St George's Cathedral
Some historical details
Stabroek News
December 23, 2001

Mrs Elizabeth Trellis, wife of the Dean of St George's Cathedral recently discovered masonry work (seen in the photographs below) in the cathedral compound. Since it clearly has nothing to do with the present wooden building which was erected between 1889 and 1892, the speculation is that it was part of the decoration of the earlier brick structure which preceded it. That building did not survive because of an engineering fault: a single set of foundations was made for both the body of the church as well as the tower, which was considerably heavier. As a consequence, the tower began to sink at a faster rate than the main building, and according to nineteenth-century historian James Rodway, it eventually broke the back of the church.

The baptismal font

After receiving a postcard showing a baptismal font from Redhill Church in Surrey, England, which appeared the same as the one in St George's, Mrs Trellis looked at the plinth of the marble font in the cathedral to see if she could glean any information about its origins. Here she found engraved the legend And. Davidson, Inverness, 1895.

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The brick St George's about 1860

It transpires that there is an identical font design in St Andrew's Cathedral in Inverness, Scotland, namely, an angel bearing a shell. Save for the angel's face, the Inverness font is said to be an exact replica of yet another in Vor Frue Kirke (The Church of our Lady) in Copenhagen, Denmark, made by a sculptor named Albert Bertal Thorvaldsen (or Thorwaldsen).

Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) was a well-known sculptor in his day, who trained in Rome and evinced a distinct preference for classical styles. He is said to have influenced many American sculptors of the period, who studied under him. Since he is Denmark's most famous artist, there is now a museum in Copenhagen dedicated to his work.

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St George's baptismal font

The baptismal font in Inverness cathedral deviates from the Thorvaldsen original in one key respect: the face of the angel is not a copy of that carved by the Danish sculptor, but that of the wife of the font's donor. It seems too that the angel face in St George's is also not that of Thorvaldsen's angel, but rather that of the Inverness angel.

After contact was made with Inverness Cathedral on Mrs. Trellis' behalf, we obtained some further information from the Provost there through the kind agency of Assistant Curate, the Rev Gareth Saunders. He told us that the Inverness firm of sculptors named D & A Davidson (of whom And. Davidson was no doubt a member) was not responsible for carving the font in St Andrew's Cathedral; that sculptor had been J F Redfern, to whom attribution is given on the base of the font.

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The face of St George's angel

So how then did the Davidson's end up supplying the copy of a baptismal font to St. George's which was identical to one in St. Andrew's which they had not been responsible for sculpting?

According to Rev Saunders, the company of D & A Davidson was seriously offended by the fact that they did not get the contract for the baptismal font in Inverness Cathedral, and so they carved a copy of Redfern's font which sat in their showroom for years. Eventually, it ended up in the Roman Catholic section of the local cemetery of Tomnahurich as a memorial stone. Clearly, however, they made another copy for Georgetown's Anglican cathedral - and for all anyone knows, perhaps for other churches as well.

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Some of the carved masonry in St George's compound

The Thorvaldsen angel font design appears to have been popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Rev Saunders told us that he was aware of three others in Scotland - in St Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh; in St John's, Dumfries; and in St Margaret's, Newlands, Glasgow.

Sunday Stabroek is also aware of one in Grace & St Peter's in Baltimore and another in St Bartholomew's, New York. No doubt there are still more in churches elsewhere.