I was last here in 2020 – made ever so welcome in this Byzantine cathedral like church.
The apsed sanctuary is completely covered in a mosaic scheme with the theme Eternal Life designed by Eric Newton. Newton was born Eric Oppenheimer, later changing his surname by deed poll to his mother’s maiden name. He was the grandson of Ludwig Oppenheimer, a German Jew who was sent to Manchester to improve his English and then married a Scottish girl and converted to Christianity. In 1865 he set up a mosaic workshop, (Ludwig Oppenheimer Ltd, Blackburn St, Old Trafford, Manchester) after spending a year studying the mosaic process in Venice. Newton had joined the family company as a mosaic craftsman in 1914 and he is known to have studied early Byzantine mosaics in Venice, Ravenna and Rome. He later also became art critic for the Manchester Guardian and a broadcaster on ‘The Critics’. Newton started the scheme in 1932 and took over a year to complete it at a cost of £4,000. It had previously been thought that he used Italian craftsmen, but historic photographs from the 1930s published in the Daily Herald show Oppenheimer mosaics being cut and assembled by a Manchester workforce of men and women. It is likely, therefore, that the craftsmen working on St John the Baptist were British.
There had, as ever, been issues with the structure, water ingress and such, given several flat roofs and a temperamental ferro-concrete dome.
Happily, a successful Lottery Heritage Fund grant has covered the cost of two phases of repair to the physical fabric.
Thanks to the Parish Team, for once again making us all feel so welcome, and thanks also for their efforts in securing the finances which have made the restoration possible.
We were all issued with our hard hats and hi-vis at the comprehensive and informative introductory talks.
Followed by a detailed explanation of the mosaic work being undertaken by Gary and his team from the Mosaic Restoration Company.
This involves skilfully cleaning the whole work, whilst repairing and replacing any damaged areas.
We were then privileged to ascend the vast scaffold, the better to inspect the work up close and personal.
And this is what we saw.
Many thanks again to our hosts, the contractors and all those involved with this spectacular undertaking.