled. Beneath the peeling paint we suspected some fissures, in the concrete substrate.

Broken ankles Oratory crucifix
Broken ankles of Oratory Crucifix

Water has the ability to wear away rock over time, and years of rain finding its way into the statue had eroded the figure from the inside, making it unstable.

These breaks in the structure adversely effect weight -bearing areas, (such as the ankles shown left) creating an undesirable "land slide" effect if the movement is not arrested.

With some of the looser sections removed, it was evident that the ankles of the corpus were about to slide if not remedied.



Starting work

It was a warm day in August, just right for outdoor projects when David began the first stages of restoring the courtyard crucifix. First on our "to do list" was to make the whole structure stable again.

Following that, David prepared the corpus and wood of the cross ready to receive preservation treatments. (Good preparation is essential to restoration work, in order to achieve desirable results.)

Following thorough stabilisation and preparation, I was able to begin polychroming the corpus figure of Jesus.


The Body of Christ - polychroming the Corpus

In recent times many of "us" have lamented the sup-plantation of traditional art skills for something "less meaningful" within our churches. This crucifix was of some importance to he community served by the Oratory, and an important part of its history.

Extending the life of a religious artwork by way of restoration is important, as it helps to preserve the memory of past traditions, and so carry them into the present. They give us a sense of continuity, and are an important aspect of keeping faith alive.

If God is beauty, and the essence of beauty is to be drawn by it, and to it; then beautiful artworks have their place in keeping the faith alive.


Restoring the canopy pelmet

We found that the canopy above the crucifix, is made from a combination of metals and wood.

Several of the pendants which form the pelmet, had been replaced. Some of the low releif fleur de lys were missing, and their replacements painted free hand.

David dismantled the pelmet piece by piece, along with the INRI plaque, and further restoration was carried out at our studio.


artist restores canopy Birmingham Oratory
Jeanette replicates the damaged fleur de lys.

Star Ceiling

The two religious brothers in charge of the project chose a mid blue for the underside of the canopy, and requested the addition of a "star ceiling" effect.

David and I worked as a team to scale the stars to fit the space, and paint them onto the ceiling.

I modelled replica fleur de lys for those which were missing, which we then gilded, and re-painted the pelmets more crisply, and the I.N.R.I which adorned the top of the crucifix. Finally our work came to an end with the re-attachment of the gilded pelmet

Completed restoration

For David and I, one of the blessings of our work, is that we are both never too far from the Blessed Sacrament. We meet some of the most dedicated priests, religious and parishioners. (Peter we must thank, for the much appreciated cup of tea!)

Working at the Birmingham Oratory supplied us with an extra blessing, that of being able to kneel at the altar rail to receive holy communion. " Every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord!" We hope before too long we can visit the Oratory and share that same experience with our children.

As we left the courtyard for the last time, the sun shone brightly on the water flowing from the central fountain.

See finished restoration on our Crucifixes Restored Page.


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