The Design

The name of the Chapel is St. Mary and All the Angels, a title chosen by Bishop Phelps (who had been our Warden). He had been visiting Italy, went to Assisi during his stay, and was attracted by the title of the little Chapel where the Franciscan Order had its beginning. The legend was that St. Francis heard angels singing there one night when it was empty and uncared for, named it the “Chapel of St. Mary and All Angels,” and spared no pains to make it a fitting place of worship. It was the Portiuncula, the “little portion” and round it the brethren built their first huts.

With such a name, there could be little doubt what the subject of the painting should be; and given a free hand, I made numerous sketches – the Blessed Mother must take a prominent place with angels round about. Finally I settled down to a careful charcoal drawing of Our Lady holding the Holy Child, feeling that ideas would grow as I worked.

I made some sketches of a tall, graceful girl from our Woodville Home, who posed for me with one of the smaller children on her knee. Church vestments provided the draperies (draped on a patient lay-figure), from which I made the needful studies. At that time we were using blue vestments at the Mother House, with Bishop Webb’s permission, and the delicate colouring gave me just what I needed. But the faces! That was going to be something that mattered very much; I could get the outer shell, as it were, from my models, but there must be far, far more than that.

I sent the models away and worked on, trusting to prayer and much thought. I fetched a large photograph of Mother Cecile from our Community Room (there is one at College) feeling that the dark, expressive eyes would help, and the general feeling; and did begin to get something of what I needed, and as the Mother’s face grew, so her attitude towards the Child changed. She must be no longer the young Mother, caressing and possessive. She is offering Him, holding Him out to the world, and so her eyes are to be looking outwards, not at Him, as she holds the Child securely on her knee. But meantime her thoughts are busied with Him, and as I worked and prayed I grew to know that the Mother I was trying to portray was no longer the young Bethlehem Mother, but the wonderful present Mother who is now with her Son. The Mother who has wept and anguished and suffered all through her Son’s life and has finally come through the joy and certainty of His glorious Resurrection. She is pondering all things in her heart, not only His holy infancy; but the solemnity of that made me afraid. It was then that the picture itself helped me, not just the design, but the growing picture as I worked at it. But I am anticipating, and must go back to the story of how the picture came to be on the wall at all.

Last Modified: Fri, 15 Jul 2011 15:01:10 SAST