At Slow Travel we are always on the lookout for a hidden gem and a visit to the English Martyrs Catholic Church in Goring revealed a completely unexpected treat – the faithful (if smaller) reproduction of Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome.
The story of how it came to be here is fascinating in itself but the results are astonishing.
From the exterior the red-roofed church looks to be an architecturally dismal building – resembling an aircraft hanger or Nissen hut rather than a Catholic house of God. This impression immediately evaporates on entrance to the interior, where you are struck by the drama of the ceiling above.
Reproduced in its entirety is the early 16th century masterpiece painted in fresco by Michelangelo, a cornerstone of the High Renaissance Art. It is two-thirds the size of the original, and therefore a mathematical achievement in a pre-digital age, as well as an extraordinary artistic success.
In 1987 parishioner Gary Bevans visited Rome on pilgrimage and returned home inspired by what he had seen at the Vatican and sought permission to paint the glory of the Michelangelo creation on to a wooden vaulted surface fixed to the roof of this unprepossessing church. Sponsors were found, Dulux and ICI provided the acrylic paint and Gary, a sign writer by trade, and a self-taught artist, embarked on a five and half year task, while still carrying out his day job, to complete his mission.
The result is stunning – above you God separates the light from the darkness, creates the sun, moon and plants, separates the sky and water and creates Adam and Eve. We see the expulsion from Eden, the Flood and the many Biblical figures and stories which feature from Pope Julius II’s original commission to Michelangelo. Even the windows of the Sistine Chapel are painted on to the roof to give an exact replica of the famous ceiling. It is a work of wonder.
Gary Bevans himself is a remarkable man with devout faith in God. The volunteers speak of his humility – how he has received no financial gain for his labour and how he describes his own role in the accomplishment as “I was only the hand that held the brush”. Since the work was finished, he has become a Deacon of the Catholic Church, regularly conducting services there.
The church has additional features of interest – the Martyrs’ Window depicts eleven famous men and women persecuted for their Catholic faith etched on to glass, and Peter the Fisherman’s window made by using glass recovered from a local convent is a theatre of the bright and colourful.
There is also Gary’s own interpretation of the Last Supper. But it is the ceiling that will remain the longest and deepest in your memory. It is a very worthwhile visit – trolley mirrors enable you to look closely at the detail of the ceiling, and knowledgeable volunteers are on hand to answer questions. Certainly an interesting and unique experience.
Visit the English Martyrs Church website >>