On the weekend of 24-25th April the Catholic Parish of Sts Peter and Paul in Northfields opened their doors to visitors to celebrate their 90th Year of foundation with a flower festival which was themed around local parish groups. The parish began as a Chapel of ease for St Joseph’s church in Hanwell as a hut on Leyborne Avenue. It became an independent parish in 1926 and the foundation stone for a new church as laid in 1931 with the new church, designed by Church architects, T Birchall Scott, opening on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul in 1934. It was not consecrated until 1959 when the church was finally completed and debt free.
The flower festival was organised by members of the parish some of whom are also members of the Ealing Flower Club. The sixteen arrangements were spread throughout the church and each of them celebrated a different aspect of parish life, many linked to statues or devotions to different saints. Outside the church a grotto to Our Lady was also decorated by the Knights of St Columba, a male-only Catholic organisation.
Entering the church I encountered a beautiful colourful arrangement of bright spring flowers arranged in a supermarket basket with some old fashioned cans in front of it. This arrangement, by Vanessa Canzini was dedicated to St Antony in recognition of the all the work done by parishioners collected for Ealing Food bank and other charities such as Hanwell Homeless.
Attached to the side wall of the church was a floral arrangement in the green and orange colours of Ireland and dedicated to St Patrick. This arrangement incorporated colourful pom poms and a knitted hat and scarf and was dedicated to the EHID, the Ealing Handicapped Irish Dancers. Accompanied by a poem about the role of St Patrick ‘who didn’t learn to dance at all’ but ‘taught Irish folk the faith’, this arrangement referenced the parish’s strong Irish heritage. The EHID is a support group for people with learning difficulties which gives members the opportunity to learn Irish dancing and perform.
In front of the alter was one of the most complex floral arrangements, which used flower heads to create an open bible. The arrangement, by Kathleen O’Neil was intened to reference the centrality of the ‘Word of God in faith formation, whether through catechesis, study or sharing’.
Many of the arrangements were located next to prominent statues in the church such as this one by Maria DeMarco, dedicated to the Sacred Heart.
Flower festivals can be found all over the UK in parish churches, particularly to celebrate anniversaries or centenaries. As is the case at Sts Peter and Paul the work of arranging flowers is usually done by parish members and is a form of ‘devotional creativity’. The flowers become a focal point for particular statues or sites of prayer within the church and, as in this case, a flower arrangement may be dedicated for particular prayer needs.
In our wider research project we’re particularly interested in the range of creative work ordinary people do in their places of worship. Floral art and flower arrangements are a key form of vernacular creativity which seem to be shared by many from different faiths – particularly for special occasions. In the hindu temple in particular flowers are integral to worship with flower garlands made daily by the priests for garlanding the goddess. During the annual Chariot Festival thousands of flowers are used by the groups of women who gather in the temple to help the priest with garland making. We are interested in how people think about this work and how it might be different from the creative work they do in other places.