OLQM’s Main Altar Reredos
In 1988, on the 50th anniversary of the construction of our present-day church, a group of parishioners and academics from City College Department of Architecture documented the historical and architectural hallmarks of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. Building on their work, in 2009 Manny Lima, our then bulletin editor, created a five-part series explaining the significance of the main altar of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church. New history was uncovered, pictures taken and great knowledge shared about the altarpiece. The articles were published in our church bulletin over four weeks, beginning with our September 27, 2009 edition.
The findings from those articles are reproduced here, with some updating for the web, so that everyone may learn more about this beautiful church.
The history of our altarpiece
In religious usage, a reredos (pronounced rare-dos) is a screen or decoration behind the altar in a church, depicting religious iconography or images. The images may be painted, carved, gilded and/or embedded with niches for statues. The term comes from an Anglo-Norman word areredos, from arere (behind) + dos (back, from the Latin “dorsum”). In French it is called a retable; in Spanish, a retablo.
Our church is blessed with a particularly beautiful reredos, not only in artistic terms but also in religious significance. Our main altar reredos was created and installed between 1940 and 1941 (exact date unknown) by Frederick de Henwood, an artist who at the time had an established reputation for many accomplished works of painting and sculpture. (De Henwood created the Stations of the Cross for our church as well as the main altar panels, and he was married to Margaret Mary MacDonald in Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in 1931, with the Rev. Joseph McLaughlin, our first pastor, performing the nuptial Mass.)
The history rediscovered
Interestingly, in revisiting the earlier documented history, we made a discovery in 2009 that the carved statuettes were all incorrectly placed, contrary to the artist’s original vision as explained in an unsigned article in one of our earliest church bulletins from 1941. We surmised that many years before, the statues were taken down for cleaning and returned to the reredos without taking precautions to note their proper positions. With the help of our maintenance crew (especially the indefatigable Daniel García), we removed all the statues, thoroughly cleaned, identified, labeled and photographed them, and then placed them in their correct niches.
It gives us great satisfaction that, at long last, we can admire our superb reredos exactly as Frederick de Henwood had intended it to be seen.
We begin our discovery with information culled from that original bulletin article from 1941.
Read the full 1941 article here on our website.
We are also providing an interactive document in PDF format that you can save and read or share later. It includes a map identifying the 16 statuettes (wood carvings) installed in the altarpiece. Links within the PDF allow you to click on the statues’ names and jump to close-up photos of the statues on the altar and the relevant, magnificent story of the holy men and women depicted.
Download and save and share this interactive pdf to learn more about our reredos.