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Praying for Gilbey

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Mgr Alfred Newman Alfred Gilbey was the Catholic Chaplain to the University of

Cambridge from 1932-65. He is buried in the court yard of Fisher House. Every November, the month during which we especially pray for the dead, a Requiem Mass is offered up for the repose of his soul. This year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death (26 March 1998). To mark the silver jubilee, Trinity College, at which Mgr Gilbey was an undergraduate, is kindly allowing the Mass to be celebrated in their Chapel (6 pm, Monday 20 November). Aptly, this portrait of Gilbey, has just been returned to Fisher House after a year in restoration. It was painted in 1949, halfway through his time as chaplain. The painter is Gavin Maxwell, who is much better known as one of the great twentieth-century naturalist writers in English, whose works include Ring of Bright Water. Maxwell wrote very critically of Catholicism in his book The Ten Pains of Death but, at the same time, he is recorded as having often spoken about God in late-night conversations and his favourite novel was Brideshead Revisited, which is a type of celebration of the Catholic faith. The chaplaincy's guest book records that Maxwell stayed at Fisher House from 5-6 December 1949. We can speculate that he came to visit Gilbey to discuss faith and, having met him, asked could he paint his portrait. The depiction of Gilbey is sympathetic; an encounter of two remarkable figures.

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