The Eternal Engine – St Francis Church, Hale Village London

The Eternal Engine, a Diocese of London commission unveiled in November 2017 for the only church built in the capital in over 50 years, St Francis Church in Hale Village, Tottenham. The artwork is currently the largest permanent, hand carved and painted contemporary altarpiece in Europe with the dimensions approximating 5m x 3.5m and the installation weighing over half a tonne. The site of the new church is situated adjacent to where Mark Duggan, a young black man was fatally shot by armed police in 2011, triggering the London wide riots then. The Diocese of London chose that area to establish a missionary to be part of London’s healing process. Literally the project brief was, “ To create a New Image of God without representation, that reveals the individual and the community’s relationship to the Creator”.

The Eternal Engine represents the unifying wonder of our vast Universe and the mystery of its Creator, together with Christian trinity theology of Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) It became very important to me that the function of this work is to engage and involve in some way the very diverse people who live here in the creation of The Eternal Engine, as they should have ownership over it as a permanent reflection of their community, their unique history and their creative legacy. The inclusion that I experienced in Hale Village for me is what London is all about – the fact that, as a Buddhist, I was commissioned to complete the first major permanent contemporary altarpiece (Reredos) in a new London church in over 50 years demonstrates the commitment here in the capital to welcome the whole community, irrespective of culture, ideology, race, class and diversity of thought. Therefore, apart from the inspiration of the mysteries of Creator, Space, Time and The Theology of the Trinity – the colours of The Eternal Engine have been directly informed by the Church’s close proximity to colours used for the Hale Village low income social housing area. 

The Diocese of London subsequently expanded the original commission for the artist to provide the singular vision for the interior, thus leading to include the loan of the Stations of the Cross to accompany The Eternal Engine altarpiece in the main Sanctuary Hall, and for the Chapel – the principal study artwork for the commission, Voyager – Pillars of Creation. This now represents an historic cultural achievement that a contemporary artist has been afforded a singular vision for all the artwork in a modern church setting and for the only Anglican Church built in London for over 50 years. It is believed that this has not been established by an artist since Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, Chagall’s stained glass for All Saints Church in Tudeley or Rothko’s Chapel. To complete just one altarpiece in a modern artist’s lifetime is a very rare occurrence indeed and these works represent the only example of a UK/ Caribbean heritage artist commissioned to complete two such major permanent public legacy artworks of this kind in Europe.

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