St Paul’s is open most Saturdays from 10am to 4pm. Do come and visit this beautiful church, or join our worship on Sunday mornings.
Stones of St Paul’s
Written by Martin Laker.
Until about 200 years ago nearly all churches were built out of local materials but the canals, and then even more so the railways, gave the opportunity for stone to be transported around the country at affordable prices, and architects began to look at using a greater variety. Most of St. Paul’s as we see it now dates from 1867, when it was rebuilt after a fire, and though the church was rebuilt in a hurry, each kind of stone has its story to tell. Five main types can be distinguished, each of different origins and purposes.
Opus Sectile Mosaics
The mosaics in St Pauls were all made by the firm of Powell’s of Whitefriars, London, over a period of just under thirty years at the start o the twentieth century. English Heritage have said that the collection of mosaics is of national importance, because it is one of the largest collections in the country and covers virtually the full period of Powells’ work in opus sectile. Opus sectile is a technique where large pieces of material are inlaid to produce an image or pattern, as opposed to the more usual tesselated mosaics, where small, uniform pieces are used. The technique was common in Roman and Byzantine art, and was revived by the Arts & Crafts movement. Charles Hardgrave, a designer at Powells, is partiular noted for this, and used glass containing clay as the material for the images.
What is particularly interesting about the St Paul’s windows is that, although all by the one designer, and intended as a set they vary in date between at least 1869 and 1887. Had all the windows been commissioned at the same time it would be hardly surprising for them all to be the work of one firm; but to persuade donors to return to one firm over a period of at least sixteen years is quite an achievement, particularly at a period when up to eight firms supplying stained glass were based in Bristol alone. To persuade prospective donors to do this must have taken a strong-minded vicar. The resolution required for this would make easy the task of persuading the stained glass artist to retain the main lines of the earlier design – all the windows of whatever date have the same canopy and setting (and an unusually heavy frame for Powell, at that).
The Chancel at St Paul’s
The best history of Bristol’s architecture published in recent years praised St Paul’s as “until recently, an untouched Victorian interior.” Even presuming that the ‘recently’ refers to the erection of the present dais, this statement is not strictly true.
In the Victorian era, the chancel was the visual and liturgical centre of attention in the church. The priest stood at the altar, and the choir – at least semi-divine, being seated within the chancel – led the congregation’s gaze towards him. But to further concentrate attention on the chancel, most of the colour in the church was concentrated there.
Every year on Remembrance Sunday we place a wreath at the War Memorial, but how much do we know of the names there? Thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s web site, it has been possible to trace many of the names and start to see them as individuals again.