18 February 2021, The Tablet

Shrewsbury cathedral’s second spring

Shrewsbury cathedral’s second spring

Shrewsbury Cathedral in 2020
Courtesy of the Diocese of Shrewsbury


The modern altar has been dismantled, with gorgeous floor tiles and wall paintings found hidden under carpets and beneath layers of white paint. Bishop Mark Davies is determined his cathedral will be restored to its former glory while being faithful to Vatican II’s liturgical reforms

You could call it the Curse of Magnolia: the habit of painting over wall decoration in Victorian churches with the ubiquitous cream-coloured emulsion. Gold leaf detailing, precious marble, painted murals: all suffered from the magnolia treatment in the 1960s and 1970s. At the time, Victorian architecture and furnishings were unfashionable. Plain, clean surfaces were part of the decluttering that accompanied the reordering of churches following the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council. Money was a consideration. It was cheaper to paint over than restore decoration darkened with age and dirt and often damaged by damp.

Today, there is more respect for the work of the great nineteenth-century Catholic architects. Together with artists and craftsmen and -women, they expressed the verve and confidence of a faith in the ascendant after more than 200 years in the shadows.

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