Tag Archives: Art

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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29 January: Francis dramatic gestures


St. Francis was not so much a minstrel merely singing his own songs as a dramatist capable of acting the whole of his own play. The things he said were more imaginative than the things he wrote. The things he did were more imaginative than the things he said. His whole course through life was a series of scenes in which he had a sort of perpetual luck in bringing things to a beautiful crisis.

To talk about the art of living has come to sound rather artificial than artistic. But St. Francis did in a definite sense make the very act of living an art, though it was an unpremeditated art. Many of his acts will seem grotesque and puzzling to a rationalistic taste. But they were always acts and not explanations; and they always meant what he meant them to mean. The amazing vividness with which he stamped himself on the memory and imagination of mankind is very largely due to the fact that he was seen again and again under such dramatic conditions. From the moment when he rent his robes and flung them at his father’s feet to the moment when he stretched himself in death on the bare earth in the pattern of the cross, his life was made up of these unconscious attitudes and unhesitating gestures.”

From Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis by G. K. Chesterton.

I feel I often have to adopt conscious attitudes and hesitant gestures, but perhaps I also try to explain myself to myself a bit too often.

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7 November: Rescue me from the captivity of sin.

O, GOD, giver and preserver of all life, 
by whose power I was created, and by whose providence I am sustained, 
look down upon me with tenderness and mercy; 
grant that I may not have been created to be finally destroyed; 
that I may not be preserved to add wickedness to wickedness. 

O, LORD, let me not sink into total depravity; 
look down upon me, and rescue me at last from the captivity of sin. 
Almighty and most merciful Father, 
who hast continued my life from year to year, 
grant that by longer life I may become less desirous of sinful pleasures, 
and more careful of eternal happiness. 
Let not my years be multiplied to increase my guilt; 
but as my age advances, let me become more pure in my thoughts, 
more regular in my desires, and more obedient to thy laws.

Forgive, O merciful LORD, whatever I have done contrary to thy laws. 
Give me such a sense of my wickedness as may produce true contrition and effectual repentance; 
so that when I shall be called into another state, 
I may be received among the sinners to whom sorrow and reformation have obtained pardon, 
for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. 
                                               Amen. 


From "Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784" by James Boswell

Boswell acknowledged Johnson as a most pious friend, who was by no means as wicked as the reader might imagine. Johnson was inclined to melancholy and to a deep sense of his own sinfulness, but any of us could make our own the last paragraph of this prayer.

Blake’s Jacob’s Ladder dates from some 20 years after Johnson’s prayer. May they both be received among the sinners who have obtained pardon.

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14 September:The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

When did the Church come into being? Egyptian Christians say the first Church was in their land, when Joseph led Mary and Baby Jesus to exile in what is now Cairo; others point to Pentecost, the day when the tongues of fire came down upon the 120 core members of the Church of Christ’s followers, women and men, including the Apostles and Mary his mother. You could suggest also the calling of the twelve, the sending out of the seventy, among many other key moments in the development of the community that took over Jesus’s mission; but one I had not considered was the taking down of the crucified corpse of the Lord, and the hurried burial in the garden tomb.

The Visual Commentary on Scripture recently published a reflection on this event, titled The Birth of the Church. At this critical moment, the Church had to come together to do what needed doing for his Body; the Church that was now his Body, led by two previously marginal men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

Paul Anel addresses this short moment through three works of art, by Rublev, Caravaggio and Michelangelo, and both the reflections and the art can be found by clicking on the link above.

And this link connects to Sister Johanna’s next reflection on the Psalms as personal prayer.

What about the angry psalms – often called the cursing psalms – where the psalmist is ranting and raving and just lets it rip against his enemies?  What about them?  Should we be embarrassed about them, and try to hide them in a dark corner where no one will notice them?

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10 June: More Passion flowers

One day earlier this month, my walk took me through Canterbury cemetery once again. This time I saluted a few familiar names, since I passed near the Catholic corner, but then wandered into an older section I’d not visited before and found two passion flower crosses to add to our collection. One was covered in multicoloured lichen and not suitable for reproduction, but then there was this, erected in the first years of the XX Century.

It combines the Celtic Cross, the Greek Letters IHS – short for Jesus – at its centre, with the halo of passion vine leaves around it, and the passion vine itself, bringing the Cross to flowering splendour.

The passion flower represents the saving death of Jesus. There are ten petals for the ten apostles who did not deny him – leaving out Peter and Judas. There are five stamens representing the five wounds; three stigma for the nails, and the fringe of filaments around the flower stands for the crown of thorns. The beauty of the flower proclaims the resurrection.

By carving this flower over their dear ones’ graves, the family were indeed proclaiming that the dead would rise again with Christ. When you see a passion flower let it remind you that Jesus is real, his death was real, as indeed will ours be – but so, too, will our rising. And when you see a passion flower on a gravestone, pray for those lying there.

An earlier post about Passion flowers can be read here.

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28 May: a Little Child shall lead them, Before the Cross XXVI.

Elham Church, Kent.

We walked to Elham on the recommendation of our daughter; we were not disappointed. Firstly, to find the King’s Arms open and ready to sell us good beer which we enjoyed in the square in the full Spring sunshine. And then there was the church, also open, ready to sell us good second-hand books, and ready to give us plenty to reflect upon.

These Easter Lilies were placed before a Madonna and child, but a very Paschal, Easter-minded Madonna and child. Two years ago we looked at a portrait of Mary and baby Jesus in a pieta-like pose, and I urge you to revisit that post now, to complement this one.

That old post considered two paintings from the studio of Rogier van de Weyden, of the mid-XV Century, the Madonna and a Pieta. In each Mary is tenderly holding her son, whose pose as a baby matches that of his lifeless corpse. This is not what our artist in Elham has in view. Jesus may be four years old here, a boy, not a baby, but still dependent on Mary and Joseph for everything.

The boy is very much alive, yet he is standing as if practising for his work on the Cross. He is lightly supported by his mother; at this age he can walk for himself, but that gentle uplift is reassuring. As for Mary, not for the last time she ponders these things in her heart, the heart pierced by the sword of sorrow.

Jesus is about to step forth from her lap. Any parent will know the excitement and trepidation of following a small child, where are they going, what dangers can we perceive that they do not? But letting them lead us is part of growth for the child and also for the parent who is offered the chance to see the world through fresh eyes.

Mary could not prevent the death of Jesus on the Cross but she was there to welcome him on the third day. Isaiah tells us that a little child shall lead them: may we follow him through all life’s trials to our resurrection in his Kingdom.

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