▪The Geraldton windows

As pointed out in our previous post, you’d have to travel to the other side of the world to see the furthest away of Margaret Agnes Rope’s windows. They are in Geraldton Cathedral in Western Australia.

Facts have become a little hazy over time, but archivists in Geraldton are pretty sure now that five of the cathedral’s windows are solely the creation of MA Rope, while a sixth is probably a collaboration (with her cousin Margaret Edith Rope). But… while Marga may have made them, is she their sole ‘author’?

Style

All the windows but the Bishop Kelly Memorial Window (i.e. five of them) appear to have been installed in 1919 – see The WA Record Newspaper for October that year.

As the cathedral had only just started to be built three years earlier (in 1916), as the 1914-18 World War had only just come to an end, and as one window was a memorial for a soldier who had died only two years before (in 1917), that’s a fast turn-round…
Admittedly, some of these five windows are very small – just lancets really – but they contain a lot of detail.

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Thus, as one looks more and more at the windows, it becomes fairly clear a second hand is at work: one that may have sketched out (at least) the designs, and even encouraged Marga to take up different stylistic approaches.
And there is now a strong assumption that Monsignor Hawes, the man who was building Geraldton Cathedral, and a man of some taste himself, may have ‘helped’ – and speeded – the process along.

Certainly, Geraldton’s archivists are pretty much convinced that it was Hawes who designed both the Le Caille and the Rebecchi Memorial window, and then had them painted & manufactured by Margaret Agnes.

There’s no doubt that sponsors could (and would) often request of the artist that they incorporate certain ways of looking at a subject; and Marga, admittedly, in these pieces, does seem to be taking quite new paths for her.
Was Hawes demanding from her a more visionary treatment than she normally would have contemplated?
According to those who have seen the windows, they glow with gorgeous, dense colouring … were they also partly designed by one who knew how best to use the strong Australian sun?

(Incidentally, it’s interesting to speculate on Marga’s first reactions to such a ‘hands-on’ stance. After all, Arts & Crafts Movement artists like her prided themselves on their artistic independence…)

It is only in the Bishop Kelly Memorial Window (installed later, probably 1922/23), that we see the Marga style we recognise once again.

Collaboration

Of the six windows ascribed to Margaret Agnes Rope, the one that is now thought by experts to be a collaboration with her cousin is the Virgin Mary/St Michael window. Experts still argue over who did the faces (my money is on the cousin – but that is a minority view!) while Marga’s handiwork is most recognisable in the edging.

If it is a collaboration, it must have been one created under some pressure as the cousin (MEA Rope) was in the Women’s Land Army during the 1914-18 War (…though research has yet to find out at what point she left it) and would barely have had time to change into her civvies in order to come and help!

Future

The good news is that Geraldton Diocese is one that fully appreciates its heritage, to the extent of preserving it as well as it can.
We’re told that, in recent years, the strong sun has finally worn down the lead lines in the windows, and the 100-year old works are in need of repair because the windows have bulged. However, we’re told that money has been made available for their repair, and restoration should be complete by the autumn.

As usual with Marga Rope, one leaves a subject with more questions than answers. We wish the Geraldton historians & archivists all the luck in finding those answers.
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Many thanks to Arthur Rope and Roger Hall whose amazingly dedicated researches helped fuel the thoughts in this article

Copyright of photos in this article is to Geraldton cathedral.
For those who like detail, the six windows are: The Rosa Mystica/Turris Davidica; Sacred Heart of The Risen Christ; Father Le Caille Memorial; Revelation/Our Lady/St Michael (collaboration); Patrick Rebecchi Memorial Window; and the Bishop Kelly Memorial Window (1922)

If you’d like to add your thoughts on this posting, please use the Comments box below

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