Catholic Life

New art for Oxford church

James Gillick and his brother Gabriel install works in the reredos at Ss Gregory and Augustine in Summertown, Oxford

Last month saw the completion of artwork by James Gillick for the church of Ss Gregory and Augustine in Summertown, north Oxford.

The interior of this Grade II listed church, built in 1911 by Ernest Newton, one of the leading architects of the Arts and Crafts movement, has been significantly altered over the last two years both by the addition of artwork and by the restoration of the existing fittings.

A generous bequest allowed the parish, led by priest Fr John Saward, in liaison with the diocesan Historic Churches Committee, to commission the new works and restorations.
They asked James Gillick, his architect brother Gabriel and several other members of the extended Gillick family

to endow the church with images of its two patrons, the Virgin and Child and 10 saints, and to restore the reredos and sanctuary.

James Gillick, the painter, was born in Norfolk in 1972 and is from a long line of artists and artisans. He makes all his stretchers, canvasses, panels, oils, glues, waxes, varnishes and paints by hand using techniques which date back to the 17th century.

At 26, James won a commission to paint Margaret Thatcher and in 2004 he had the privilege of a commission by Bishop Malcolm McMahon of Nottingham to paint a portrait of Pope John Paul II. The portrait now hangs in the Lady Chapel at St Barnabas’ Cathedral in Nottingham and an identical copy tours the country’s parishes on request.

Further notable commissions included, in 1999, Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville of Birmingham.

Mr Gillick believes strongly in the catechetical aspects of liturgical artworks and the ability of things beautifully made to raise the mind to God in the context of the Mass.

His paintings, which hang in private collections and places of worship across the country, have been highly praised for their quiet spirituality. His style is detailed and realist and shows the influence of the painters of the Northern Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age.
The left-hand panel of the new reredos at SS Gregory and Augustine features Mr Gillick’s depiction of Pope St Gregory and on the right-hand side is St Augustine of Canterbury.

In the centre, above the two patron saints, is an image of the Virgin and Child – christened by Fr Saward as “Our Lady of Summertown” after the name of the suburb of Oxford where this church is located.

On panels either side of the reredos James has painted and gilded SS Peter and Paul and eight saints of England and Oxford including St Frideswide and Cardinal John Henry Newman. These are accompanied by carved name plaques in lime wood featuring oak leaves, with an English rose by Emyr Hughes, Gabriel Gillick’s father-in-law and Gordon Gillick, James’s father.

The statues of Our Lady and St Joseph were carved before World War I by Ferdinand Stuflesser of the Austrian Tyrol.

These works have now been placed on the northern and southern walls of the sanctuary on plinths, exquisitely carved in the style of the present altar canopy by Emyr Hughes.
Gordon Gillick undertook the restoration of the statues.

Hannah Gillick, a seamstress, made the purple curtains to cover the reredos and side-panels during Passiontide and Benedict Gillick oversaw the carpentry for the sanctuary.