The refurbishment of one Aldershot’s most iconic buildings, the Cathedral Church of St Michael & St George is nearing completion in time for Armistice Day and its services of Remembrance.
However, during the work which started over five years ago with the roof being replaced by Aspire Defence, and has since seen the floor totally refurbished, the stained glass windows re-leaded and much of the marble stonework around the altar restored the church has revealed a few of its secrets.
During the cleaning of one of the stained glass windows a hitherto unknown signature began to appear and on closer inspection it could be made out to be that of one of the most revered stained glass artists of the arts and crafts movement at the turn of the 19thC – Mary Lowndes.
Mary Lowndes was the first female artist to practice the whole manufacturing process of stained glass. She became an active participant in the suffragette movement and was made chair of the ‘Artists’ Suffrage League’.
Away from stained glass, much of her artistic designs graced the banners held aloft during the Suffragette marches and most prominently in the funeral procession of Emily Davison, the Suffragette who famously threw herself in front of the King’s horse at the Derby in 1913.
Mary Lowndes windows illuminate congregations across the country and are well documented, but there is no reference to this one in Aldershot; consequently this ‘find’ has generated great interest as an unknown work of art among historians and art lovers.
The window is one of a pair, although the other window does not carrying an identifying signature, it bears a remarkable likeness in style and artistic expression. It has since been verified as a second Mary Lowndes piece of artwork.
Another artefact that has come to light as a result of the building work is a remarkable crucifix with the figure of Christ fashioned from parts of Royal Air Force aircraft hanging on a cross made from of a propeller.
As the Cathedral Church of the Catholic Bishopric to the Armed Forces personnel from both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force also attend the church and it was the Royal Air Force Roman Catholic Trust that commissioned this unique piece of work.
It had once hung in the nave, but had been locked away in the north transept gallery awaiting the outcome of the refurbishment work to see where it could be positioned.
The figure has been sculpted using parts from 24 aircraft flown by the Royal Air Force dating back to the 1930s. Among those aircraft are the names of some legendary flying machines: Supermarine Spitfire, McDonnell Douglas Phantom, Avro Lancaster, Handley Page Halifax and the Avro Vulcan to name but a few.
Once cleaned, it will take pride of place outside the front door welcoming visitors and worshippers alike.