Art & Devotion

Our beautiful church contains some notable artworks. We would be delighted to show you these, and you can contact us to arrange visits and tours; meanwhile, here is an introduction to some of what you will find at St Gabriel's.

"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 - that is to say, surprise at the event, but resignation to God's divine will.

John Pelling, whose studios are in both London (England) and Monte Carlo (Monaco), is a respected Associate of the Royal College of Art, whose work often portrays religious themes. He is, in fact, an ordained priest, as well as an artist. Born in Hove in 1930, he studied at the RCA from 1951-1955. He has been exhibited at the Royal Academy, and has permanent collections of his work housed in the Nuffield Foundation, and the National Gallery of Modern Art of Poland. Examples of his work may be found in at least two royal collections - those of the royal houses of Monaco and Kuwait. He is an abstract painter (for example, "Maternal Movement", displayed at the Chelsea Arts Club), but he also has a noteworthy style with character painting. He has painted a well-known portrait of writer Graham Greene. More recently he painted a stunning set of vividly colourful stations of the cross for St Thomas's Church, Hanwell, which may be viewed on the internet. In popular culture he has been reported in national newspapers ranging from the Mirror to the Telegraph for his artistic presentation (on massive canvases) of his opposition to the ordination of women. 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 individual works of art, and were not mass produced; thus, each set is different in detail, whilst remaining clearly the same design. The lamb (which can be seen in the photograph (left) is a feature of the design. In the St Gabriel's set the lamb appears in the station of Simon being compelled to carry the cross. In other sets the lamb appears in different stations.
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 Stations of the same design.
The Stations of the Cross are used devotionally by the congregation of St Gabriel's Church, both in private prayer, and corporately as part of our annual penitential devotions during the season of Lent.

Statue of St Anne - artist unknown
This very fine statue 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". A further small plinth to the right of the statue accommodates a small red votive lamp. 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 - or in the original Greek, Θεοτόκος), a definition which was given to her by the Bishops of the worldwide Church, gathered at the Council of Ephesus in 431AD. This was the third of the five great ecumencial Councils, or gatherings of Bishops in the early Church, through which much of our faith and practice as Christians was defined and codified. St Anne may not, strictly, be the "Grandmother of God", but she is certainly the grandmother of Jesus, and the mother who managed to bear and raise a daughter of such exceptional quality as the Blessed Virgin Mary. We often judge parents by the behaviour of their children, so in Mary's obedience and complete resignation to the will of God, and her categorical acceptance of all that God asked of her, we are bound to say, 'What marvellous parents this girl, Mary, must have had.' This is why Anne and her husband Joachim are so honoured by the Church, and remembered as Christian saints.

The saints offer their prayers for us in God's nearer presence, so it is right that we should ask St Mary and St Anne, the mother and grandmother of Jesus, to pray for us. Annually on St Anne's Day (26th July) we offer prayers before the statue of St Anne, and thank God for this exceptional mother.

Other Statues
In addition to the statue of St Anne in the Lady Chapel (see above) there are three other significant statues in our church. In the Chapel of St Francis is a two-foot statue of St Francis of Assisi, the great campaigner for stewardship of creation. In the Walsingham Shrine is a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham - we have our own Walsingham cell. 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 coming in 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 Coronation Frontal - Mssrs Watts & Co
y of Westminster
The rich blue silk brocade fabric of the 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 hanging material 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 frontals have all disintegrated, and in recent yearshave been disposed of. A programme of replacements across 2014 and 2015 has seen new red, purple, and green frontals introduced, with a new white frontal to follow. 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 cloth 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
Our church contains many other items of artistic or cultural interest. These include two sculptures by George Tinworth (entitled "The Brazen Serpent" and "Descent from the Cross") commissioned in the 1870s by the Royal Church at Sandringham. 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 Pevsner in his London North West guide book. We also have a very interesting baptismal font, donated at the same time by Westminster Abbey, and still carved around the sides with heraldic symbols of Westminster and the Abbey. 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.