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St. John the Apostle: Watching Over Works of Martin Dutton


Overlooking Torquay Harbour, the presence of the illustrious Church of St. John the Apostle is felt as you turn your eyes from sea back inland, as this prominent church overlooks the bobbing boats and bustling harbour walks with a divine gaze. During the nocturnal hours this gaze is clearly seen, as a large neon cross shines brightly from its tower, illuminating the night sky with a celestial glow. This luminous symbol of faith was bestowed upon the church in loving memory of Cecil Maude, the renowned actor-manager, by his devoted wife, the esteemed Mrs. Beatrice Maude. Dedicated in a solemn ceremony conducted by the Bishop of Exeter on the 8th of September, 1955, it is the most contemporary of an array of fascinating details that mark the uniqueness of this place of worship.


St. John the Apostle Church is located on Montpellier Road in Torquay and has a fascinating history that dates back to 1823. Originally serving as a chapel-of-ease to the parish church at Tormoham, the present-day structure we admire today was designed by the visionary architect George Edmund Street. The construction took place between 1861 and 1873, with different sections added over time.


The building process began with the construction of the chancel, which was consecrated in 1864. It featured beautiful carvings by the talented artist Thomas Earp and intricate mosaic work crafted by the esteemed Antonio Salviati. The north aisle was completed in 1866, followed by the nave and south aisle in 1871. The grand west tower, designed by Arthur Edmund Street, was finalized between 1884 and 1885. A special occasion was held to commemorate the tower's completion in 1885, during which a new bell, cast in E flat by Warner and Son of London, was dedicated.


The lady chapel within St. John's underwent an extravagant transformation between 1888 and 1890 under the skilled hands of John Dando Sedding. Delicate iron grills now separated the chapel from the chancel and aisle, leading visitors to an ornate altar and reredos graced with polished Torquay marble steps. The chapel featured new oak seating placed upon oak platforms and a meticulously crafted oak floor. The seating's front and back showcased intricately carved tracery, while the seat ends displayed exquisite fleur-de-lis termination, and shields adorned with sunken carved panels depicting scenes from The Passion are found on the seat sides.


The church's musical soul found expression through the acquisition of an organ. Initially, a temporary organ was procured from Dicker of Exeter, but upon the completion of the nave, a new organ was commissioned and built in 1872 by William Hill & Sons. This magnificent pipe organ boasted three manuals and pedals, along with an impressive array of 47 speaking stops.


Another of the church's awe-inspiring features is the remarkable west window, designed by Edward Burne-Jones in 1890. Within its exquisite composition, elegant angels donned in flowing drapery grace the scene, with the central depiction of St. John the Evangelist standing out prominently. The window draws inspiration from Burne-Jones' renowned masterpiece, the Nine Choirs of Angels which adorns the Jesus College Chapel in Cambridge. The great east window, also designed by Burne-Jones, embraces a cooler palette and portrays the concept of the Church Triumphant in the Heavenly Jerusalem.


In addition to its architectural marvels, the Church of St. John the Apostle boasts an exceptionally rich collection of furnishings. These opulent adornments, characteristic of the mid-Victorian era, reflect the church's prominent position as a bastion of Devon Anglo-Catholicism. Visitors are greeted by an overwhelming display of lavish materials. The chancel arch stands out with its towering marble corbel shafts adorned with intricate carvings and leaf motifs. The nave walls above the arcades are adorned with irregularly shaped stones, creating a "crazy paving" effect. And above the arch, a two-light central window and single lights on each side provide glimpses into the space above the chancel vault.


Impossible to Overlook: A Landmark in Works of Martin Dutton

The Church of St. John the Apostle is a true testament to Victorian grandeur, combining architectural splendor with artistic brilliance and its presence atop the harbourside cliff face makes it an imposing part of the landscape for a plein air painter like Martin Dutton. When capturing scenes of Torquay Harbour, Martin's eye was drawn upwards to this guardian building that watched over the peopled streets, bars and restaurants, a juxtaposition of staid solemnity and urban buzz.


You can discover Martin's work at Artizan Collective Gallery until June 25th. For more information, visit www.art-hub.co.uk/ex/md23


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