The South Transept – the Lady Chapel

St Andrew’s has changed considerably over the past 160 years and all old buildings suffer from contradictory temptations of their users: to throw things out which are special because fashion changes, and to fill spaces with not very desirable items (well, clutter). I keep discovering interesting things (and will do so for quite a while!) and particularly thanks to Paul Griffiths and Elizabeth Amias I am learning more about the history of the place and its people. It is common sense that any adaptations require an awareness of what happened previously and why changes were made – PCC minutes and photos are a fascinating source beyond living memory. At this stage I am keen to tidy up, but I am careful not to do anything which is not reversible within minutes.

As mentioned last week, the two side chapels were created when Fr Leonard Matthew was vicar.

When the Church was built, the transepts were “set aside for the use of the school children” who were “seated on movable forms” (Leicester Journal 21.2.1862). The Lady Chapel was ‘completed’ and used for daily services by March 1917.  This was not long after Fr Leonard Matthew became Vicar in March 1915.According to the St Andrew’s Magazine of October 1922 (the Jubilee edition), both chapels had already been dedicated, with the war memorial being in the St John’s chapel. Fr Matthew brought plans for panelling the Lady Chapel in oak to the Annual Parish Meeting in May 1927.  The cost was estimated at about £50 and the idea was received “enthusiastically”.  The work was carried out and the panels were blessed on 14th September 1927.

Paul Griffiths, private email from 10/02/2021

Pictures of other saints were painted onto the wood panelling (which seem to have something to do with first names of people involved, e.g. St Leonard and Fr Leonard Matthew). The space suffered water damage and needed frequent repairs. If you look closely at the pictures you will note that damp is still a problem. The chapel was restored and reordered in 1981 in a way which feels to me is reflecting very much the taste of the time. If you compare the pictures above with the current photos you may notice a few things:

  • a large cross (which was previously free-standing in the nave) was moved above the central plaster relief of Our Lady with Jesus, thus placing two crosses above each other.
  • the plaster relief was repainted with fewer colours (in 1973) and moved higher up on the wall with a shelf fixed underneath
  • the altar was replaced
  • the sanctuary lamp was changed
  • the communion rails were removed
  • the four silver candlesticks were removed (and are currently in use on the main altar on Sundays and Feast Days)
  • I found the two silver vases, but the two smaller candlesticks and the metal cross seem to be no longer around.

In the past weeks I tidied up the Lady Chapel (and several wonderful people cleaned and polished bits of metal!) and moved some of the statues of saints around the building into this chapel, as it already had an ‘All Saints’ theme. 

A particular story is that of the aumbry (an aumbry or a tabernacle is a kind of safe for keeping consecrated altar bread – hence a white light always burns there). It was originally installed in the wall of the Lady Chapel (because, at the time, one would not get permission in Leicester Diocese to put one on top of an altar). Later, a second tabernacle was put on the altar in the Lady Chapel under the plaster relief (see b/w picture above and below).

In the last years the aumbry in the wall deteriorated to the extent that it is now unusable and the door does not close any more. Another tabernacle was placed on a newly installed shelf right next to the aumbry in 1981 – which to me feels rather odd. According to the minutes of Annual Meetings people kept offering to donate covers for it, as its design was rather unpopular (I do understand why!). I am not convinced that the 1981 re-ordering was successful in every way and I am keen to find out more about what happened and why it did.

Whatever might happen in future, the aumbry is currently not usable and I am glad our Head Server Matt Newman (who works in construction and knows his stuff) has started to make repairs to it last week.

I hope you find it encouraging to see what is going on whilst the church has to be closed for public worship. If you like what you see and wonder how to help, please get in touch! 

Fr Johannes