The Art of James Gillick: Beautiful Sacred Art at SS Gregory and Augustine Parish Church in Oxford, England

What a small parish can achieve with good taste and the will to have a beautiful church, even with limited means

I would like to show you some photographs from my recent visit to the little parish church of SS Gregory and Augustine.

The art and furnishings have been carefully chosed to match the simple but elegant early 20th-century architectural design (the parish was founded in 1912). It is has an arts and crafts feel to it and I was told is modelled on a Flemish Renaissance style. Grahame Greene and Tolkein both have associations with the church and Msgr Ronald Knox visited as a preacher. The current parish priest is Fr John Saward who is known for his books and writings on the liturgy and art, especially the recently re-published classic, The The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty: Art, Sanctity, and the Truth of Catholicism. He told us that he has a new book coming out soon, to be published by Angelico Press, on angels. I can’t wait!

Fr John, as one might imagine, is the driving force behind the current look of the interior, and he very kindly gave Margarita and I a guided tour himself. Some of the art is from the period following the founding of the parish, but most of the art has been commissioned by him in the last 15 years or so, and was painted by the excellent Catholic artist James Gillick. James is a succesful portrait and still-life painter who paints in a naturalistic style in oils. The color schemes and blend of styles he has used are all carefully chosen to work as an integrated whole. The furnishings, many also commissioned for the church by Fr John, including a spectacular reredos and other wood carvings, are overseen by James and his brother Gabriel who is an architect. Together they have a church design and restoration company, Gillick Brothers. Other Gillicks have contributed: the statues have also been restored to their original decoration by Gordon Gillick, the painter’s father. Curtains in dark purple have been made by the seamstress Hannah Gillick to cover the reredos and side-panels during Passiontide. The carpentry for the new exposition throne and crucifix niche above the tabernacle was done by Benedict Gillick.

Below, the church interior and its reredos dominating the sanctuary.

The art in the reredos is a variety of styles that blend. If I were to characterize them, I would say 17th-century style baroque, and Italian and Flemish style 15th century Renaissance style.

St Gregory, above left, and St Augustine, below right, have a baroque look to them. The Madonna and childe, with its gilded background and cherubic child has the look of an early 16th or late 15th Italian Renaissance style. The cherubic aspect, while present, is understated and this, I feel, makes it more accessible to the modern eye.

The other saints on the reredos look to me more like Flemish Renaissance (or late gothic) style. Notice how the heads have been made proportionately larger than the body.

Details in the polychrome wood carving in the reredos.
The Lady Altar

And other furnishings at statues. Fr John inherited the statues and the Stations of the Cross.