The UK's own Sistine Chapel

August 27 2014

Image of The UK's own Sistine Chapel

Picture: Express

Did you know that a church in Worthing, Sussex, has a complete replica of the Sistine Chapel ceiling? I didn't, but it's been there for over 20 years, and now, The Express reports, it has been given a certificate by TripAdvisor, such is its popularity amongst tourists:

The masterpiece has been created by Gary Bevans, who is Deacon at the church. [...] Mr Bevans began the project in 1987 and despite never having had an art lesson in his life, he was given the go-ahead from former parish priest Father Enda Naughton and Bishop Corman Murphy O'Connor.

It was scheduled to take two years to complete but, combined with a full-time job which forced Mr Bevans to paint at night, it took much longer.

He screwed blank plywood panels to the ceiling and spent the next 66 months painting through the night with a single light on his scaffold boards to create the 500 figures.

Once the plywood had been undercoated and primed, the figures were sketched out and then carefully painted in detail using acrylic. 

I must say it looks terrific. The recreation, says the Church's website:

[...] was started by Gary Bevans, a signwriter parishioner [...] after a parish pilgrimage trip to Rome to attend the Beatification of 85 English Martyrs. Following a discussion with Bishop Cormac, Gary's request to bring 'the Sistine ceiling' here was accepted.

It is now completed at 2/3 scale of the original. The colours match the newly cleaned ceiling in Rome.

At the Mass of Thanksgiving, attended by many local dignitaries including the Duke of Norfolk and Countess of Arundel, Gary was presented by the Bishop with the papal cross 'Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice'.

Thirteen national and international TV companies have filmed the work, including CBS, ABC, BBC, ITV, Australian, New Zealand broadcasters, and recently Nippon Television International. Magazines, including 'Time' have covered it.

The Express reports that:

The end product [...] remains the only copy of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling in the world.

But this is not so, according to Peter Bellan, who wrote to The Times this morning to say:

[...] if you cast your mind back to the film The Agony and The Ecstasy, starring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo, you will see the ceiling being painted by my father, Ferdinand Bellan, one of the greatest film scenic artists. I think that reproduction was sold to a private buyer as a complete work of art, to be re-assembled elsewhere.

More pictures of the ceiling here, and on Tripadvisor here. There's a 45 minute video of the process narrated by the artist here

Update - a reader sends me the image below, and writes:

There are some rather fun re-imaginings of some of the Sistine figures at Exeter St Davids Station, executed by Bridget Green who was a student at Dartington College.

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