St Columba’s Mural Notes by the Artist
“The mural was painted in 1959 in place of the original stained glass window, bricked up in 1957. Mark Kemp instigated the original idea and the theme of the painting, though changes were made as the design progressed, under the guidance and encouragement of the new Rector, George Martineau. People have remarked on the similarity with Graham Sutherland’s Coventry tapestry which was made about the same time. Actually, I had not seen Coventry, but as I began to think of such a formidable theme of “Christ in Glory”, I visited Vézelay and Autun in Central France: Churches with tympani carved at the height of Romanesque sculpture. In each, the figure of Christ is large, central, and vital in line and movement, surrounded by the creatures of the cherubim and the apostles, saints and martyrs.
I felt that St Columba’s with its strong rising gothic arch needed strong lines in the mural, particularly a horizontal stretch from wall to wall. So the figure of Christ follows traditional Romanesque lines – central and large. He is seated (though the throne is implied rather than depicted) with arms outstretched, both in remembrance of the cross and in blessing and gathering. He is in priestly robes, of gold colour for kingship and love, Yet the crown is not on his head but is a promise of his rightful lordship over all the earth. He is “henceforth expecting until his enemies be made his footstool”. [Hebrews 10:13] The footstool, in the form of a Satanic dragon, is in place though not yet dead. Above the throne, as in the vision of St John are two Seraphim and on either side the Cherubim of Glory – the four living creatures of Revelation and Ezekial – have the likeness of a Man, a Lion, an Eagle and an Ox. There are various interpretations in the Church of these creatures – the most common being to think of them as symbols of the Gospel writers (although different traditions attribute the lion to St Mark and St Matthew).It is a great mystery. The Cherubim occur in the showing forth of God’s Glory to mankind – they are attributes of that Glory and they move at one with it. They are both outward looking in that they are continually heading up the praise of Heaven. “Holy, Holy, Holy…” I prefer the interpretation which links them to the full ministry of Christ – also fourfold – seen in his nature and in the gifts given to the Church at the Ascension – the Apostolic ministry, the lion of headship, gold for wisdom and authority; the eagle of prophecy, able to see into heavenly things (blue); man the evangelist, red, the colour of the redeeming blood of Christ; and the ox, white, the pure love of pastorship, the patient bearer of burdens.
The rather obscure bit of blue below the throne is meant to be the river of life! On either side are two groups (which never in fact got finished), the 24 elders and a group of angels.The lower section represents the sower – stony ground, etc. – with the full harvest in the centre and reaping angels and burning tares on the left. Linking Heaven and Earth, the life-giving Dove of the Holy Spirit.
So the images are biblical and mystical rather than those of contemporary outward life. I felt myself that to use modern industrial themes, as had been suggested, would quickly have looked out of date and lost potency. As it is, you, the congregation and visitors, are the present time, and, together with Christ, we look for the fulfillment of all things when our Lord returns and this feeble image on the wall gives way to the full reality of Glory.”
In 2016 the church was opened specially concurrent with John’s Exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy.