Painting a New Mural of English Martyrs
Updated: Feb 9
As part of the refurbishment of English Martyrs church in Stoke on Trent, we were commissioned to paint a mural of the very same onto the sanctuary wall.
The martyrs chosen were those most significant to the Stoke on Trent area, these included the proto-martyr Thomas Maxwell. In all, twenty rather than the usual forty were selected. Ten in each apse.
Saint Alexander Briant
Research showed most of the English Martyrs depicted with a hangman's noose at the neck, and a dagger in the chest, recalling he manner of their death - due to their being hung, drawn and quartered. With twenty characters to depict, Some variety was needed to pay tribute to each individual Saint. The illustration above shows him holding Plam leaves, the universal symbol of the martyr.
Unable to find any portraits of Blessed Thomas Maxfield, I had to decide on his appearance, and what symbols I might use to identify him.
The symbols I chose to associate with his particular martyrdom were flowers and a butterfly. The flowers he holds are species which represent the blood of the martyrs and their association with the passion of Christ.
His path to the Gallows was strewn with wild flowers by the villagers as tribute to their love for this holy man. The butterfly has two purposes; as he suffered biting insects when imprisoned; it is also a traditional Catholic symbol of "Eternal Life". This is because of the emergence of the butterfly from a seemingly dead, dry state - the crysalis.
"Grieving" by Giotto
Fr. Julian admired the works of Fra Angelico and Giotto - and so I used these as a
starting point for the composition.
I used a range of "natural pigment" tones (such as those used in the example above, by Giotto) . Malachite, (greens) Lapis (blues) and Ochres (reds & yellows) can be seen. These colours are commonly known as "earth tones." because they were derived from coloured earths or precious stones which had been ground to a fine powder.
Both artists applied paint using different techniques, on this occasion I opted for that of Fra Angelico, whose colours are less dense, and appear somewhat translucent..
The composition of the mural was to echo the paintings of Giotto and Fra Angelico.
As both had distinct styles, I chose elements from both to achieve the desired marriage between the two!
These artists did not use perspective as a contemporary artist would, Giotto layered figures as though they were occupying very little space, or were clustered like the pattern on a rich textile. Fra Angelico gave more space or perspective in his works, yet both artists favoured large gold discs for halos, finished in gold leaf.
More images of the mural can be seen on our Murals page