Interruption – Art and Faith: Representations of St Richard

On Saturday 11th June a group met to discuss representations of St. Richard at Chichester Cathedral. Sussex’s saint appears a number of times in and around the Cathedral. Our main foci were the two most recent such works to be seen at the Cathedral: Philip Jackson’s exterior sculpture (2000) and Sergei Fyodorov’s icon at the shrine of St Richard (2003). We also looked at W.H. Randoll Blacking’s 1951 statue, also located at the shrine; the Chichester Cathedral banner (c.1900), designed by Ernest Gilbert and made by Miss H. Harvey, which hangs in the north aisle; the portrait in Lambert Barnard’s ‘Catalogue of Bishops’ (c.1536) in the North Transept; the statue above St. Richard’s door (in the Western arm of the cloisters, leading into the Cathedral). We also looked at an image of the St. Richard window at nearby St. Richard’s Roman Catholic parish church.

We began with a brief introduction to the life of St. Richard (1197-1253), Bishop of Chichester (1245-53). Richard is remembered for his good works and humble lifestyle. He travelled across the Diocese preaching, and it was at the end of his preaching tour, in Dover, that St. Richard died on 3rd April 1253. His body was translated to a shrine in the Cathedral on 16th June 1276 – now celebrated as St. Richard’s Day. The shrine was destroyed at the Reformation, but was restored in the twentieth century. There is a helpful summary of the life of St. Richard available from Chichester Cathedral’s website.

The various artists we looked at adopted a variety of approaches to depicting the saint. He is usually shown in episcopal dress, including a mitre. All of the pre-21st century examples include a chalice at Richard’s feet – a reference to a story that he once dropped a chalice whilst celebrating the Eucharist but not a drop was spilt.

Philip Jackson chose to strip away all the accoutrements normally associated with St. Richard to show him wearing a simple cope, with a bare head. Jackson wanted to reflect the austerity of Richard’s life, rather than the idealised depictions of the saint wearing gold and so on in some of the other examples in the Cathedral. Jackson also gave his figure a stern expression, in keeping with the saint’s character.

I have spoken to a number of people – and count myself among them – who find Jackson’s austere portrait of St. Richard somewhat spooky, even sinister. I particularly feel this when I see the sculpture lit up at night, glooming over the approach to the Cathedral, giving it an almost gothic feel. I therefore found it very refreshing that participants in the discussion responded very positively to the work, reading it as an image of the saint facing out from the Cathedral, towards the town, with a gesture of blessing in motion (thus he is not looking in the same direction as his extended arm, which others have told me they find impersonal).

The Fyodorov icon prompted a lengthy discussion about the role of icons more broadly, and their increasing presence in Anglican churches. Fyodorov trained in Russia but is now based in Britain, and adapts his style to the context for which he is working (a Moscow Times article which one of the participants brought to the session contains some helpful insights into Fyodorov’s work). Some people felt that by portraying St. Richard in a more naturalistic style than is traditional in icons, the work has less impact as a focus of meditation. However, we also noted that the inclusion of St. Richard pointing to Christ is an eloquent visual expression of the sentiments of St. Richard’s prayer:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

As in all things, different works of art will appeal more to some individuals than others, but one thing that repeatedly comes out of the discussion groups is that when a work of art does resonate for an individual, it can, like St. Richard’s prayer, redirect one’s attention to God.

There are two sessions left in the series of discussion groups; details here.

Copied from: Arts and Faith in Sussex .

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Interruptions

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