by Fr Michael Daley, Parish Priest of Holy Cross, Parsons Green
On Sunday 3rd February 2019, a new piece of art by the renowned religious iconographer and sculptor Stephen Foster, entitled the ‘Throne of Mercy’ was solemnly blessed and dedicated by Bishop John Wilson, during a celebration of Mass with a packed congregation. Joining us for the blessing were Stephen Foster, Vicar General Monsignor Martin Hayes, Fr Mehall Lowry, and Fr Antony Homer. The image provides an inspirational focus for prayer, contemplation and devotion.
It was commissioned by the former Parish Priest, Fr Mehall Lowry to commemorate the Year of Mercy instituted by Pope Francis in 2015-2016 and depicts the Most Blessed Trinity as a view through an open door, in keeping with the theme of the year.
By passing through the door we are invited by the Father to enter into a state of grace and mercy. God the Father is revealed seated on a throne, holding the crucified God the Son, Jesus Christ, with God the Holy Spirit, who appears in the form of a dove. The image is framed by six angels, four of whose Communion chalices capture the Blood of Jesus Christ, the Saviour. The two angels above incense the vision.
The water flowing from the wound in the side of Jesus Christ represents being washed by the waters of baptism. Through baptism into the Church we are invited to enter through the door. The images of the water of life flowing through Christ and the living streams flowing from the temple described in Ezekiel 47 are also evoked.
The angels Gabriel and Michael are depicted at Christ’s feet. The depiction of Gabriel is a memorial to the departed and much loved child of a family in Holy Cross parish.
The image of God the Father inspires reflection on the concept of fatherhood as it applies in our lives today. The foot of the Father at Gabriel’s head evokes the vision in Revelation 1:13-15 of ‘feet like burnished bronze’ and also the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream in Daniel 2:31-45.
The stars at the top of the image can be seen as symbols guiding the children of God as they navigate their way to the doors of Heaven, echoing the ancient practice of mariners using stars to navigate their way home. The stars can also be seen as symbols of the Creation.
The piece of art was inspired by alabaster images representing the ‘Throne of Mercy’ created in the 15th century in Nottinghamshire. In medieval times these images were brought out on feast days, carried on the shoulders of the faithful in processions and venerated. The Throne of Mercy has been carved in wood from poplar trees.
Stephen Foster’s deep faith is reflected in his work. The creation of each piece is an act of devotion, inspired by profound prayer and meditation. Many admirers of his work suggest that his images draw us into contemplation of the mystery of God’s beauty.
His work can be seen in numerous churches, cathedrals, schools and religious houses including Allen Hall Seminary, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Northampton Cathedral, Our Lady of Victories, Kensington High Street and the Carmelite Monastery in Ware. He comes from a family of religious artists inspired by their Catholic faith.
Since completing his first commissions in the 1970s, Stephen has explored and developed a range of novel techniques. The artwork in Holy Cross was created using a combination of ancient and modern methods. He starts by creating a drawing of his subject and then uses computerised tools to create an image that is carved onto wooden panels by a machine. He then returns to traditional methods, continuing the carving process by hand and adopting ancient fresco and guilding techniques used by the Greeks and Romans to complete the image. He uses venetian plaster, a mixture of lime and marble dust to which traditional pigments, such as the Amalfi blue which can be seen in this artwork.