A NEGLECTED TREASURE AT ST JOHN'S
The reredos is opus sectile (cut work); the product of the Whitefriars firm of James Powell and Sons. Powdered glass was 'sintered', heated under pressure until the molecules cohered. Sheets of opaque material about ¼'' thick were produced. They have an egg-shell finish and reflect light in an attractive manner. Cut, painted and fired pieces of the material were fixed to a rigid backing, usually slate.
The firm produced opus sectile for about 50 years from 1870. Decoration was provided for many churches, especially Anglo-Catholic churches in cities. Between the Wars, Victorian art fell out of fashion. Many churches were destroyed in the Blitz. Others became redundant and were demolised without regard to their decoration. Since opus sectile is no longer produced the remaining examples must be preserved.
The North side-panel depicts Abraham, Isaac, Isaiah and John the Baptist, all in different ways forerunners of Christ. Isaac is shown as a boy carrying a faggot, in reference to the Genesis story in which God commanded Abraham to offer him as a burnt sacrifice. The South side-panel needs no commentary. In the centre- panel we see Christ in glory flanked by angels. The depiction of the angels' wings and their musical instruments is ingenious and pleasing. If the viewer gazes at the reredos with relaxed eyes, a three dimensional effect appears.
Expert opinion is that our reredos is a 'fine example' of opus sectile. The side panels were designed by Charles Hardgrave, principle designer to the firm, for the English Church of All Saints, Dresden, which was destroyed in the air raid of 1945. So our panels are unique and unrepeatable.The centre panel is by E. Penwarden. The figure of Christ, but not the rest of the design, may be seen also in the fine church of Cannington, Somerset.
with acknowledgments to Dr. Dennis Hadley