When Julia DeWolf Gibbs Addison (1863–1936) arrived at All Saints Parish in 1894, accompanying her husband, Daniel Dulany Addison (1863–1936), the church’s first rector, she was already a noted artist, author, and art historian (fig. 1). Raised in Massachusetts and England and having traveled widely as a young woman, Julia Addison brought a cosmopolitan and broad-minded approach to her work. Her talents were wide-ranging as she produced paintings, watercolors, mosaics, embroidery, stained glass, metalware, and illuminated manuscripts (fig. 2).
She was an equally prolific author of poetry and plays, children’s books and novels, scholarly works, and even musical compositions (fig. 3). Addison’s artwork continues to grace All Saints’ sanctuary in the form of two reredos in the Resting and Langdon Chapels, respectively.
The Resting Chapel Altar Panel: The Five Angels
The Five Angels was painted by Julia Addison around 1899 to serve as a reredos, an ornamental screen or painting placed behind a church altar, usually containing religious images. Reredos are designed to provide striking visual backdrops to an altar, serving to draw worshippers’ eyes to what is considered the centerpiece of the church. This particular work was originally designed to appear above the church’s main altar, at the time located in what is now the nave area (fig. 4). When the final section of the sanctuary was added in 1926, including a pipe organ, choir stalls, and the high altar, the panel was removed and mounted on the wall of the east transept where it remains today. For a time, that section of the church—familiarly called the Resting Chapel—held the church’s baptismal font (fig. 5). In more recent years, the same area contained a small altar and now offers votive candles for prayer intentions. Because it no longer hangs above an altar, this piece is more properly called an “altar panel.”
Addison selected as her theme five angels representing the qualities of service, resurrection, power, purity, and virtue (fig. 6). Each image holds items symbolic of their mission. For instance, the angel representing purity holds a lily, believed in Greek mythology to have been created from the breast milk of Hera. In medieval Europe, lilies became attached to the image of Mary, mother of Jesus, further cementing the connection to ideas of purity and virginity (fig. 7). Similarly, the Angel of Resurrection holds a trumpet, often used in reference to Christ’s ultimate victory. As Revelation 11:15 prophecies, “Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever’” (fig. 8).
The charming motif shown here of the Angel of Virtue stomping on a serpent highlights the unusual mosaic technique Addison used in this work (fig. 9). Not a true mosaic, in which small pieces of painted stone, plaster, or glass are matched together to form designs and images, Addison’s altar panel is actually paint on plaster, with lines carved and painted in to give the illusion of a mosaic. Her bright colors and use of gilding would make this piece particularly effective for the intended purpose of a reredos, bringing the viewer’s eye and attention to the altar beneath. The snake, of course, represents temptation or evil, drawing from the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden.
The Langdon Chapel Reredos
The west transpet of the church was built in conjunction with the Parish House in 1910 but not fully furnished as a chapel until 1927. It was created as a memorial by Sophia Elizabeth Langdon, the mother-in-law of All Saints’ second rector, Barrett P. Tyler, to her husband, Woodbury G. Langdon, and one of their sons, Montgomery. The Langdon Chapel contains beautiful wood paneling, a carved altar rail with kneeling angels at each end, an elaborately carved rood screen and beam, and hanging lanterns decorated with cherubs above. The centerpiece of the chapel is Julia Addison’s reredos, a tribute to the communion of saints, which resides just below the organ chamber.
Addison painted this second reredos around 1910. At the center is the Communion of Saints, with Saints Alban and Barbara to the left and Saints Elizabeth and Augustine of Canterbury to the right (fig. 10). The background, a blue-green vine pattern, complements the wooden tracery of the rood screen, which features grapes and vines, symbolic of the Holy Eucharist. On the far left, St. Alban of Verulam is remembered as a Roman soldier in ancient Britain who sheltered and protected a Christian priest and declared himself a Christian at the cost of his life. The sword and palm frond in his hands represent his martyrdom, possibly the first British Christian so designated. Next to St. Alban, St. Barbara holds a prison tower, symbolic of her being incarcerated and ultimately martyred by her father for her Christian faith (fig. 11). The central image shows an angel administering the communion chalice to a congregation of saints (fig. 12). To the right is a painting of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, known for her Christian charity. According to legend, she was secretly bringing bread to the poor when challenged to reveal what she carried by either her husband or brother, who disapproved of these activities. The bread appeared to the man as roses, a sign of God’s favor with her charitable works. Finally, St. Augustine of Canterbury, a Benedictine monk and the first archbishop of Canterbury, is depicted entering that town with his standard (fig. 13). While we do not know why or how Addison selected these individual saints for her reredos, collectively they highlight a range of saintly archetypes, reaffirming the celebration of all saints that is so central to this parish.
For more on Julia Addison, the following may be of interest:
- Marylène Altieri, “Julia de Wolf Gibbs Addison,” Saints Alive, Fall 2019, 5–6, https://allsaintsbrookline.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Saints-Alive-Fall-2019-125th-Anniversary.pdf.
- Susan Martin, “Who Is J. Gibbs?” The Beehive (Massachusetts Historical Society), September 20, 2017, https://www.masshist.org/beehiveblog/2017/09/who-is-j-gibbs/.
- Leslie Thayer Piper, “The Dazzling Creativity of Julia deWolf Gibbs Addison,” Sippican Historical Society, June 9, 2020, https://sippicanhistoricalsociety.org/the-dazzling-creativity-of-julia-dewolf-gibbs-addison/.
References All Saints Archive Gretjen Helene, aprioriphotography.com St. Gabriel’s, Marion, Mass.