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Art review: Frank Roper Centre in the Church of the Resurrection, Ely, in Cardiff

08 March 2019

Glyn Paflin reports on an estate church turned heritage destination

diocese of llandaff

Metalwork by Frank Roper in the sanctuary of the the Resurrection, Ely, in Cardiff. See gallery for more images

Metalwork by Frank Roper in the sanctuary of the the Resurrection, Ely, in Cardiff. See gallery for more images

A SCULPTOR and stained-glass artist from Yorkshire who adopted Cardiff as his home is now commemorated by a permanent exhibition in a 20th-century church there.

He is Frank Roper MBE (1914-2000), who studied with Henry Moore, became vice-principal of the School (later College) of Art in Cardiff, and was gathered by the architect George Pace, together with Jacob Epstein and John Piper, into the circle transforming the war-damaged Llandaff Cathedral during its restoration in the 1960s.

He is now commemorated by the Frank Roper Centre in the Church of the Resurrection, Ely, in Cardiff. This red-brick church was built and consecrated for a new housing estate in 1934, at the expense of a Cardiff businessman famous for his ships and racehorses, Lord Glanely, and in memory of his wife. It was designed in an unusual style influenced by that of the church of the Community church at Mirfield, and came in under £10,000, which was considered a remarkable achievement at that time.

diocese of llandaffCrucifix with the Virgin and the Beloved Disciple at St John the Baptist, Cardiff

It was rededicated last month by the Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd June Osborne, in whose diocese — including St Saviour’s, Splott, St Peter’s, Fairwater, and St Michael’s College — much of Roper’s work is to be found. His daughter, Rachel Michaelides, came from her home in Cyprus to attend the service.

Roper, who died in 2000, worked in wood, bronze, silver, aluminium, glass, and ceramics. Although he had private patrons, most of his commissions were for church windows, statues, and other furnishings.

Illustrated oak exhibition boards tell his story. When he settled in Penarth, he created a foundry in his house, where he did much of his work. For casting bronze, he developed his own polystyrene process.

He was at his most productive in the decade when he worked on Llandaff Cathedral. For that, he produced 12 panels for the Lady Chapel reredos, each with different flowers in bronze relief (since gold- leafed); a panel of lettering in the Welsh Regiment Memorial Chapel; six bronze plaques commemorating St Teilo on that saint’s tomb; and the finials over the archdeacon’s stall, among other things.

Other pieces by Roper can be found across Wales and England: for example, in St Davids and Peterborough Cathedrals, where he contributed the Lady Chapel screen and the nave rood respectively.

“For the Church of the Resurrection, a large part of our heritage is linked to the family of Lord and Lady Glanely, but what we also have to celebrate are numerous works by the late Frank Roper,” the Priest-in-Charge of Glan Ely, the Revd Jan Gould, says. “He was so prolific and talented, but so little known.”

It total, the church has eight examples of his work, including the altar furnishings shown here, which reflect a period when the revival in the medieval arrangement of curtained altars with riddel posts bearing sculpted angels was at its height. These were designed for eastward-facing celebrations, whose abandonment is not always regarded as compatible with their sensitive preservation. It has not been so here.

The church will now be open on Sundays until 4 p.m., with volunteer guides to offer tours.

As part of the refurbishment, the church’s internal colour scheme has been changed to white, with claret carpets and gold curtains. The project cost £200,000, and includes a new roof and an overhaul of the internal decorations. Funding included £126,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as grants from The National Churches Trust, The Representative Body of the Church in Wales, The Garfield Weston Foundation, the Welsh Church Act Fund, and the Allchurches Trust.


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