Restoration of the Reredos: an amazing story in stone

There’s an inspiring wave of renewal at the heart of our community, and it’s taking place within the walls of the St Mary Magdalene Church.

Our treasured reredos, a historic piece that has graced the church since the early 15th century, is getting a much-needed restoration, and it’s a story worth sharing.

A peek at the past

The reredos behind the high altar is no ordinary church fixture. Symbolising the Last Supper, it features 13 niches with images of Christ and the apostles, rendered in the late 19th century by Sir Ninian Comper, a notable British architect known for his work on churches. He was one of the last great Gothic Revival architects, renowned for his designs that incorporated medieval styles with classical forms. However at Geddington, time and the use of damaging mortar had left their mark on both the stonework and these precious paintings​​.

The reredos before restoration.
The reredos above the High Altar in Geddington’s Church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

What is a reredos?

A reredos is a decorative screen or structure that is typically placed behind the altar in a Christian church. It is often ornately designed and serves as a backdrop for the altar, enhancing the visual appeal of the sanctuary and emphasizing the importance of the altar as the focal point of worship. The word “reredos” is derived from the Old French word “areredos” which means “behind the back.”

The reredos project unveiled

A Conservation Report laid the groundwork for the renovation, with a budget nearing £116,000, thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and an array of generous donors including the Friends of Geddington Church and The Society of Antiquaries​​. The restoration isn’t just about repairs; it’s a beacon for historical engagement, offering a thread that connects us to the larger tapestry of Britain’s heritage.

The Annunciation painting on the wood on the altar in church St Clement’s, Eastcheap by Ninian Comper (1933).

Hirst Conservation Ltd. of Sleaford, Lincs, known for their expertise, is the chosen conservator for this intricate task. Their updates from both the studio and the church give us a window into the meticulous process of restoring the zinc panels and cleaning the great east window, also a Comper creation​​.

Community and education, hand in hand

This project transcends preservation; it’s an educational journey. The church, in collaboration with Geddington CofE Primary School, Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust, and others, will deliver educational activities and public events. It’s an opportunity to engage young minds with our shared history, shining a light on social history’s evolution​.

Geddington Church from the air
The reredos are situated at the east end of the church, to the right of this photograph.

Jim Harker, Chair of the Project Steering Group, captures the essence of our endeavour: We are tremendously excited to be undertaking a project of such historical importance.” He says it’s about more than just refurbishment; “it’s about igniting interest in our past and ensuring that the narrative of our village and nation continues to be told and cherished by future generations“.

Join the story

The project timeline spans about a year, and there will be plenty to learn and participate in. For those keen on following the restoration’s progress, keep an eye on the church’s conservation blog. The Church plans to hold a seminar for anyone interested in learning more about the restoration project in December 2023.

To the many hands and hearts that have contributed to this project, a deep thank you. Your efforts ensure that Geddington’s story in stone will be preserved for many years to come.

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