Colin Woolgrove writes about Fr Wagner’s murals and pilgrimages to Buxted
Back in 2020, my March copy of New Directions arrived as we all went into lockdown – for the first time. My article, which appeared that month, beautifully produced by the ND team, was to encourage pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at St Mary the Virgin in Buxted, East Sussex. St Mary’s had been a centre of pilgrimage for 100 years, but lockdown and the period of being locked out of church that followed, was to put paid to any further pilgrimages for two years However, lockdown did not stop the telephone ringing and emails pinging, with ND readers expressing interest in a pilgrimage to St Mary’s, as soon as was practicable. Realising little could be done until this terrible virus had past, all we could do was wait, pray and be patient.
Neither were we idle at St Mary’s though. Early in 2020, cracks appeared on the east wall of the Sanctuary. Fearing damp penetration a surveyor was called in. Fortunately no damp, just nine layers of emulsion paint! Our decorator (socially distanced – on his own) started scraping away. However, he got rather carried away when he found Fr Wagner’s murals, and removed more emulsion than we expected. These murals, painted in the ‘Arts and Crafts’ style, were part of Fr Wagner’s original design for
St Mary’s, and had been painted over in 1951. The paintings of Sts Wilfred, Augustine, Gregory and Richard, which once hung in the four plaster niches (see pictures) sadly disappeared at the same time. Although the murals have only been partially revealed) it will take many years of fundraising before we can consider revealing them fully, and there are many more.
In the meantime, we are keen to discover the whereabouts of ‘the Four Saints’. An art expert recently inspected the murals and discovered a canvas imprint on the four plaster niches. This indicates that the saints were painted on canvas (probably in a studio), and affixed to the wall using the ‘marouflage’ technique, to form part of the mural. This meant the canvas could be removed at any time with minimal risk of damage. Each canvas measures 54” x 24” and it was, we understand, possible to roll them up for transporting. If you know where they are, we would like to hear from you.
Thank you all for your continued prayers over the past two years. We are happy to report that pilgrimages re-introduced this summer. Come and see Fr Wagner’s murals, and learn more of the fascinating history of St Mary’s We look forward to welcoming you. Please contact: Colin Woolgrove at telephone 01825 830076 or email colinhwoolgrove @aol.com.