Restoration work nears completion at church

thisisoxfordshire: Bianca Madden puts some finishing touches to the ceiling at St John The Evangelist Church tower, in James Street, Oxford. Picture: OX54078 Marc West Buy this photo Bianca Madden puts some finishing touches to the ceiling at St John The Evangelist Church tower, in James Street, Oxford. Picture: OX54078 Marc West

WORK to restore a 19th century painted ceiling in the tower of a historic Oxford church is almost complete.

But the work so far at St John the Evangelist Church in Iffley Road, only offers a tantalising glimpse of how the whole ceiling will look when it is completed.

The building is run by theological college St Stephen’s House, which got a £36,000 grant from the Pilgrim Trust for the restoration. This has allowed it to employ International Fine Arts Conservation Studio to restore the artwork in the tower to its former glory.

To complete the whole of the church ceiling, which was decorated by an order of monks known as the Cowley Fathers in the late 19th and early 20th century, the organisation needs to raise about £800,000.

It is part of a £2m scheme to bring the whole building up to scratch.

St Stephen’s bursar Michele Smith said: “We are trying to turn the church into a concert venue and trying to do it while conserving the building which is a Grade I listed church.

“The painted ceilings have got damaged over the years by water and dirt.”

Experts have spent the past four weeks painstakingly cleaning and stabilising the fragile paintwork, before repainting the ceiling.

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Mrs Smith now hopes to attract further grants to pay for the whole ceiling to be properly restored.

The organisation is in early discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund and will be applying for a major grant.

She said: “It looks fantastic, it has just transformed it.

“It is criminal the church has got to that sort of state because nobody had any money.

“The Pilgrim Trust has given us this starting point and hopefully that will encourage the Heritage Lottery Fund to give us the rest of it.”

Head of restorers Richard Pelter said the whole of the church was “stunning” and praised the work of the talented monks who originally decorated the place of worship.

He said: “The art work is of a very good standard.

“It’s very high professional work, but simple at the same time.

“There has been a remarkable transformation.”

Bianca Madden has been part of the team working on the ceiling.

She said: “It’s been a very nice experience.

“There’s been a lot of water damage and we have been able to reduce that a lot so the colours have come back.

“It’s a massive church, so it would be nice if they can get the funding together to restore the whole thing.”

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