In Shrewsbury Old Cemetery lies a grave holding two bishops, as well as one humble priest. It is possibly a unique phenomenon: three Catholic clergymen, including two such eminent people, interred in the one plot.
One of them, Bishop Ambrose Moriarty – as far as is possible to tell with the scant records we have -, was one of the greatest influences in the life of Margaret Agnes Rope.
It seems that he quickly recognised her talent as a stained-glass designer and maker, and shared her vision. Without his encouragement and support, Marga’s career may have been quite different.
Moriarty of Shrewsbury
Canon Moriarty, as he was at first, was the administrator at Shrewsbury Catholic Cathedral for nearly 30 years, and, according to Judith Hall’s account (pg 27) was good friends with the Rope family. He may even have been instrumental in the family’s conversion to Roman Catholicism in the early 1900s.
His uncle Samuel Webster – with whom he is buried in Shrewsbury Cemetery – was bishop of the diocese from 1897 to 1908.
As administrator, Canon Moriarty must have had huge influence over the progress of the cathedral building, which was still being refurbished fifty years after being first opened.
When he came up with a hugely ambitious plan to create and install an enormous and complex West Window as a memorial to his uncle (ref Judith Hall, pg 34), parishioners must have wondered at the wisdom of entrusting the task to an unknown, recently graduated 27 year old – Margaret Agnes Rope.
What Marga did have, and which her competitors for the task did not have perhaps, was a fervent Catholic faith and a totally modern outlook.
Moriarty himself was a comparatively young man at the time, only a dozen years older than Marga, and may have shared her desire to shake off the traditional Gothicism of the time.
Marga returned the compliment by modelling the St Thomas Of Canterbury figure in the West Window (see right) on Moriarty (ref: Peter Phillips).
And, as we know, the West Windows work was a huge triumph – still to be ranked among Marga’s finest achievements.
Down the years
As for Moriarty, before his tenure as bishop, he seems to have been content to take up a role as an amateur historian of the town. Articles written by him for the Shropshire Archaeological Society crop up regularly, often – interestingly enough – on the subject of ancient stained-glass.
We will never know for certain (until a lot more research has been carried out) but, if you want, you can see the hand of Moriarty down the years.
Although he did not become Bishop of Shrewsbury until 1934 (continuing in post until dying in 1949), Marga continued to receive commissions at the cathedral, finishing seven separate windows in the building eventually.
It is also possible that Moriarty spread the word among his fellow Roman Catholic clergy – because nearly all Margaret’s works are to be found in Catholic churches.
For a young woman such as Margaret – who had no rich family, no major patron and no spouse to back her -, such support must have been wonderful.
If only the letters that must have passed between the two were available to us!