The St Louis reredos

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The St Louis reredos

The Hems business reached its height in the years before the First World War, when it was supplying sculpture and wood-carving to clients all over Britain, with further commissions in Canada, Australia and the USA. One of his biggest works was the ambitious stone altarpiece provided for Christchurch Cathedral, St Louis, USA. Soon after it was finished it was described as follows: “The above reredos and altar took nearly two years to make in the Exeter studios. Afterwards it was conveyed across the Atlantic, and under the personal superintendance of Harry Hems was fixed by members of his own staff taken for that purpose. This task took six months to accomplish. Dr. Tuttle, the senior Bishop of the United States, dedicated it on Christmas Day, 1911."

It is constructed entirely of Caen stone, is upwards of 35 feet high, its niches contain 51 statues, and its computed weight is 160 tons. It is the most important Gothic structure of its kind ever undertaken in modern times, and is probably the most beautiful.’

Acknowledgments: Exeter City Museums