The Feast of Stephen: The Design of the Project Logo

Created on Tuesday 13th January 2015 by:
Dr James Jago

The St Stephen’s project offers a fascinating opportunity to explore the adaption of a medieval building for the purposes of early-modern government. As an... Read more

Amongst the events for last month, our researchers presented a series of papers after the Project’s executive board meeting on 19th December. The proximity of this final meeting of the year to Christmas brings to mind the significance of 26th December; the date traditionally celebrated as the Feast of Saint Stephen. For most of us, marking two feasts on successive days might seem excessively indulgent, but the figure of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, stoned to death (in the traditional rather than the modern sense), is one of enduring significance for all involved in the Project.

Despite the conversion of the medieval chapel in 1549 to accommodate the House of Commons, his name has stuck with the site. When the ruins of the Upper Chapel were demolished after the fire of 1834, the imposing corridor built over the restored Crypt Chapel was named ‘Saint Stephen’s Hall’. Later, he was portrayed in Robert Anning Bell’s 1925 mosaic, set over the entrance to the Central Lobby. Given this enduring presence, it might seem obvious that our Project Logo should also feature Stephen. After all, he seemed ideal for conveying the ideas of endurance, refashioning and reinterpretation across seven centuries which unify our separate research strands.

Figure 1: Medieval seal of the College, from Brayley & Britton’s <em>Ancient Palace</em> (1836).

The idea for a Project logo emerged soon after we began work on 1st October 2013. It was one of ten things on a list of ‘must haves’ I recall compiling back in those early days. A visual linchpin to work with the Project’s name as a heading for conference materials and webpages (amongst other things) seemed desirable from the outset. But what sort image to choose? - How could it effectively represent the historical and cultural contexts which surrounded Saint Stephen’s Chapel?

One early idea was for three separate images, each serving to signpost the medieval, early-modern, and modern phases of the Project. They were to embody the separate periods in a consistent manner, but also had to be visually distinct. In searching for inspiration, the original seal of the College itself was an obvious starting point (Figure 1). As the authentic ‘corporate logo’ associated with the site, its significance had been realised by Edward Brayley and John Britton in their 1836 History of the Ancient Palace and Late Houses of Parliament at Westminster. Here the seal appears as the titlepage’s tailpiece, set in front of a patterned fabric copied from those painted in the Upper Chapel. Such seals, with their distinctive vesica piscis shape and clustered Gothic details, were imitated by archaeological and antiquarian societies throughout the Nineteenth Century. However, while this antiquarian bricolage ably embodies the scholarly climate of the 1830s, it didn’t seem quite right for a Twenty-First Century Research Project.



Figure 2: Concept sketch for an Early Modern Logo. © James Jago.Figure 3: John Carter’s drawing of the St Stephen’s Boss (1790s).

Figure 4: The Nineteenth-Century recarved and painted Boss. © James Hillson.

Another idea which made it to drawing board was inspired by the Speaker’s Chair, in the setting of the early-modern Commons Chamber (Figure 2). This prominent feature stands against the adapted medieval east window, with tiered seating visible on either side. To suggest the shift in time from the medieval period, the pointed outline was replaced by an oval, and the whole drawn to imitate a woodcut. However, this still left the medieval and modern periods without suitable logos. Going back to antiquarian records of Saint Stephen’s, John Carter’s drawings of the roof bosses in the Lower Chapel immediately stood out. That of Saint Stephen’s martyrdom seemed particularly apposite as a logo which represented the chronological run of the Project as a whole (Figure 3).

First carved in the early Fourteenth Century, these bosses survived the conversion of the Lower Chapel to secular uses and they appear to have been intact when Carter recorded them in the 1790s. Surviving the 1834 fire, the bosses were replaced with facsimiles when the Lower Chapel was restored in the 1850s. Here, in miniature, was the process of creation, survival, replacement and reinterpretation which underpins the history of Saint Stephen’s Chapel; the same ideas which the Project as a whole seeks to explore and address.

Figure 5: The St Stephen’s Chapel Project Logo. © James Jago.

Carter’s drawing was interesting as an historical record of the original boss, but its sketchy quality wouldn’t translate well into a logo graphic. Working with additional photographs of the recarved and repainted boss, supplied by our Associate Researcher James Hillson, it was relatively easy to take Carter’s drawing as the basis for a Project Logo (Figure 4). Shadows and lines were made heavier and the foliage and figures brought into sharper relief. The faces of Stephen and his tormentors were made more distinct and expressive - had the originals been defaced by Carter’s time? Anger and rage on the assailants’ faces contrast with the benign placidity on that of Stephen, despite having four rocks balancing on his head.

Again, the idea was to simulate a woodcut technique, albeit in pencil. Scanned and digitally cleaned up, the Logo proudly appears on our webpages, and will appear on all the Project’s printed materials over the next eighteen months (Figure 5). Keep an eager eye open for it! Whether this logo will endure as long as the boss that inspired it remains to be seen … perhaps it too will be reinterpreted and reinvented by future generations of researchers exploring the history of Saint Stephen’s Chapel.

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