Of the various treasures which adorn our church, it is safe to say that none attracts more devotion than the almost life-size figure of Christ on the Cross, known in Saint Faith's as the 'Great Crucifix'. For over some forty years after it came to Saint Faith's, it remained cased-up except when displayed during Lent. During the incumbency of Fr Peter Goodrich, this fine and moving piece of statuary was put on permanent display. Since that time, for forty-six weeks of the year, it has been the focal point of the Chapel of the Cross, to which it gives its name, and where it hangs on the east wall. For the six weeks of Lent, it hangs above the High Altar, against the dramatic black back-cloth which covers the folded-in Salviati reredos. It is moved down towards the end of Holy Week to stand between the choirstalls above the Nave Altar in readiness for the great services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, before being returned to the Chapel of the Cross as the church is made ready for Easter.
The statue was, like the church itself, the gift of Mr Howard Douglas Horsfall, the founder of Saint Faith's, (follow the link below to read about him) but it was not in place when the church was consecrated in 1900. It has long been known that Mr Horsfall brought the piece back from the Continent and that it was dedicated in 1930, but until very recently its exact provenance was unknown. The story of what we can now call the Stuflesser Crucifix has come to light following the discovery of an article in an old church magazine. The then Vicar, Canon John Brierley, writes that he has long felt that St Faith's needed something less bright and glittering than the striking mosaic crucifixion depicted on the reredos. Mr Horsfall concurred, the advice of Sir Gilbert Scott, architect of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and designer of our own chancel screen, was sought, and a firm of Italian sculptors was employed. This was the firm of Ferdinand Stuflesser, and research has found that the company still exists, under the name of Ferdinand Stuflesser, Ars Sacra, operating in Ortisei, in the Italian Tyrol, where they continue to produce statues and religious art and artefacts for the worldwide church. Correspondence and an exchange of pictures with the president Ferdinand Stuflesser confirmed the identity of our crucifix as having been carved at some time between 1920 and 1927, out of zirbel wood, a type of pine wood. It would appear that our statue, and others like it, was individually crafted, presumably from a standard design.
Our pictures show the moving and powerful quality of the aptly-named Great Crucifix, in its position in the Chapel of the Cross and also as set against the High Altar backcloth. It is good that, as the people of our church once more focus their worship and devotion on the image of the crucified Christ during the solemn season of Lent, we know more about the origins of the figure that has adorned our church for over seventy years, and which links us with Christians throughout the world as, like us, they wait for the glorious resurrection of our Lord at Easter.
Words and pictures by Chris Price, March 2004
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