A few weeks ago, my mum and I were on the hunt for a fabric store on East Claremont Street, Edinburgh. Our travels took us past an unsuspecting church building, which is now known as the Mansfield Traquair Centre, on Mansfield Place (just down from Broughton Street).
Within this building are murals painted in the 19th Century by Pheobe Anna Traquair. Mum was very keen to see them (I’ll admit, I hadn’t even heard of them), but it wasn’t to be on that particular day. The building is regularly hired out as a venue, so visitors wishing to see the murals have to wait for a Sunday Open Day (just one a month). The next one is Sunday 11th December. Luckily, folks coming to Edinburgh for the annual festival during August will have daily opportunities to discover this hidden gem.
Yesterday was November’s Open Day – so off I went to see what the fuss was all about…
Now, before I go confusing (or upsetting) anyone out there – I am not a religious person. I do, however, appreciate the artwork that can be found within churches and cathedrals. Despite there being enough symbology to crack a mention in a Dan Brown novel, I’m sharing these pictures with you as mere appreciation of the talented artist: Pheobe Anna Tarquair (1852-1936), just as they are. I offer no interpretations!
Below are some of the detailed murals from the Chancel Arch (above)
The church was originally a Catholic Apostle Church – the actual building of which was completed by 1885. Mrs Traquair then painted the murals in three phases: 1893-1895 was dedicated to painting the Chancel Arch (above), 1895-1897 saw both the South Chapel and the North Aisle being completed and finally the Nave and West Gable were worked on during the period 1898-1901.
The South Chapel was used for services when there weren’t enough worshippers to fill the Nave. The murals painted on the walls of the Nave are quite high up and difficult to view. Photographing them proved to be a trying task as the light bouncing in from the windows above caused some unwanted reflections. I don’t think I would have minded the smaller service: there’s more detail to look at in the South Chapel 😉 It is here that scenes depicting the parable of the wise and foolish virgins begins… (the motto: Be Prepared… didn’t I learn that at the Brownies???)
The story of virgins continues across the Chancel in the North Aisle. It is in this little corner that contains the artwork I most admire. I’ve subsequently found out that some of art here was Mrs Traquair’s way of paying homage to the great William Morris, who had passed away the year before the painting of the North Aisle began. I totally love his wallpaper and textile designs 🙂 – so it is perhaps not surprising that I like this section as much as I do.
When you turn to leave the church, you would normally be treated to a visual of the entire West Wall. Unfortunately, due to previous events having been hosted – a rather large curtain had been left hanging up…
The objective of this mural, was to provide an uplifting vision to the congregation to keep with them as they left the service.
These murals have undergone extensive restorative work (2003 – 2005) after having suffered much damage since the church closed its doors to its congregation in 1958. The building was left, in a state of disuse, until the Friends of Mansfield Place formed and started to put things right from about 1992 onwards with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit here – and now know an awful lot more about the work of Mrs Traquair! If you want to know more detail about either the Mansfield Traquair Centre (its history and uses) or Pheobe Anna Traquair (style of art and the materials she used) – then head over to the official website: Mansfield Traquair Trust.
It’s perhaps worth pointing out that although this church and the murals within are by no means comparable in size with THE Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, the lady who painted all of these murals was a petite little lady of only ~ 5 foot tall. She probably enjoyed painting this chapel a lot more than Michelangelo did the Vatican 😉