Restoration of Farm Street's Stations of the Cross

The 12th Station is restored in the IFACS workshop
The 12th Station is restored in the IFACS workshop

The Stations of the Cross at Farm Street Church in central London are in the process of being restored to their original polychrome glory. The 14 plaques, which portray the Passion and Death of Christ, were originally brightly coloured; however, they were painted over with lead paint in the 1920s.

These masterpieces were the work of renowned carver and artist Johann Petz, who was active in Bavaria and Austria from 1850 - 1870.  Polychrome stations by the same artist and of the same design are currently displayed in the parish church of Vilsbiburg, near Munich.

“According to the church’s guide book from the 1930s there was much decay and deterioration caused by the smoky London air,” says parish priest, Fr Andrew Cameron-Mowat SJ, “so I suppose it was decided to cover them all with paint to look like undecorated stone.”

The first of the restored Stations – the 12th, showing the death of Christ on the Cross – was repositioned in Farm Street Church yesterday morning, as a further two were removed for similar treatment. “The restoration of these two pieces is due to be finished by 1 March,” says Fr Cameron-Mowat. “It’s going to take a long time!” It is believed that the Stations of the Cross at the Jesuit church were originally framed but the frames were removed in the 1960s.The 12th Station, restored to its original glory in Farm Street Church

Seeking donations

The restoration work is being undertaken by IFACS (International Fine Art Conservation Studios), headed by Richard Pelter and Ed Towers, who also recently restored the colour and gold of the Pugin High Altar in the church.  The complex work of restoring the Stations involves carefully removing the hard lead-based paint, making conservative repairs to the wood beneath, and repainting in colours that match the original in shade and quality.  The parish is seeking donations to complete the whole set.  So far, pledges for four of the 14 Stations have been promised.

The Stations of the Cross is a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates the events of Good Friday. They are commonly used as a mini pilgrimage, with individuals or a group of people moving from station to station (stopping places), recalling and meditating on a specific event from Christ's last day as they do so. The Stations of the Cross – also known as the Way of the Cross – is most commonly prayed during Lent on Wednesdays and Fridays, and especially on Good Friday, the day of the year upon which the events actually occurred.

“The Stations of the Cross is a very old devotion,” says scripture scholar, Fr Nick King SJ. “It may well originate in the desire of Christians to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and be in the place where Jesus went to his death. Over the centuries, the number and format of this devotion has changed a good deal, but it has had its present form since the 15th Century.” Fr King has written more about the Stations of the Cross elsewhere on the Jesuits in Britain website. There are also audio reflections on the Stations on Pray As You Go.

Lent 2017 begins on Ash Wednesday, 1 March, and it is hoped that the newly restored Stations of the Cross will be returned to Farm Street Church in time for them to act as powerful aids to people's reflections leading up to Holy Week and Easter.