Tag Archives: Art

22 August, Saint Edmund III: A Story from a Cross.

Sometimes a pause in our pilgrims’ or tourists’ way can be enlightening; sometimes a photograph yields a more than passing thought when looked at anew in the armchair. Here is a processional Cross in Saint Edmundsbury Cathedral which we did not follow in procession; however, a closer, leisurely look tells a story.

The arrows that killed Edmund, King of the English, surround the Cross on which Jesus, the King of the Jews, the King of Glory, was killed. The Cross itself seems alive, aflame, reminding us that Jesus made the one sacrifice on Calvary, burning away sin, leading us to heaven.

Edmund’s arrows are subordinate to the Cross. This does not belittle his martyr’s sacrifice, but  puts it into the context of Saint Paul’s bold assertion in Colossians 1:24: in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

The Church itself is represented by the diocesan coat of arms, including the triple crown of Edmund’s kingdom of East Anglia. This Cross is not just a decorative object but also a statement of faith at both a local and universal level.

What emblem would you choose to symbolise yourself and your life after your death? What would you choose for a loved one? Here is one example I really like.

We adore you, O Christ and we praise you, for by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

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Honouring Mary at Westminster Abbey

A tapestry in the chapel of Minster Abbey, with three saints of the Community, Mildred, Domneva, and Eadburga.

Source: Conference of Religious

An annual service of devotion to ‘Our Lady of Pew’ takes place at Westminster Abbey today. The Chapel of ‘Our Lady of Pew’ features a beautiful statue created by a Benedictine nun of Minster Abbey in Kent.

Sister Concordia Scott OSB sculpted the fine alabaster statue of the Virgin and Child in the niche of the Chapel. It took 14 months to complete and was placed there in May 1971.

The original statue that was there disappeared centuries ago. The design of the 20th-century piece was inspired by a 15th century English alabaster Madonna at Westminster Cathedral.

Sister Concordia Scott (1924 – 2014) was Prioress of the Minster Abbey community from 1984-1999.

Read the full story here, as found in today’s Independent Catholic News. Minster Abbey is home to our contributor, Sister Johanna Caton.

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3 July: Leaf from leaf.

All Saints, Godshill, Isle of Wight.

This Lily Crucifix is striking. The figure of Christ is bleeding yet not broken; indeed he looks vigorous. The cross, too, is not dead wood but a lily of the field, full of sap and flowering. It’s not a canna – the one we usually call an Easter Lily – but an Easter Lily for all that. Christ, the wounded Christ, is risen! Immediately below the lily cross the church has placed the tabernacle or aumbry, housing the wafer that Christians recognise as the body of Christ.

Scattered across the wall are five-petalled pink flowers, surely wild roses like the one below. Or are they stars, their numbers counted by Him alone? Earth’s astronomers keep on counting more and more of them as their instruments look ever further, but they seem to have given up on names, instead allotting numbers to the innumerable golden grains they perceive and whose vastness they measure from light years away. They know they will never reach the end of the numbers but they trust that their work is valuable. It is valuable, for it is awe inspiring.

Here is Christina Rossetti, saying all this and more, with greater eloquence than your correspondent!

Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose

Leaf from leaf Christ knows;
Himself the Lily and the Rose:

Sheep from sheep Christ tells;
Himself the Shepherd, no one else:

Star and star He names,
Himself outblazing all their flames:

Dove by dove, He calls
To set each on the golden walls:

Drop by drop, He counts
The flood of ocean as it mounts:

Grain by grain, His hand
Numbers the innumerable sand.

Lord, I lift to Thee
In peace what is and what shall be:

Lord, in peace I trust
To Thee all spirits and all dust.

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27 June. My vocation today XVII: Gwen John, artist.

Mere Marie Poussepin by Gwen John, 1876-1939.

Gwen John was from Pembrokeshire in West Wales. Her more famous brother, Augustus, was also an artist. Gwen studied art in London and in Paris, becoming the lover of the much older sculptor Rodin; hardly a woman with a vocation, you might feel. Yet as her passionate affair with him came to an end, she was received into the Catholic Church and lived a quite solitary life with her cats, which she often painted.

She began writing meditations and prayers; she wanted to be a saint and God’s little artist: ‘My religion and my art, they are my life’, she is quoted as saying by Tenby Museum and gallery.

About 1913, to oblige the Dominican Sisters of Charity at Meudon, she began a series of painted portraits of their founder Mere Marie Poussepin, based on a prayer card.

In Meudon she lived in solitude, except for her cats. In an undated letter she wrote, “I should like to go and live somewhere where I met nobody I know till I am so strong that people and things could not effect me beyond reason.” She wished also to avoid family ties (“I think the family has had its day. We don’t go to Heaven in families now but one by one”) and her decision to live in France after 1903 may have been partly to escape the overpowering personality of her famous brother.

Art was her vocation, and perhaps something of an obsession; or should we say she was single-minded? Previous generations would have revered her as a repentant sinner, a term most likely to be used of a woman who had abandoned promiscuous ways. It was not so cut and dried as that. Just look at this self portrait, and it appears that her vocation was to question, to seek. to record what she saw, and to go back and begin her search again.

‘My religion and my art, they are my life’.

self portrait.

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10 June, 1867: On this day.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson by Julia Margaret Cameron

We can take a photograph on a mobile phone, adjust and enhance it on the same device, print it, and send it all around the world in seconds. All this without setting up a heavy camera with expensive film or glass plates, and only later using poisonous chemicals in a darkroom to develop, print and fix an image that might be blurred if the sitter could not keep still.

Personal photographs were keep-sakes, and portraits. Poor people might be hard-pressed to afford them. The better off were not always keen, perhaps not liking what they saw. Among the pioneers who became famous for their artistic images was Mrs Julia Margaret Cameron, a well-connected woman whose work is still appreciated today. On this day in 1867 William Allingham met her on a train in Hampshire.

Field-path to station, red campions and king-cups. Down train comes in with Mrs Cameron, queenly in a carriage by herself, surrounded by photographs. We go to Lymington together, she talking all the time. ‘I want to do a large photograph of Tennyson, and he objects! Says I make bags under his eyes — and Carlyle refuses to give me a sitting, says it’s a kind of Inferno! The greatest men of the age’ (with strong emphasis), ‘Sir John Herschel, Henry Taylor, Watts, say I have immortalised them — and these other men object !! What is one to do ——- Hm?’

This is a kind of interrogative interjection she often uses, but seldom waits for a reply.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 1Corinthians 13:11-13

Perhaps the bags under his eyes were more difficult to ignore when Tennyson looked at himself in this needle-sharp portrait. Already seeing himself face to face, wrinkles, bags under the eyes, receding hairline, mortal. May I accept myself, imperfect image of God — and indeed of my own true self.

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19 May: Saint Dunstan

Dunstan’s self-portrait, kneeling before the risen Lord.

Here is Canon Anthony Charlton’s reflection on Saint Dunstan; Canon Anthony is parish priest of Saint Thomas’, Canterbury. The artist, Mother Concordia, was Abbess at Minster Abbey, home of Sister Johanna.

The small Catholic Church at Hersden a few miles from Canterbury is dedicated to St Dunstan whose feast day we keep today. On the left of the altar is a fine relief of St Dunstan created by Mother Concordia, a Benedictine nun from Minster Abbey on the Isle of Thanet. What strikes you immediately is that he is holding a harp. Geoffrey Handley in his history of Anglo Saxons says that Dunstan “was renowned as a singer and musician and seemed to have exploited the effect of the aeolian harp ( the sounds caused by the wind blowing through the strings of a free-standing instrument). He was a scholar and gifted artist as well.

Dunstan was born in 909 and was made Abbot at Glastonbury by King Edmund. “It was from this moment, probably 940 may be dated the rebirth of Medieval English monasticism which was to last undisturbed until the reformation.”

He reformed Glastonbury Abbey and was made Bishop of Worcester and then London before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 960. He reorganised the church by promoting monastic bishops, and took a large part in the creation of a united England

Until Thomas Becket’s fame overshadowed Dunstan’s, he was the favourite saint of the English people. Dunstan had been buried in his cathedral at Canterbury; and when that building was destroyed by a fire in 1174, his relics were translated by Archbishop Lanfranc to a tomb on the south side of the high altar in the rebuilt Canterbury Cathedral.

He was a true shepherd to his people and his interests and skills tended to the crafts of the ordinary as well as the cultured. “The appreciation of these arts shows Dunstan’s passion for the creators work and for the talents he gives to us. Contemplation of the beauty of scared art and music allows us to glimpse and, perhaps, understand a little of God’s creative power.”

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11 May: Honour the LORD with your wealth.

 
“Honour the LORD with your wealth and with the first-fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” Proverbs 3:9.
 
Christ Jesus would have approved of this mosaic in Broadstairs Baptist Church. The grapes, the wine, the bread could all be from very close by. There are still fishing boats working nearby, farms growing wheat and ever more vineyards as Kent’s climate favours the grape more and more. The mosaic brings to our consciousness the reality of where this church is sent.
 
The mosaic is honouring the Lord with the first-fruits of  the local community; presumably the Church used its collective wealth to commission the work from a local artist. A mosaicist used to live in our street, not so far away.
 
The church uses its wealth, in terms of the church, hall and meeting rooms, not only to worship and chat about the congregation’s business, but also open these up to local groups. They are conscious of other people’s needs and strive to meet them. I used to teach there: groups of teenagers who had fallen out of school for different reasons and who would not have been wanted in other halls because of occasionally unpredictable behaviour. But there was always something else going on in the building at the same time, or following on from us: playgroup, rehab exercises for older people, drop-in sessions of various sorts. 
 
Thank you to Broadstairs Baptist Church for honouring the Lord by sharing your wealth! 
 
In these last days of Lent, we can remember people like Mary Magdalene, Johanna, Susanna, and Mrs Zebedee who supported Jesus with their wealth, not forgetting Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea who provided Christ’s tomb, newly carved from the rock. Am I supporting Jesus with my wealth of money, time, abilities?

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26 April: Who should not live?

Leeds University War Memorial, Eric Gill.

It makes no sense that having Down’s syndrome is considered reason enough for an unborn child to be aborted. Not if you know one or two people with Down’s; and as Adam Rutherford reminds us:

None of the worst crimes of humanity … was perpetrated by people with Down’s syndrome … If we truly wanted to reduce the sum total of human suffering then we should eradicate the powerful, for wars are fought by people but started by leaders.

Adam Rutherford: Control: the Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics.

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Lent 2022: Stations of the Cross

Church of Holy Sepulchre
Rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Rebuilt 1048, Jerusalem, © MFletcher

We have shared Stations of the Cross before in 2018 and 2019. This year we draw your attention to 14 reflections from the Visual Commentary on Scripture, two for each week in Lent. The link at the bottom of the post will enable you to receive twice weekly emails of the VCS reflections, which are by many different writers, always interesting and thought provoking; we recommend these posts.

Lent 2022: Stations of the Cross

This year, we invite you to mark the season of Lent, from Ash Wednesday until Good Friday, by following our ‘Stations of the Cross’. 

The VCS Stations of the Cross consist of fourteen selected commentaries, each one reflecting on a biblical passage in dialogue with a work of art.

Format: ​We will share 2 stations a week, beginning on Ash Wednesday and running until Good Friday.

We hope that these resources will help you experience the weeks between now and Easter  in new and meaningful ways.


Stations of the Cross Emails

Sign up here to receive links direct to your inbox with our twice weekly emails, running from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday.

Stations 1 & 2 will appear on Ash Wednesday

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17 February: Today, this is my vocation XV: Painting as preaching.

ANGELICO,_Fra_Annunciation,_1437-46_(2236990916).jpg (1008×700)


Annunciation by Fra Angelico

John of Fiesole joined the Order of Friars Preacher, or Dominicans, but his vocation lay with the walls of churches rather than their pulpits; he is better known to us as Fra Angelico. Here are the thoughts of E.V. Lucas in the early years of last century, who visited, studied and enjoyed Angelico’s work in Florence and elsewhere.

As to Fra Angelico’s character, let Vasari+ tell us. “He would often say that whosoever practised art needed a quiet life and freedom from care, and he who occupies himself with the things of Christ ought always to be with Christ. . . . Some say that Fra Giovanni never took up his brush without first making a prayer. . . . He never made a crucifix when the tears did not course down his cheeks.”

The one curious thing—to me—about Fra Angelico is that he has not been canonised.* If ever a son of the Church toiled for her honour and for the happiness of mankind it was he… His pictures will be found not only in Florence and Italy but in the chief galleries of the world; for he was very assiduous. We have an excellent example at the National Gallery.

In looking at his pictures, three things in particular strike the mind: the skill with which he composed them; his mastery of light; and—and here he is unique—the pleasure he must have had in painting them. All seem to have been play; he enjoyed the toil exactly as a child enjoys the labour of building a house with toy bricks. Nor, one feels, could he be depressed. Even in his Crucifixions there is a certain underlying happiness, due to his knowledge that the Crucified was to rise again and ascend to Heaven and enjoy eternal felicity. Knowing this (as he did know it) how could he be wholly cast down?

From “A Wanderer in Florence” by E. V. Lucas, 1912.

+ Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) is credited as the first art historian. His Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects is a valuable resource for the Renaissance.

* In 1982 Pope John Paul II beatified Fra Angelico as Blessed John of Fiesole and later declared him the patron of catholic artists.

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