Treasures of Campion Hall: The Lady Chapel Murals
It is a traditional feature of Catholic churches to dedicate a side chapel in honour of Mary, the mother of Jesus. When Martin D’Arcy, as the recently appointed Master of Campion Hall, was planning the new building of the Hall in Brewer Street, he naturally wished to make something special of its Lady Chapel. He was enabled financially to do this through the benevolence of his close friend, Evelyn Waugh, who had recently completed writing his life of Edmund Campion and who now agreed to donate the royalties from the sales of the book to finance the painting of a set of Lady Chapel murals.
A detailed undertaking
D’Arcy first invited the celebrated artist Stanley Spencer to consider taking on the Lady Chapel project, but Spencer proved himself eccentric and unpredictable. D'Arcy’s friend, Sir John Rothenstein, Director of the Tate Gallery, recommended a promising young teacher at the Royal College of Art, Charles Mahoney (1903-1968), who already had several murals to his credit. (These were later destroyed during the Second World War). Mahoney enthusiastically accepted the commission, and his working relationship with Campion Hall would continue for ten years, resulting in a set of richly coloured and detailed murals portraying the life of Our Blessed Lady which constitutes one of the most splendid and engaging treasures in Campion Hall.
Not a Catholic, Mahoney was thoroughly instructed in the details of Our Lady’s life and traditional Marian devotion, and the Lady Chapel narrates the events and providential role of Mary’s life in three major panels along with the two altar and sacristy walls, and all in the setting of a richly flowered vaulted ceiling. The artist achieves both contemporary relevance and artistic immediacy by dressing participants in everyday clothing and including portraits of some members of the Campion Hall community.
The dominating panel (shown in the header image) shows Mary crowned as Queen of Mercy surrounded by a garland of flowers and angels and spreading her protective cloak over four kneeling child-sized suppliants: a workman, a student, a uniformed soldier (it was wartime) and a clergyman, his friend the Jesuit Father Vincent Turner. The other two panels continue the theme of the year’s seasons by portraying, first, a winter night Nativity scene (shown below), with mundane shepherds replacing an earlier setting with kings; and then a summer-reflecting canopied Coronation of Our Lady by her risen Son (shown below) when she was assumed into heaven by the accompanying angels.