Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Huge mural hidden in The Sacred Heart church in Edinburgh

Mural by Derek Clarke
Image caption The mural is now covered in wallpaper at The Sacred Heart Lauriston in Edinburgh

At the age of 100, Derek Clarke is officially the oldest member of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture.

And staging an exhibition in his honour, was no difficulty given the decades of work to choose from.

But there is one work, created by Mr Clarke in the 1950s, which cannot be included.

A huge mural, designed and constructed by Mr Clarke in 1957 when he was a lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, and now hidden beneath wallpaper in a church in Edinburgh City Centre.

The parish priest of The Sacred Heart Lauriston, Father James Christie, commissioned Mr Clarke to create the mural in the altar arch of the church.

He wanted to mark the 100th anniversary of the church - as well as bringing colour and life to the upper part of the building.

Inspired by Italian murals he had seen on a recent art trip, Mr Clarke began work.

"It was surrounded by huge stations of the cross," he said, "so it had to be big and bold. Jesus is coming out of a tomb. He's rising up and his halo is in gold leaf.

"I had to climb into the organ loft to do that. I used my own family as models for the crowd who surround him. That is my wife and that is my son, the baby."

Other figures belong to parishioners, Saint Ignatius, and Cardinal Gray, all dressed in 50s fashion.

But even then, the mural divided opinion.

Alastair Cherry started to attend the church in the early 1960s.

"It struck me then as very cluttered, with the stations of the cross and the mural. I didn't feel very comfortable there," he said.

"I remember seeing it for the first time and recognising so many people we knew," said Barbara Conboy, also a member of the church since the 1960s.

"But at that point in the 60s, there were a lot of changes. Altars were being turned around, priests were to face out, surroundings were simpler and possibly there was a decision that there was too much ornamentation in the church."

So the mural was covered over, with lining paper and paste, and then plaster.

The current parish priest, Father Peter Scally, said he is not sure if the hidden mural will ever be revealed.

"I've never been asked," he said.

"It's not a hot debate in the parish but the way it's been covered means it's not been ruled out."

Derek Clarke hopes it will one day be restored.

"It's only paper and paste," he said.

"It could be removed. I hope 10 years after I die, it will be removed and the mural restored."

Derek Clarke at 100 is at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh until 31 January.

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