Angel of God
Whose constant care
Defends our Church
From Satan’s snares ~

Beseech the Blessed Virgin fair,
Present to God
Our humble prayer;

With all the saints
we ask as one;
For God to look with mercy on
Each soul within our Parish bounds ~
And guide them safe, to Holy ground.

We pray Our Father’s Mighty arm
May steer each soul
to Harbours calm,
and in His presence, Be revived ~

prayer illustration by Jeanette Lewis image (C) 2013 all rights reserved

St Teresa’s romance.

st-teresa-of-avila-sculpture I picked up the three volume set of St. Teresa of Avila’s life in a second hand shop for just a few coins.
They looked very smart and tidy on my book shelf, though the contents were less ordered. She did exacerbate one’s patience with her  “to-ing and fro-ing” of thoughts.
(I am yet to read her last volume..!)

Teresa had a privileged life as a child, she was imaginative and pious. Those girls of Avila who had parents that were rich enough to buy books, would read the lives of the Saints. Teresa found their heroic stories inspiring.

As a young child, she famously  convinced her brother to run away with her to Turkish lands. Their hope was to become missionaries and gain the crowns of martyrs when their faith was discovered, but their plans were foiled, they were found on the road and returned to their home.

A problem I have had with reading saints biographies, is that they are often edited to include only the main essentials, and we do not get to know the person ” Warts and all”
(Speaking of which,  I did notice that she had a wart on her chin when doing some research for the statue!)

sculpting book and hand
Modeling Book detail for St, Teresa of Avila statue

As a teenager, Teresa  favoured the heroic in a more secular sense, and wrote a romantic novel. (Whether it was a good read or not I don’t know, but the project was quickly discouraged by relatives.)
The teenage Teresa de Ahumada enjoyed perfume and elaborate hairstyles, the French biographer Louis Bertrand put it in 1927, “She was beautiful. And she knew it.”

“I began to wear fancy things, since I wanted to be attractive, and to fuss with my hands and my hair,” she writes. “I used perfumes and all the silly baubles I could get hold of — not a few, because I was very particular.”

A sociable girl who loved company, her lively young cousins came often to visit. It seems that a scheming relative engineered a flirtation between Teresa and a male cousin. People began to talk, and seeing that Teresa’s reputation and the family’s honour was at risk, her father Alonso discreetly packed her off to a respectable convent- run finishing school. It was here that her desire for piety resurged.
This insight into Teresa’s brush with worldliness is important for those who feel that sainthood is beyond them. Its important for ordinary people like me need to know that Saints aren’t so much born as much as made; and that gives me hope.

The young Teresa clearly had a love of writing and a heart for romance; eventually these were transformed by God.

Her famous prayer has the hallmarks of God’s timeless wisdom, and a woman inspired by love.

Let nothing disturb you,

Nothing frighten you.

All things are passing.

God never changes.

Patient endurance attains to all things.

Who possesses God wants for nothing.

God alone suffices.


Saint Bernadette


Years of temporary fixes had left this statue of Saint Bernadette in poor condition.

The parish for whom we restored these figures I can’t recall, but I do remember Tina who drove all the way from a wind-swept part of North East England to bring them.
They came with many layers of paint, and some moss attached. Some smug slugs had  found a home in the damaged areas of broken resin.
The first phase of restoration involved the removal of said molluscs,  and then the paint…

Bernadette  lived in a one room former jail dungeon which she shared with her family.She shunned worldly possessions throughout her short life.

The blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the 14 year old Bernadette on 11th February 1858.
She described the experience as follows:

” I heard a noise like a gust of wind …I raised my eyes toward the grotto and saw a lady dressed in white. She was wearing a white dress, a white veil, a blue girdle, and a yellow rose on each foot…”

On asking of the “beautiful lady” her name, the apparition confirmed that she was the Immaculate Conception.

Bernadette was a lowly shepherdess, and too uneducated to understand such words as “Immaculate Conception”. The apparitions served to confirm the dogma which was promulgated on December 8th 1854 by Pope Pious IX. four years before the Apparitions.

Sister Bernadette was ministered the sacrament of Extreme unction three times during her life, for having had been close to death through asthma. In September 1878 she pronounced her final vows. Her time here on earth was running out; Bone cancer of the knee had been already diagnosed and seven months later, at three p.m. on April 16th, sister Bernard at the age of 35 years departed this life.

Her body remains in corrupt to this day, at the convent of Saint Gildard at Nevers one hundred and fifty years after her death.
It is said that a thin coating of wax was applied to the body at its last exhumation, as the nuns who tended the body washed it, resulting in an accidental staining of her complexion.

The mystery remains to the worldly how a body may remain intact one hundred and fourty years after death.

Whilst Buddhist monks prepare their bodies in life (for preservation after death) by eating resinous leaves; Egyptian deserts and the icy winds of the Americas preserve bodies by desiccation.
The the acid waters of English peat bogs have also yielded ancient tannin-saturated bodies.

Yet Saint Bernadette’s body has no such scientific or natural explanation; it remains a witness to the power of the resurrected Christ, pointing to the “loved one which will not see decay” and the promise that those who eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man shall have eternal life.
(Bernadette is just one of over two hundred Catholic saints whose human remains are in-corrupt.)





Quatrefoil stations

re-discovered re-newed

Original hand painted legend

This is the sort of thing my grandfather would have created in his lifetime. He had studied art at Trinity College Dublin. In time his son would take up the trade of ornamental plaster work too.

As a child, fascinated though I was by dad’s work, he wanted something better for me.

“It’s heavy, dusty work and the gelatin molds are messy to make.” He’d say.

The fashion for ornamental plaster work dwindled with the clearance of war torn Victorian buildings.  The new trend was for functionality and modernity.
Following on its heels the space aged dawned; glamorous polished plaster walls were in demand. Machines were revered, and work ethics mirrored their relentless drive.

It came at a time when dad became a grandad himself. He lamented that the skills learned as his fathers apprentice had no place in this target-driven climate. His ageing bones rebelled against the physical exertion of pressing cold wet plaster onto the walls of building sites.

Dad and Grandad  have since gone to their reward; yet that mysterious cloud of childhood plaster – dust persisted. It traveled through the generations to settle on me, and I found myself working with the stuff, despite Dad’s wishes.

Today, when I work on pieces like these ornamental plaster stations, I feel a connection with my past and my faith; and the “restorer” in me springs to life.


Extensive damage with botched repairs to station~see below for restored version

In a pleasant Scottish town the new Parish Priest found a collection of forgotten boxes. Hidden in a unused room of the presbytery, they contained a set of quatrefoil stations of the cross.The following images show their damaged condition as found… and as restored to their former appearance.

The words “Van Poulle” were written on the sides of two of the stations, though it is not clear (to me) if these stations were made by another studio, and only retailed by Van poulle. The gold crosses which sit in sockets above the numbers are not shown here.
(Photo colours may appear different due to effect of changing natural daylight.)

Above: Horizontal break to legend, nose and head missing, general grime deposits.
Closer detail of damage to the lower quarter.
Cleaned, repaired, and repainted as necessary, gold replenished
Detail of Second station, Grubby and broken.
Quatrefoil form ( four leaves or roundels) the newly modeled  arm holds a whip .
Station with amateur repair works to damage


Station cleaned and restored ~ amateur repairs eradicated.

Recognizing Raffl

Its in the name

Last year I was fortunate to have in my studio a set of Nativity statues from the House of Raffl. Identification was easy, as the name of the studio was proudly incised around the base of each figure.

When studios go into decline, and its assets sold off, occasionally the moulds for casting will be purchased by a more affluent studio. The latter may eradicate the name of the original studio, and this makes identifying older statuary problematic.

With a sense of history in mind, it is my practice to preserve these name labels, or reveal them when they have been obscured by paint.

The House of Raffl manufactured in tens of thousands of religious figures (over 62,000 for the period from 1871 to end 1877), they were installed in churches throughout France and also exported worldwide.

The studio had many owners, and operated in between 1857 and began a decline around 1920. (To my knowledge it was last in operation around the 1940’s.)

four restored nativity figures
three restored nativity figures
The goat herd restored
Blessed Virgin Nativity figure
Shepherd with flute & dog restored
Kneeling shepherd figure
Incised studio legend at base of figure