I am certain that most people will have heard of the Sistine Chapel and the spectacular frescos that adorn the roof painted by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarotti Simoni; commonly known as Michelangelo. I am equally certain that few people will be aware of Gary Bevans (also known as Deacon Gary Bevans) and his re-painting of the famous Michelangelo frescoes in The English Martyrs Church, Goring-by-Sea, Worthing, West Sussex, England. Yet as strange as this may sound, this unassuming and somewhat plain building which rather resembles a works canteen houses an exact 2/3 replica, accurate in every way of Michelangelo’s great work.
English Martyrs Church in Goring-by-Sea
It was after a visit to the Vatican in 1987 that Gary Bevans was awestruck by the Sistine ceiling and on his return he felt compelled to express his passion for what he had seen by recreating it in his own parish church. A designer and signwriter by trade, Bevans had recognised that the ceiling in his local church was 2/3 the size and the same shape as the ceiling in the famous chapel. Fortunately the parish priest and other parishioners were equally enthused and he began work single-handedly, often working late at night by spot light, finally finishing the work 5 years later in 1993.
Worthing’s Sistine ceiling
When I arrived at the church there was an introductory talk in progress given by Anne Nivens which proved to be most enlightening (no puns intended). Anne is an erudite speaker and really brought the whole thing to life and an amusing and engaging way.
Section of ceiling
Innovative use of an old “Hostess Tea Trolley”, the mirror not only reflects but magnifies
Probably the most famous section of the whole ceiling – The Creation of Adam
Not content with spending 5 years recreating Michelangelo’s masterpiece, Deacon Bevans felt that the surrounding walls needed ‘aging’, and set about painting trompe l’oeil sections giving the impression of marble sections, columns and niches.
Paint effect marble
Clearly Deacon Bevans had awoken a creative impulse in the parishioners of the church as subsequent priests went about rescuing pieces of religious architecture from local monasteries and nunneries and churches about to be demolished. The Fisherman’s Window at the west end of the church was created for the church by Annie Goodman, an architectural designer and historian with her son, a professional glass maker. The design of two large sails reflects the curves of the spandrils in the ceiling and the nets reflecting the windows behind the altar. The theme of St Peter is apt as it was Christ who called his apostles “fishers of men”, each of the fish in the window represents parishioners (some have names or initials built into the design), and instead of the Sea of Galilee, it is the English Channel which forms part of the parish boundary of Goring-by-Sea.
Peter the Fisherman’s Window
Stunning coloured glass windows behind the altar
behind the altar
Opposite the St Peter window is a clear window of etched glass depicting the English Martyrs. A little ‘licence’ has been used over the choice of martyrs and this window depicts St Alban, St Anne Line, St Edmund Campion, St Thomas Becket, St Margaret Clitherow, St John Fisher, St Thomas Garnet, St Philip Howard, St Thomas More and St Robert Southwell. A booklet telling the stories of these saints is available from the church bookshop.
The church is open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 4pm, entry is free.
A-Board on Goring Way BN12 4UH outside the church