The Victory of Faith

You could be forgiven for wondering what this painting is doing in a blog themed around religious art and architecture, but its title is “The Victory of Faith”.  It supposedly shows two devout Christians who have been captured by the Romans, but who have refused to renounce their faith in Christ, and so are to be sacrificed to the lions in the arena on the morrow.  They are sleeping peacefully beneath a sign of the cross that they have somehow scratched into the dungeon wall behind them, secure in their faith, and in the knowledge that they will be received into heaven as martyrs.

"The Victory of Faith" 1890-91:  St Gorge Hare, Irish, 1857-1933.  National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

“The Victory of Faith” 1890-91: St Gorge Hare, Irish, 1857-1933. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

The artist is St. George Hare, an Irish artist who usually specialised in portraits, but exhibited this painting at the Royal Academy in London in 1891.  It was, apparently, his first major treatment of the nude, but not his last.  The painting is in the National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne, Australia, and their caption includes the droll observation, “The depiction of naked women in chains seemed to hold a special interest for Hare, and he returned to the subject frequently.”

Gaudi’s organic inspiration

A few weeks ago I described the interior of Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia as ‘like being in an albino rainforest’, but I’m not sure if everyone would understand what that meant.

Gaudi’s supporting columns get to a certain height and then smaller branches fan out from there, ending in overlapping jagged umbrella shapes, creating an organic vault of a roof.  That reminded me, not so much of a conventional rainforest, with its normal sort of leaf foliage, but of a fan palm canopy, a particular kind of treescape common to many areas of tropical rainforest.

Here is a group of fan palms in a rainforest in the Licuala National Park in North Queensland, Australia.  In a rainforest, every plant competes for as much of the limited overhead sunlight it can get, which is why trees tend to grow so tall.  It’s also why the fan palm’s leaves have adapted their shape so they present as much of their surface area as possible to any sun coming down through a gap in the canopy.

Fan palm forest, Licuala Park, North Queensland, Australia

Fan palm forest, Licuala Park, North Queensland, Australia

And here is another shot looking up at the interior of Gaudi’s Basilica.  These great stone trunks and branches have the same sort of upward striving feel as rainforest fan palms, and the jagged panels of the roof seem to be jostling for their place in the light above.

Looking up at the roof over the nave of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Looking up at the roof over the nave of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

I don’t know whether Gaudi ever actually saw examples of those very tall palms somewhere, but they could easily have been his inspiration, don’t you think?

Inner City Legacy – 2

Brisbane was still only an infant settlement when a parcel of land on the hill near the old penal colony windmill was granted for the establishment of a church in 1856.  The ‘Brisbane Tabernacle’, as it was then known, was constructed of locally-quarried pink porphyry, and opened in 1862.  It soon proved to be too small and was enlarged in 1869, and what is now All Saints’ Anglican Church is the oldest surviving church building in the Australian State of Queensland.

Over time, almost all of the land around this small Early English Gothic Revival church was resumed by the city.  As happened to St Andrew’s Uniting Church not far away, the biggest sacrifice of church property was required to build a railway, only this time to tunnel a line directly underneath the church itself.  Once the tunnel was built, the former church land required to access this tunnel was filled in and sold privately.  Now, directly in front of the church entrance, stands a towering circular bank building, dwarfing what was once a Brisbane landmark.

Like so many inner city churches, All Saints is surrounded by modern office buildings

Like so many inner city churches, All Saints is surrounded by modern office buildings

There are a couple of features of this quite small church that are particularly worth noting.

Although it is a simple rectangular space with just a chancel, it has a spectacular and very rare double hammer beam roof. Compared to the single hammer beam roof in St Andrews’ (yesterday’s post), this is a more complex construction, but much lighter and more delicate, while doing the same basic job.

The rare double hammer beam roof of All Saints' Brisbane

The rare double hammer beam roof of All Saints’ Brisbane

There are many really pretty stained glass windows in this church, all in a very traditional style, most of them much more modern than they look.  However, at the east end, behind the altar, are the oldest stained glass windows in Queensland, dating from 1870.  The three main lancets are what you would expect to see, a crucifixion in the centre flanked by the Virgin Mary to the left and… er…someone else with a halo on the right.  But above them are one large and two tiny roundels which I really like – a benificent post-resurrection Christ, looking like some pagan sun god, and two tiny little decorative, and very cute, ‘alpha’ and ‘omega’ windows.

One of the oldest stained glass windows in Brisbane, over the altar of All Saints' church

One of the oldest stained glass windows in Brisbane, over the altar of All Saints’ church

One of two tiny roundels over the altar of All Saints' church, this is the sign for 'alpha', as in 'I am the alpha and the omega', i.e. the beginning and the end.

One of two tiny roundels over the altar of All Saints’ church, this is the sign for ‘alpha’, as in ‘I am the alpha and the omega’, i.e. ‘I am the beginning and the end’.

The other tiny roundel over the altar in All Saints" church.  Would it really be sacrilegious to put these two images on the front and back of a t-shirt?

The other tiny roundel over the altar in All Saints” church, is ‘omega’. Would it really be sacrilegious to put these two images on the front and back of a t-shirt?

All Saints is a ‘Forward in Faith’ church, which is almost, but not quite, a breakaway sect from Anglicanism.  That means that it sticks to a very traditional and more catholic form of the communion service, and is vehemently opposed to the ordination of women at any level, as well as being opposed to its parent Anglican church’s increasingly tolerant attitude to homosexuality.  Despite that, the Rev. Canon Richard Martin, the priest in charge of this church, was a very friendly and helpful man, and very accommodating to me and my questions, as well as to my tripod and other paraphernalia, and I thank him for that.

Inner City Legacy – 1

As small communities grow into large towns, and as some of those towns become substantial cities, the pressure of development either squeezes out the original inhabitants, or it leaves them stranded in an alien environment.  In my lifetime, my home city of Brisbane, Australia, has grown rapidly from being a big parochial country town into a global city of  2.2 million people.  As a result, many of the old parish churches of Brisbane have been bulldozed to make way for skyscrapers and freeways.  A few still remain in the city centre, surrounded by office blocks and apartment towers, no longer dominating their environs, struggling to survive.

In Australia, the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists carried out a corporate merger in the 1970s, rationalising an oversupply of protestant churches into one ‘Uniting’ group.  So this former Presbyterian brick church is now St. Andrew’s Uniting Church.  The original St.Andrew’s was an 1860s Victorian Gothic pile across the street to the right of this picture below, but it was resumed by the city at the end of the 19thC to make way for the railway that you can see in the bottom of the picture, and later demolished.  The church fathers of the day built this one as its replacement, choosing this time a Romanesque Revival design rather than a ‘true Christian architecture’ mock gothic style.

St Andrew's Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

As old churches go, particularly by European standards, this building is relatively new.  However, although it may be little more than a hundred years old, it is not without its charms.  Unlike its predecessor, there are no arcades, no separation of nave and aisles, just a wide open space with round arches leading to a shallow chancel, and to a very short transept occupied by two chapels, one on each side.

The Romanesque interior of St Andrew's Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

The Romanesque interior of St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

A timber roof is not uncommon in Australian churches, but few hammer-beam constructions have as wide a span as this one.

The hammer-beam roof of St Andrew's Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

The hammer-beam roof of St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

St Andrew’s also has some very nice stained glass windows.  At first glance, they are not very different from many late medieval windows that can be found in churches across Europe, except these were all made in the 2oth century, mostly memorial windows funded by wealthier members of the congregation, emulating that much older style.  I doubt that any of today’s heritage leadlight window manufacturers have the skills to produce picture windows of this quality, anymore.

Stained glass window inside St Andrew's Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

Stained glass window inside St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane Australia

 

Many of the stained glass windows of St Andrew's are memorial windows, this one for a serviceman in the Great War (WWI)

Many of the stained glass windows of St Andrew’s are memorial windows, this one for a serviceman in the Great War (WWI)

Today, the church’s core congregation has dwindled to less than a third of what it was even fifty years ago, which is not surprising in an increasingly secular society like Australia.  However, the organ is apparently a magnificent instrument, and the acoustics inside St Andrew’s are also excellent, so this space is used extensively for musical performance of various kinds.  The church has a Director of Music, several paid choristers and three different choirs, and it supports a community orchestra, the Sinfonia of St Andrew’s.  So there is hope for its continuing community usefulness, even if, ultimately, that is no longer for religious services.

The organ of St Andrew's Brisbane.

The organ of St Andrew’s Brisbane.

 

Stained glass aircon

Several years ago, a young friend of mine was a student at the Qld Conservatorium of Music, and I went one afternoon to the nearby St Andrew’s Anglican Church in South Brisbane, to hear a concert recital in which she played viola with her string quartet.

It was a typically hot sub-tropical Queensland summer’s day, and as the performance progressed inside this Victorian colonial mock-gothic church, it was becoming increasingly stifling for both the musicians and the audience.  At some point in the recital a verger emerged from the sacristy and went round the church doing something I had never seen done before in any similar church, anywhere in the world.

He opened the stained glass windows.

All of the lancet windows on both sides of the church had panels that pivoted from a central point, some vertically, some horizontally, so that whatever breeze was around could be deflected into the interior of the church on hot days.  A uniquely Australian solution for a problem generally not faced by gothic church builders in more temperate Europe.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew's Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew’s Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew's Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew’s Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew's Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

A pivoting stained glass window from St Andrew’s Aglican Church, South Brisbane, Australia.

How ‘cool’ is that?

St Columbans’ Church, Cudal

This is the tiny Catholic Church of St Columban in the village of Cudal, near the town of Orange, in inland New South Wales (NSW), Australia.  I say ‘near’ but that nearest town is still 40 kilometres away.  When this church was built, in 1880, that was a day’s ride on horseback or in a buggy.  And the nearest big town, Sydney, is another 260 Km past Orange, so Cudal was a pretty remote country outpost from civilisation in 1880.

I really like it because it’s trying so hard to be a ‘gothic’ church. That was the ‘proper’ Christian architecture of its day, no matter how limited your resources or your materials.  The roof is of lightweight tin – ‘corrugated iron’ to the rest of the world – so you know that the buttresses are decorative, they aren’t needed to hold the walls up against the outward pressure of the weight of the roof, even if its timber frame was probably originally clad in slate.

The church of St Columban, in Cudal, NSW, Australia

The church of St Columban, in Cudal, NSW, Australia

Although very small, this 1880 church echoes medieval European Gothic churches in its design

Although very small and simple , this 1880 church tries to emulate medieval European Gothic churches in its design

The windows in the single space church, and the door into the porch area at the north-west end, follow the typically pointed gothic shape, but the theme breaks down a little at the south-eastern presbytery where there is a simple bell tower, with both the single bell and its rope exposed to the elements.

The presbytery and bell tower of the St Columban's, Cudal, NSW

The presbytery and bell tower of the church of St Columban’s, Cudal, NSW

The presbytery and bell tower of the St Columban's, Cudal, NSW

The bell is exposed, and is in a bell tower reminiscent of a Greek Islands Orthodox Church

St Columban’s was built from what appears to be black basalt, an igneous rock formed as lava within volcanoes.  Inland NSW around Cudal is pretty flat country, and there’s no sign of even an ancient extinct volcano within several hundred miles, but according to Geology.com, basalt is the most common stone underlying the earth’s surface.  Obviously, some of that underlying ancient lava is near enough to the surface, and near enough to Cudal, for its late Victorian residents to quarry some and build their very own place of worship from it.

It’s rough built.  The blocks are crudely hand-hewn.  Whatever mortar the builders originally used to hold the stones in place, they seem to have been repointed by amateurs at some later date.

St Columban's church, Cudal, NSW, is built from rough-hewn basalt rock

St Columban’s church, Cudal, NSW, is built from rough-hewn basalt rock

St Columban was an Irish monk from the 6th century AD.  He was a teacher and a great travelling missionary, founding monasteries all over Europe, which at that time was most of the known world.  The first settlers to Cudal may well have been poor Irish immigrants, who would have felt some affinity with their compatriot itinerant saint.  The church they built may be crude and small, but it is well-maintained, and there are enough parishioners in this little community to hold weekly services in it, so it is still doing the job it was built for.

Orthodox icons?

In a Catholic Cathedral?  What are these doing here, I wondered to myself when I saw them on the wall inside the main entrance of St Patrick’s cathedral in Melbourne, Australia.

Madonna and Child and Christ in Majesty are typical subjects for Eastern Orthodox icons, but it is unusual to see such stylised artworks in Catholic churches.

Melbourne Icons 1

Melbourne Icons 2

But all is not what it seems.  Look closer and you will see they are in fact very recent paintings, made by a local artist ‘in the style of’ Byzantine icons, in 1999.

Melbourne Icons 3

The 150th Jubilee celebration of the laying of the foundation stone of this cathedral occurred in 2000, so these works may have been commissioned for that event, or they may have just been a gift to the church from the artist or some other patron.  Either way, they are completely out of character, and a stylistically bizarre thing to put on the walls of this church.

Although, I have seen some other quite odd mismatches in some much older European churches, so there’s no accounting for taste.  Or lack of it.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne

This very sombre and imposing building is the Catholic cathedral of Melbourne, Australia.  It claims to be the largest church building anywhere in the world that was started and completed in the 19thC.  In style it’s a reasonably predictable Victorian Christian Gothic style of church, but it is quite untypical in some other ways.

The main spire of the 19thC Victorian Gothic Melbourne cathedral.

The main spire of the 19thC Victorian Gothic Melbourne cathedral.

The facade has matching spires, similar but not quite the same as the bigger spire over the transept.

The facade also has matching spires, similar but not quite the same as the bigger spire over the transept.

For instance, the main stone used for the outside is almost coal black, although it is actually a locally-quarried stone known as ‘bluestone’.

The outside of Melbourne Cathedral is rock-faced bluestone

The outside of Melbourne Cathedral is rock-faced bluestone

Unusually, for a gothic cathedral, the roof vaulting over the nave is all timber rather than stone.  And, despite the enormous range of Australian native timbers that could have been used, the roof of this cathedral is a mixture of Oregon pine from the USA and Kauri pine from New Zealand.

The roof over the nave is all timber, unusual for a gothic style cathedral

The roof over the nave is all timber, unusual for a gothic style cathedral

These very distinctive ceramic tiles were manufactured by Mintons in England, and then shipped halfway round the world to decorate this floor.

The floor is all ceramic tiles, not stone, and laid with this distinctive pattern.

The floor is all ceramic tiles, not stone, and laid with this distinctive pattern.

Melbourne Cathedral might not be a spectacular gothic-style church compared to many of those built much earlier in Europe, but it was an incredibly ambitious project for its time.  The site for what was soon to become the city of Melbourne was only chosen in 1834, so when this building was being planned fifteen or so years later, it was an extraordinarily young city, and it was still a penal colony.  More free settlers than transported felons were arriving by then, admittedly, but the prosperity of the Australian Gold Rush years of 1851-71 were still in the future, and Melbourne was still a small place, with only about 75,000 catholics in total.

Looking west along the southern aisle, from the ambulatory of Melbourne cathedral

Looking west along the southern aisle, from the ambulatory of Melbourne cathedral

What confidence in the future those pioneering Australian Catholic settlers must have had.

Holy Spirit, Trunkey Creek

It was pouring with rain when I drove through the tiny village of Trunkey Creek in country New South Wales, Australia – which explains why these pictures are a bit on the grey and gloomy side – but I had to stop and try to capture a few pictures of this cute little wooden church.

The Anglican church of The Holy Spirit at Trunkey Creek was built in 1926, and it is typical of the kinds of very basic wooden churches that small outback Australian communities constructed for themselves in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries.  Many are even smaller and simpler than this one, which at least has a porch, a little spire, and a hexagonal apse behind the altar, but it still looks to me like a toy doll’s house of a church that could be part of the landscaping in a model railway layout.

This little wooden church in rural Australia was built in 1926 and is still used for services twice a month.

This little wooden church in rural Australia was built in 1926 and is still used for services twice a month.

The biggest enemy of all wooden buildings in Australia is termite invasion, known in that country as ‘white ants’.  These little critters breed underground and silently chew their way up the inside of wooden supports that have been set directly into the soil, and you don’t even know they are there until part of the building suddenly collapses.  That’s why so many wooden structures are set up on impervious-to-termites stumps, which in this case are short concrete piers. (Incidentally, ‘to white-ant’ is a verb in Australia.  If somebody is undermining your standing with your superiors, or in some other way conspiring against you, they are ‘white-anting’ you, you are being ‘white-anted’.)

Raising a wooden building even a short way off the ground helps to stop it from being eaten by termites from the inside out.

Raising a wooden building even a short way off the ground helps to stop it from being eaten by termites from the inside out.  It’s also often quicker and easier than levelling and draining sloping ground.

The few coded shapes that tell you at a glance that this is a church and not a general store may not have the fine decorous proportions of a medieval gothic church, but I think it is still infinitely preferable to the glass and steel and concrete bunkers that some of the more modern pentecostal and evangelical ministries seem to like so much these days.

At the 2006 census, Trunkey Creek had a population of 122, although there are fewer permanent residents than that now. Which could explain why their only church needs a coat of paint.

At the 2006 census, Trunkey Creek had a population of 122, although there are fewer permanent residents than that now. Which could explain why their only church desperately needs a coat of paint.