New Paintings at Shrewsbury's Greek Orthodox Church
Beautiful new frescos are appearing on the walls of Shrewsbury’s Greek Orthodox Church, thanks to the talent of local icon painter Aidan Hart.
The ancient Church of the Holy Fathers of Nicea stands on a site that has been used for worship for 4,000 years. A recent archaeological dig found remnants of what is believed to have been a wood henge – with a post dated to the early Bronze Age period (circa 2033 B.C).
The Christianised pagan site is the earliest known sacred site in Britain still in use today. The existing Greek Orthodox Church, just off Oteley Road in Shrewsbury, is built on the remains of a much larger, Anglo-Saxon church (the Saxon tub font is still in regular use).
Nowadays, it houses a vibrant modern Greek Orthodox community committed to improving and beautifying this ancient building. Fortunately for them, a member of the congregation Aidan Hart is a world-renowned icon painter who has worked on projects for the Archbishop of Canterbury, HRH The Prince of Wales, private commissions and cathedrals and churches all over the world.
Aidan has already completed a magnificent wall painting of Christ in Glory on the east wall, which had been newly plastered and was available for new painting. He is also responsible for the splendid oak icon screen and Holy Table carved in stone.
Now he is working on a new project to celebrate the saints, including a few familiar local faces – Aidan aims to finish 17 new round paintings on the upper part of the north and south walls under the Tudor, triangular shaped roof. These will sit above medieval (14th century) wall paintings, showing a vine tendril pattern and the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket, restored in 2007.
Aidan’s new roundels are in rich colours to harmonize with the east wall mural, with rosy red and green backgrounds. They include: St Oswald, St Werburgh of Chester, St Chad, St Alban, St Cuthbert, St Constantine the Great, St John of Damascus, Apostle Andrew, St Luke of Simferopol, St Photini, St Catherine of Alexandria, St Kassiani, St Theodora, St Helena, St Thekla, St Marina, and the New-martyr Elizabeth.
The two most ‘modern’ saints on the list are St Elizabeth the New Martyr and St Luke of Simferopol. St Elizabeth was the grand duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter and a convert to the Orthodox faith. She became a nun and founded a hospital and sisterhood to pray and to serve the poor and orphans in Moscow, and was martyred by the Bolsheviks in 1918. St Luke of Simferopol was both a bishop and a surgeon. He was tortured and persecuted by the Communists. He died in 1961.
Aidan’s favourite is Saint Cuthbert, an Anglo-Saxon saint of the early Northumbrian church who decided to become a monk after seeing a vision on the same night in 651 that St Aidan, the founder of Lindisfarne, died: “We have a lot of reliable information about Cuthbert, written by near contemporaries, which helps create picture of his character,” Aidan said. “And with the St Aidan connection, I almost feel related to him.”
Saint Cuthbert is depicted holding a Bible in his left hand with a design inspired by one of the Gospels of Lindisfarne.
The project will take two weeks in situ to complete, with the permission of English Heritage, and Aidan is working from 15cm high coloured drawings.
To avoid compromising the precious medieval frescos beneath, Aidan is using Keim mineral paint to replicate lime fresco work.
“It’s a great honour to paint new work in such an old church,” Aidan said. “It’s all credit to Historic England. Up to a few decades ago the attitude was that we shouldn’t add anything to old places, we should leave them exactly as they are, but they’ve changed tack. Now they recognise that to keep them in good condition they need to be used. The east wall mural was inspired by early English works, so they are really happy that the new paintings stylistically harmonize with the building.”
Services have been continued to be held around the scaffolding – with the congregations watching Aidan’s progress – and he said the church hopes to hold an open day to allow the public to see the new works.
The Church usually participates in Shrewsbury’s Heritage Open Days every September.