Ilford church dedicates prayer space to those who have died of virus

This weekend sees the re-opening of SS Peter and Paul in Ilford for private prayer on Sunday 21 June at 10am. Its prayer garden is open every day but it will be the first time that the church has been open since the lockdown. Those attending will be the first to see a mock stained glass window dedicated to all those who have died of Coronavirus.  Parish priest Fr Andrew Headon hopes that the image – of Christ lifting Adam and Eve from Hades – will be a focal point of prayer.

“Every Easter we try to have a different tableau or installation in the side chapel – we have had Lenten deserts which have become Easter gardens, an empty tomb and an Easter scene depicted in petals in the tradition of the Infiorata in Italy and Spain. This year we thought of having a backlit mock stained glass window of an Easter scene – then everything changed, we couldn’t get the perspex and our church was closed. Easter passed but we still wanted to realise the plan.”

Its completion, which involved printing the image on six large perspex sheets and the construction of a frame and mock leading by parishioner Peter Vidler, has come at a perfect time for the re-opening of the church for private prayer.

“The icon was chosen for us as a workable image for the space – it is derived from a 14th century fresco from the Chora Church, otherwise known as the Holy Redeemer in the Fields, which is just outside Istanbul. It depicts the second day (Easter Saturday) rather than the Resurrection itself – it is the descent into Hell, the ‘harrowing’ of Hell as it was called in Medieval times. It shows Jesus, having broken the gates of Hell, taking Adam and Eve by the hand and lifting them up – a significant image for us today, when for so long we have not been able to shake hands with one another in the sign of peace, for example.” King David and St John the Baptist stand in the background.

Coincidentally, there are a number of personal connections for Fr Andrew too. “When I was researching the original icon I found that it was commissioned by St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Holborn – very near where I used to work as a trainee chartered accountant before feeling the call to priesthood.”  Then he found that the icon itself had been painted by a religious community near Palazzola, just outside Rome – another place where he lived and worked for many years as vice-rector of the English College seminary. “The final coincidence was that the date when the image was uploaded to the internet was listed as 16 September – the day of my own ordination at Brentwood Cathedral,” he says.

He adds: “Reflecting on this image in recent weeks has been very powerful. We talk of having been to hell and back and we have all experienced something of hell in the last weeks and months. That’s why we have laminated a prayer to go beneath it and are dedicating the installation to those who have died of the virus. It will remain in situ for the next year as a focal point for prayer.”

You hear more about the window here:

And watch Fr Andrew bless the icon here:

The image is a copy of an icon in St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Holborn, which, in turn, is based on an original fresco, the Harrowing of Hades, in the Chora Church, Istanbul, c. 1315. The raising of Adam and Eve is depicted as part of the Resurrection icon, as it always is in the East.

With thanks to Siobhan Frecker for the concept, OK TO Colour Ltd for the printing and Peter Vidler for constructing the frame.

Dedicated to all who have died of the Coronavirus

You are the Resurrection and the Life
Christ Jesus
You understand the pain of loss,
the grief that seems to take
the air from my lungs.
You are the Resurrection
and the Life.
All our hope is in you.

Lord Jesus,
may I find a way through
the darkness
to the light of your love.
You are the Resurrection
and the Life.
All our hope is in you.

Christ Jesus,
you wept at the death of your friend, Lazarus.
Now your compassion wipes the tears from our eyes.
May we find comfort in reaching out to others
who feel lost and alone.
You are the Resurrection and the Life.
All our hope is in you.

Linda Jones/CAFOD

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.