St Michael and All Angels Church, Middlewich www.middlewichparishchurch.org.uk
Reredos Click to enlarge

A sculptured reredos became an important feature in churches from the 14th and 15th centuries. A reredos is a screen or wall decoration positioned behind the altar in the sanctuary and takes the form of a hanging, tapestry, painting, metalwork or sculpture.


The reredos in St Michael’s church is an oak carving situated in the sanctuary and is decorated with gilding.  It consists of five elaborately carved sections.


On the left, the first section depicts the archangel Michael, the leader of the celestial armies and most senior of God’s angels.  In one hand he is holding a sword and is standing over the dragon (a symbol of Satan) he has slain. In his other hand he holds a shield with his symbolic scales on it. The background is painted in gold, the colour of light.  Beneath the carving, also in gold are the letters ‘SM’ for Saint Michael. (Rev 12).


The next panel shows the Annunciation of Mary. The archangel Gabriel is conveying God’s message to her that she has been chosen to give birth to a son and she is to name him Jesus.  Against the gold background, a dove, symbolising the Holy Spirit is descending and showering Mary with heavenly light.  (Luke 1: 26-31)


The central panel is the Nativity, with Mary, Joseph and the new-born Jesus.  They are attended by angels and surrounded by the animals in the stable.  Angels and a shining star are above their heads in the decorated gold background.  Beneath this panel are the symbols for the Chi Rho, ‘XP’ the first two letters of XPICTOC meaning Christ, and on either side are A and O for Alpha and Omega, used to denote the eternity and infinitude of God.  They remind us that Jesus is the beginning and the end of all things and suggests His everlasting nature. (Rev 1:8).


The next panel depicts the Adoration.  It shows Joseph standing over Mary cradling Jesus.  The three Magi are paying homage and offering their gifts to the infant child.  The background is painted in a luminous gold.  (Matt 2:1-12)


The panel on the right is of the archangel Gabriel, the bearer of the message to Mary. Gabriel means ‘God is mighty’.  Beneath the carving are the letters ‘SG’, an abbreviation for Saint Gabriel.  The background and the letters are both painted in gold. (Daniel 8:16-26, 9:20-27, Luke 1:11-20, 26-38)


On the top of the reredos are carvings of grape vines and on either corner are the two archangels, St Michael and St Gabriel.   In the bottom panels are mystic roses.


Additional information:


The reredos, in oak with sculptured Bas relief is listed as part of the chancel restoration in the Citation dated 12 October 1892 No. 538.


The church accounts for the year 1895 (Cheshire Record Office – P13/23/23) give the following information relating to the Restoration Fund.


The reredos was carved in oak by Mr J J Millson. £214 0s 0d.

Designed by Messrs Douglas & Fordham

£  37 0s 0d.


John Douglas

The reredos was designed by John Douglas (architect) born at Park Cottage, Sandiway, Cheshire on 11 April 1830.  Douglas practised on his own until 1884, when he took Daniel Porter Fordham into partnership and practised as Douglas & Fordham.  John Douglas designed some 500 buildings, including 40 new churches or chapels, together with the fittings and furniture for the interiors.


His first major commission was the rebuilding of the south wing of Vale Royal Abbey for the 2nd Baron Delamere.  Lord Delamere also gave him his first commission to build a church, that of St John the Evangelist at Over, Winsford.  His most important patrons were the Grosvenor family of Eaton Hall, Cheshire.


Reference: John Douglas (Architect) – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Douglas_(architect)



John Jarvis Millson

John Jarvis Millson was responsible for the sculpting and carving of the reredos.  He was born in 1850 in Donington, Lincolnshire.  He moved to Manchester in the mid-1860s and went into partnership with Evan Williams as Williams and Millson.  Millson had a reputation as one of Manchester’s most ‘versatile and talented’ architectural sculptors; his carvings for All Saints, Stockport and Lichfield Cathedral were considered ‘marked by great beauty of form, delicacy of expression, and perfection of finish.’


The Reredos was exhibited at Manchester Art Gallery, Second Exhibition of Arts and Crafts, 1895.  Catalogue for the exhibition P.247 (687)


Reference:  John Jarvis Millson, Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain & Ireland 1851-1951, (2 pages) http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib5_1217259697

with link to:   Reredos for Middlewick Church, http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/object.php?id=msib5_1231768716


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