Saturday, March 09, 2019

Edwin Henry Shaw and the Scottish Saint Patrick mosaic in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

Edwin Henry Shaw was yarn merchant who lived at Ailsa Lodge, Craigavad. and had business premises in Bedford Street, Belfast. He was the benefactor who paid for the building of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in St Anne’s Cathedral, which includes the spectacular mosaics by sisters Gertrude and Margaret Martin, one of which is a ‘tympanum’ that depicts St Patrick sailing from Scotland, with a Scottish saltire flag at his feet (shown above).

The two London-based artists spent at least 4 years on the Cathedral, from 1928-1932, having previously worked on similar commissions at Westminster Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament (see their Patrick, Columba and Brigid mosaic below).

What is particularly interesting is that none of the newspaper reports remark on the prominent Scottish imagery on the mosaic – suggesting that the traditions of Patrick’s Scottish origins were widely understood and accepted in that era.

The Chapel was consecrated on 5 June 1932 and dedicated on 9 June by the Bishop of Warrington and Bishop of Birmingham, which was a ticketed event. The Belfast News-Letter reported that the Bishop of Birmingham said ‘I take it that we rightly see in the Saint a Christian of Western Britain, whether his home was near the Clyde or in South Wales’. The paper also said that the mosaic showed ‘the coming of St Patrick, and his divinely appointed work of bringing light and liberty to Ireland’.

The Dean remarked that ‘Belfast had not hitherto found much room for the expression of religious emotion in terms of art, architecture, music, warmth and colour, owing in part to the circumstances of its growth, in part to their cold northern climate, and in part to their native Puritanism’.

It seems that Shaw had wanted to remain anonymous, but his identity became known against his wishes.

When Edwin Henry Shaw died in 1944 the newspapers of the time say that he left behind an estate of £216, 153. He had made multiple personal bequests, but the great majority was equally shared among five organisations –  the Cathedral, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Church Missionary Society, the South American Missionary Society, and the Royal United Kingdom Beneficent Association.

Edwin Shaw was the brother of Brevet-Major S H Shaw, who died in 1904 and left his estate to Edwin and their sister Elizabeth. Their father had been Charles Wolfe Shaw.