The Crucified Christ

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The Crucified Christ

The Crucified Christ
Designed by George Frederick Bodley and Thomas Garner
Carved for Farmer and Brindley Ltd. by E Guillemin
Marble
1886-1888

This beautifully sculpted figure of Christ once formed the centrepiece of an elaborate  reredos (a decorated screen) which stood behind the Cathedral high altar. The treatment of the figure shows Christ in idealised human form bearing His sacrifice, the culmination of His suffering.  An account of The Crucifixion of Christ can be found in all four of the Gospels. St Luke records the prayer Christ offered from the cross for His persecutors and the last utterance of all, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit".
 
The full crucifixion scene on the reredos depicted a Calvary group – Christ on the cross surrounded by mourning angels and a gathering of five figures at the foot of the cross: The Three Marys; St John and a Roman soldier, Stephaton, who leant on his spear.  The magnificent commission was undertaken as part of the reinvigoration of the Cathedral decoration undertaken by the then Dean of St Paul’s, Robert Gregory, which  proved to be a controversial enterprise from start to finish.
 
George Ferederick Bodley was first invited to submit designs in 1883. The central architectural element of his proposal housed the Calvary group; spiral columns supported a triangular pediment and whole ensemble was topped off with the figures of the Virgin and Child and the Risen Christ. It was made of marbles in many colours and  the lower register housed gilded relief sculptures of biblical scenes. Later in the design two side wings were added to curl around and fill the whole of the east end of the quire. Two bronze doors led through the screen to what became The Jesus Chapel behind.
 
The completed rerdos was dedicated on St Paul’s Day, 29 June, 1888. While it had been heralded as "the most important work of the kind ever erected in England in the Italian style" and the Cathedral Chapter considered it a fitting focus for contemplation the  introduction of the screen was not universally welcomed and it became a point of contention between different strands of Anglicanism. 
 
The future of the screen was decided on the evening of 10 December 1940 when a bomb penetrated the roof of the quire and although it failed to explode it caused significant damage to the screen and high altar.  Several of the pieces were salvaged and remain in the Cathedral Collection. This figure of The Crucified Christ is the most significant, symbolising the essence of Christ’s sacrifice as well as being a remarkable survival.
 
Further reading:
St Paul’s 604-2004, Ed. Keene, Burns and Saint , Yale centre for British Art 2004
 
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