Stephen Keeble of St George’s, Headstone, in Harrow celebrates their unique and extraordinary acquisition of the work of Martin Travers
Historian of Anglo-Catholicism Michael Yelton describes Martin Travers’s ‘High Mass’ drawings for Pictures of the English Liturgy as ‘perhaps the quintessential piece of Anglo-Catholic illustrated literature’.1 Published by the Society of SS Peter & Paul (SSPP), the Pictures were issued in two volumes: High Mass (Volume One) with 31 plates, and Low Mass (Volume Two) with 15.
The SSPP was formed in 1911 to provide literature, vestments and furnishings to champion ‘Western Use’ – the liturgical ceremonial of the contemporary Western Church, of which the Church of England was held to be an estranged part. This was in opposition to those, like Percy Dearmer and the Alcuin Club, who saw the Church of England as a distinct branch of the Catholic Church and advocated a recovery of pre-Reformation practice – so-called ‘English Use’ – derided by its detractors as ‘British Museum religion’.
Among the SSPP’s advertised wares was a ‘Ridley and Latimer’ votive candle stand – recalling the burning of the two Protestant bishops in 1555 and Latimer’s words at the stake: ‘Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out’.2 This scandalized many and no doubt contributed to the misapprehension that the SSPP was Anglo-Papalist.
The SSPP’s first book, commissioned by Lord Halifax, was a copy of the Book of Common Prayer of 1549. The society’s express aim, however, was the ‘restoration’ of 1549’s ‘magnificent version of the Roman Mass’3 which, as a Catholic rite, might legitimately be ‘enriched ceremonially and ritually from parent sources’.4 The result was the Anglican Missal, more expressive of ‘Anglican patrimony’ than W Knott & Son’s English Missal.
At the time of the SSPP’s formation the young Martin Travers was developing his career as a graphic artist and ecclesiastical designer. Agnostic by 1916, Travers afforded his advanced Anglo-Catholic patrons a distinctive, sophisticated aesthetic. Art historian Peter Cormack comments that
Travers successfully translated the style of his graphic work into an urbane, eclectic idiom applicable to stained glass and several other forms of ecclesiastical decoration.
Unlike Comper – the other well-known luminary in the field and under whom Travers trained for a while – Travers was committed to an original and modern interpretation of diverse stylistic traditions. He particularly favoured the Baroque, but interpreted in a refined, almost ‘Art Deco’, way.
Travers’ ‘Baroque’ is far from being a pastiche of any particular period or national school. Instead, it blends late-Gothic, Wren-inspired, Hispanic and other seemingly historicist components to create a peculiarly clean-cut idiom which is, above all, modern.
In the field of stained glass, Martin Travers was one of the most influential designers of the twentieth century. His characteristic (mature) style blends elements derived from late 15th-century English/French stained glass with an attractively contemporary style of drawing.
Always in Travers’ work the lettering is beautifully designed and plays an important part in the overall design.5
Martin Travers’s celebrated illustrations for the 1941 Abridged Anglican Missal and 1946 edition of the Anglican Missal are included in Divine Worship: the Missal, 2015, ‘a treasure to be shared’ within the Roman Catholic Church. In December 2021 his original drawings for Pictures of the English Liturgy surfaced at a London auction in a portfolio also containing material relating to their publication.
Samuel Gurney, mentioned with Travers in John Betjeman’s poem ‘Anglo-Catholic Congresses’, was a key figure in the SSPP. Writing of the Pictures in 1953 Gurney recounted that they ‘were done from life and were very accurate. Every detail of fingers etc has been carefully depicted. Great care was taken when making these drawings to choose men with fine faces.’6
It appears that all the drawings were executed in 1915-1916: the Low Mass Entrance design incorporates the date MCMXV, subsequently altered to the year of publication, MCMXVI; High Mass Ablutions of the Dead is dated 1916. High Mass was finally issued in 1922, evidently held back to serve as a supplement to the first edition of the Anglican Missal, published the year before.
The introduction to High Mass describes the ceremonial as ‘the simplest form prescribed by the only authority which legislates on such matters, namely the Congregation of Rites in Rome. And that, not so much because it is “Roman”, as because it is the simplest, most convenient, most easily studied, and (to modern minds) most intelligible method of rendering Divine Service.’
Travers generally has the High Mass celebrants wearing Latin chasubles; two plates show them in Gothic garb without apparels. Although acolytes and servers in short cottas abound, there is no trace of lace; one plate has servers in Gothic surplices. The various High Mass altars have at the very least a set of six candlesticks with a matching crucifix.
There is a certain amount of ironic humour in some of the captions: for example, (the drawing) for the Sanctus depicts an altar with riddle curtains and a cherub holding a candlestick in each corner, and it is labelled ‘the old English style’. However, there is a Baroque Madonna on a crescent moon above it and there are relics evident. The drawing of the Agnus Dei shows an immense reliquary behind the altar, which was not found in any Anglican church. The Celebrant’s Communion depicts a high mass of exposition, so that in the place of the reliquary is a monstrance supported on each side by a cherub and with a crown above it.
The congregation is notable by its absence, save in the drawing of the Communion of the People, where the altar is simpler but has a domed tabernacle on it. Five communicants kneel at the rail holding a houseling cloth and one woman has a long mantilla on her head. Many of the candlesticks appear disproportionately very tall, especially those carried by the servers at the Gospel and those around the catafalque at the Absolution of the Dead.7
The original drawings for Pictures of the English Liturgy are now at St George’s, Headstone, Harrow – a church with a wealth of work by Travers and his long-standing sculptor and chief assistant John Crawford. They are being framed with the generous help of the Society of the Faith and will be on display at a special event on Saturday 29th October to mark the centenary of the publication of High Mass.
The church will be open from 1.30 pm; Michael Yelton will speak on Martin Travers and the Society of SS Peter & Paul at 2 pm, followed by tea; Pusey House will facilitate High Mass at 4 pm, celebrant the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham, preacher the Ven Luke Miller, Archdeacon of London; there will be refreshments after in St George’s Hall. All warmly welcome. RSVP for evening refreshments email@example.com.
- Rodney Warrener & Michael Yelton, Martin Travers 1886-1948: An Appreciation, Unicorn Press, London, 2003, p 252.
- John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1563.
- SSPP Tract Decently and in Order: Suggestions for a Method of Saying Low Mass. See Michael Yelton, Outposts of the Faith, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2009, p 111.
- Introduction, Pictures of the English Liturgy: Volume One, High Mass, SSPP, London, 1922.
- Peter Cormack: Arts & Crafts Stained Glass, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2015, p 280; Stained Glass Windows in St George’s Church, Headstone, letter to Stephen Keeble, 17th July 1998; Journal of Stained Glass vol XXVI, 2002, p 186; Journal of Stained Glass vol XLI, 2017, p 293.
- Samuel Gurney, Pictures of the English Liturgy Portfolio, note typed at ‘Compton Regis, Shrivenham’ dated 29th January 1953.
- Michael Yelton, Martin Travers: His Life and Work, Spire Books/Society of the Faith, Salisbury, 2016, p 65.