Art & Devotion
Our beautiful church contains some notable artworks.Here is an introduction to some of what you will find at St Gabriel's.
The Tinworth Sculptures
George Tinworth was one of the most prominent ceramic artists of the late Vitorian era, and a master designer at the Doulton factory. He also produced many relief sculptures and friezes in various stones, and especially in terracotta. The matching pair in our church are entitled "The Brazen Serpent" and "Descent from the Cross" and were commissioned in the 1870s by the Royal Church at Sandringham, Norfolk. In 1930 these were donated to St Gabriel's by the Royal Collection during construction of our church, when there was a general appeal for people to support the furnishing of our new building. They are high quality works, mentioned by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in his London North West guide book.
Exactly how or why the Royal Collection donated these sculptures is not known, but Ernest Shearman, our church architect, had worked on the restoration of Sandringham from 1891 following a fire, and became friendly with Princess Alexandra and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).
The Tinworth sculptures still attract visitors to our church, and periodically the Royal Collection's curators enquire after them. The people of North Acton are rightly proud of these works of art in their parish church. Visitors are always welcome, and those travelling specially to see these items may contact us in advance to arrange admission.
"The Annunciation" by John Pelling ARCA
This spectacular oil on canvas painting was commissioned from John Pelling and installed in the Lady Chapel at St Gabriel's Church. Replacing a former reredos at this altar, the painting's two main subjects are Mary (in whose honour the chapel is named) and Gabriel (the patron saint of our church). They are in a classical Annunciation pose, but in a highly contemporary style. The image uses rich blue and green colours, blue being the colour of Mary. There is boundless symbolism in the painting, which repays careful study. Some of the symbolism is clear, some more obscure and open to interpretation.
Mary's purity and sinlessness is pictured in her youthful face and symbolised by the lily offered by the angel. Mary's posture is both the classic 'oremus' position of Christian prayer, and at the same time seems to combine shock and resignation - surprise at the event, but resignation to God's divine will. Postcards (in full colour) of The Annunciation may be purchased from St Gabriel's Church.
"Stations of the Cross" by Sister Dorina, CSC
Sister Dorina's design has become well-known amongst catholic members of the Church of England. It has been suggested that her design was originally produced in embroidery (around 1920) at her convent of the Community of the Sisters of the Church - a religious order which is still very active worldwide. Whether or not this is true, the design was quickly developed in bas-relief, and repeated in several closely matching sets of Stations.
They are believed to be made from plaster, and the CSC believe that moulds were used, although their Embroidery Room (where the work was undertaken) has closed, and records do not exist. Although many sets were produced, with some sets identical to others, there are also minor differences between sets in their detail - in particular, the lamb (which can be seen in the attached photograph) is a recurring feature of the design, but does not appear in the same Station in all sets. In the St Gabriel's set the lamb appears in the station of Simon being compelled to carry the cross.
London churches with sets of the Sister Dorina design of Stations include: St Gabriel's, North Acton; St Peter's, Acton Green; St Silas', Kentish Town; St Barnabas', Pitshangar Lane (North Ealing); St Andrew's, Fulham Fields; St Andrew's, Uxbridge; All Saints with St Columb, Notting Hill; and St Peter's, Vauxhall. The church of St Michael, Bedford Park, has just one station (the fourteenth) which was either acquired as a stand-alone art work, or may have been part of an otherwise lost set of Sr Dorina Stations.
The Paslaru Triptych
The absolutely stunning triptych icon altarpiece in the Chapel of St Francis of Assisi was written (painted) by the renowned artist and iconographer Cristi Paslaru. The artist is the official iconographer to the Patriarch of Romania and Metropolitan Archbishop of Bucharest. He works in his native Romania, but also worldwide, and his beautiful icons are increasingly common in the United Kingdom, including notable examples at Liverpool Cathedral and the Julian Shrine in Norwich.
Our triptych has Christ at Calvary in its centre, attended by St Mary the Virgin, St John the Evangelist, St John the Baptist, St Andrew, and St Hilda of Whitby (holding Whitby Abbey) who was the unifier of the English Church after the Celtic/Roman divide. In the side panels are, to the left, St Benedict and St Scholastica, and to the right, St Francis of Assisi and St Clare of Assisi. Francis is the Patron Saint of the chapel.
The very fine statue of St Anne (pictured) is located against the south wall of the Lady Chapel, itself on the south side of St Gabriel's Church. The statue stands on a podium, which in turn rests upon a decorated plinth, bearing a shield with the monogram "SA" for "Saint Anne" or (in Latin) "Sancta Anna". The statue was originally housed in All Saints' Church, South Acton, and was donated to St Gabriel's when All Saints' church closed, to be replaced with a modern multi-purpose church centre.
Saint Anne was the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the grandmother of Jesus. Generations of pious schoolboys have learnt the story of this holy woman and then converted it into the language of the playground through the colloquial rhyming ditty:"Holy Annie, God's granny, ora pro nobis". However, irreverent though schoolboys may sometimes be, the sentiment of the ditty is very sound. Mary is the "Mother of God" (theotokos - Θεοτόκος), a definition given to her by the Bishops of the worldwide Church, gathered at the Council of Ephesus in 431AD.
We often judge parents by the behaviour of their children. Mary's obedience and complete resignation to the will of God are why Anne and her husband Joachim are so honoured by the Church. Annually on St Anne's Day (26th July) we offer prayers before the statue of St Anne, and thank God for this exceptional mother.
In the Chapel of St Francis is a two-foot statue of St Francis of Assisi, the great campaigner for stewardship of creation.
At the Walsingham Shrine is a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham.
In the Chapel of St Michael & All Angels is a statue of St Gabriel the Archangel, our patron saint, depicted holding his great trumpet close to his lips. Tradition tells us that when Gabriel blows his trumpet it will herald the end of time, and the arrival of God's Kingdom. The closeness of the trumpet to Gabriel's lips in our statue is a reminder to be awake and ready for the coming of the Lord.
There are other small statues in our church, including a number around the base of the font.
The Watts Coronation Frontal
The rich blue silk brocade fabric of the pictured altar frontal on the high altar was made by Watts and Company in 1953. Embroidered with crowns sitting over posies of English roses, Scottish thistles, and Welsh leeks, this is the coronation fabric which bedecked Westminster Abbey on coronation day, and which began the Queen's relationship with Watts and Company as suppliers of ecclesiastical furnishings to the Crown.
The high altar is very large, and carries a cross and 'big six' of candles. It was originally equipped with a range of coloured frontals for the different seasons of the church's year - frontals designed by Ernest Shearman, the architect of the church. Sadly, these beautiful frontals have not survived. A programme of replacement across 2014 and 2015 saw new red, purple, and green frontals introduced, with a new white frontal added in 2018. The Coronation Frontal is generally reserved for special occasions and Royal Festivals.
After the coronation Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II instructed that the coronation fabric was to be divided and sent to various churches across her realms, chosen at random. Part of the fabric, for example, now forms the frontal on the Lady Chapel altar at Fladbury Parish Church in Worcestershire. The part sent to St Gabriel's is highly prized by the congregation.
Other items of note
We have a very interesting baptismal font, donated at the time of construction by Westminster Abbey, and carved around the sides with heraldic symbols of Westminster and the Abbey Church.
Our carved wooden lectern is a very large traditional "eagle" lectern and is of particular note.
We have a display case in which, alternately, we display our church's original lectern Bible and original altar missal, both of which are enormous and attractive volumes, dating from the consecration of the church in 1931.
There are numbers of other smaller items of interest, including a mosaic icon in the Lady Chapel, and a large altar gong, used at the High Altar (as was once common in many Anglo-Catholic churches) as an alternative to the altar bell, which is rung four times during mass - once each at the epiclesis, the elevation of the host, the elevation of the chalice, and the calling of the faithful to receive Communion. A number of other original features continue in use, inlcuding the massive bejewelled high altar cross, which requires two adults to lift it for periodic cleaning.