Yesterday saw The Scribblaire out and about in London. After a quick lunch at The Brunswick we visited The British Museum for the current exhibition ‘Beyond El Dorado power and gold in ancient Columbia’. The exhibition is small, but the exhibits were beautiful. One piece in particular was so well lit that The Scribblaire was momentarily entranced! There’s nothing like a bit of shiny gold to get one’s attention. The metalwork was very intricate and striking because of the inclusion of movable parts. We are looking forward to the next big event at the BM in March, where a huge reconstructed longboat will form part of the Vikings exhibition.
We left the BM and headed on foot towards Covent Garden via Shaftesbury Avenue. A couple of years ago The Scribblaire had bought a London guide called ‘Secret London: An unusual guide‘ which includes details of “unusual, hidden or little known aspects of the city”. One of the places listed is The Jean Cocteau murals at Notre Dame de France, just off Leicester Square. I have been very keen to see these since reading about them.
We wandered through Chinatown, which was festooned with paper lanterns in readiness for the Chinese New Year and found the Church at 5 Leicester Place. From the outside, the church is unremarkable, although it has a very nice statue of the virgin Mary above the main doors. Inside it is easier to see the layout of the church, which is one of the few circular churches in Britain. Although originally built in 1865, the church was bombed in WWII and the current building dates from 1955.
On entering the church we saw the chapel with the murals on the left hand side. Before going over to look at them, we sat for a few minutes and listened to a practising choir and took in our surroundings. A number of people sat in the pews, a few of them asleep (I knew this as they were snoring!). No one seemed to mind.
The Cocteau chapel is protected by glass windows and there is a written guide in English and French describing the scenes and providing some background on how the murals came to be painted. The guide explains that the paintings were completed in one week and were produced in 1960 (the website states 1959, but its close enough!). Apparently, Cocteau was transported whilst painting this work and talked to the Virgin Mary whilst he worked.
The paintings are stunning, thought I’m sure not to everyone’s taste in a church. Their expressiveness reminded me of Giotto or some of the early Byzantine icons, but they are definitely of their time. Very moving and delicate.
I don’t know why this chapel isn’t more famous given the quality of Cocteau’s work. There are so many places to discover and I’ll be dipping into the book again to find out where to go next.