Tag Archives: Art

September 19: The reality that is proclaimed

chris-preaching

Austin’s reflections, Constantina’s art, the Zambian Poor Clares’ dance that we saw on St Clare’s Day; these reflections too: all are intended to bear witness to – what exactly? I think we need to remind ourselves often what is the Gospel we proclaim. I was about to throw out a scrap of paper this afternoon, but held off till I’d copied this.

When preaching takes place, the ‘reality’ that is proclaimed, the crucified and risen Christ, is made present for the preacher and the hearer alike and is imparted to those who hear the preaching with faith.

Thus writes Fr Gerald O’Collins.*

He is developing an idea in Ad Gentes 9 the Vatican Council’s Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church.

By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the centre and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He (God) brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker.

‘A sort of secret presence of God’ – it sounds almost like Francis Thompson! (see post on August 9th)

car-lights

Tis ye, tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendoured thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Let’s pray for the wisdom to know how to share the many-splendoured thing, and the humility to perceive Jacob’s ladder pitched on our own pavements – and the unlikely characters shining as they ascend!

MMB.

*Vatican II and the Liturgical Presence of Christ in irish Theological Quarterly, 2/2012.

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September 18: To see each other as young Christs.

good shepherd mada3

Another reflection from Constantina which sits well after Austin’s wisdom:

I have been contemplating on reconciliation and ran one of our Franciscan area meetings on this theme. Apart from the discussions in small groups there seemed to be some reconciling going on between people with increasing understanding of each other. The spirit was at work in the most gentle way.

Some days later, sitting quietly at my easel I received a thought about the Apostles and their different natures and how Christ accepted them all as they were, even if frustrating at times.

I wondered then why, when we have groups or organisations, there is often some kind of censure for anyone who does not fit in to the developed ethos of the group. Why is it that we try to limit others to our own viewpoints or remain suspicious of anything or anyone who does not conform? Jesus certainly did not conform to the he established hierarchy of his time.

How can we really learn to let go of own preconceptions and prejudices?

 

I am not sure why I am wittering on, perhaps it is the pungent Lefranc gold size wafting off my large icon I am in the middle of gilding. I am doing a tall young Christ. There is a power in contemplating the young Christ and even the Christ child as we cannot put on them our adult opinions, we can only gaze in wonder at his wisdom. Perhaps we need to see each other in this way, as young Christs. Will limitless potential and possibilities.

 

God bless!

CW.

 

Constantina adds:

My young Christ is only in initial stages at the moment and will take most of the summer to complete. So do use the wonderful statue.

Thank you, Constantina, for  this reflection and the chance to contemplate the young Good Shepherd again! It’s good to be reminded that Jesus was not always a Victorian stained-glass, bearded man dressed in white and red, but a young and vigorous teenager, taking Life and his Father’s Will seriously.

Maurice.

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20 August, Shared Table XVI: A Welcome in Broadstairs.

shared-table-baptistsbroadstairs

We were in Broadstairs, my student, his mother and me. We needed to investigate the journey from home to the college he might be joining, a train ride and a walk onto unfamiliar territory for my student, who can find the unfamiliar challenging. But we were at our destination before he knew it.

On Queen’s Road where once I worked for two years, I found myself on unfamiliar territory. The Baptist Church Hall where Gill and I and our team had taught school drop-outs had disappeared, replaced by a lovely new building with a community café on the ground floor. In we went as it looked warm and by no means noisy.

A wise choice! There was time only for a welcome tea and slice of cake, but we warmed up (this was in January) and looked around. One waitress had learning disabilities but was coping fine under discreet supervision. Some of the customers clearly knew each other well, and were enjoying their meals and each other’s company.

This mosaic hangs on the wall of the café. It brings Broadstairs, represented by the beach, the harbour buildings and the houses, to the Lord, around his table: not a church table with a white cloth but a coloured, patterned one. Bread and fishes from the harbour; bread and wine: everyday fare made special by His sharing, by our sharing with him.

Another concrete prayer, that mosaic. Another concrete prayer, that café! Drop in if you are in Broadstairs.

MMB.

 

 

 

http://www.thegapproject.co.uk/

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11 August: Saint Clare of Assisi

Clare.800px-Simone_Martini_047

Leonard Chikasasa was a pioneer sculptor in Kungoni, Malawi. His 1973 ‘Prayer’ stands in the chapel of the Convent of the Poor Clares in Lilongwe, Malawi. In the video we see the statue at the heart of their worship.

Click on th link, and may your spirit dance on Saint Clare’s day!

Poor Clares, Lilongwe.

MMB.

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24 July: Let me count the ways – of saying thank you.

 

heart.of.pebbles

Fancy finding this at your garden gate!

We had been talking gardening with a neighbour, and ended by leaving a plant for her to rehome in her garden. When she returned to collect it she left this thank-you message. There are many ways to say thank you …

Even to people who would usually deflect any open acknowledgement of services rendered; this morning I’ve had smiles, a thumbs-up, a raised eyebrow, a few words about the weather. And a couple of explicit thank-yous.

Laudato Si’.

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11 June: The Holy Trinity – still a bone of contention!

In an earlier post about the art at Chichester, I discussed some of oldest works in the Cathedral – the Romanesque reliefs depicting scenes from the raising of Lazarus. This post brings us forward, to the twentieth century, and a work which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year – the tapestry by John Piper at the high altar. A photograph of the piece is available on the Cathedral’s website.

 

Known simply as ‘the Piper Tapestry’, this piece was commissioned by Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester (1955-77). As parish priest at St Matthew’s in Northampton, and then as Dean of Chichester, Hussey was a great champion of the arts in the round – commissioning works of art and musical compositions, and inviting figures such as writers to give sermons.

 

The Piper Tapestry was part of a reordering of the quire in the 1960s. Hussey decided that an injection of colour was needed at the high altar and in 1963 approached Piper to produce a design to adorn the sixteenth-century Sherbourne screen. Hussey insisted that whenever something was added to a church in centuries past, it was executed in the contemporary style, and so it should be in the modern age.

 

Piper explored a number of different mediums before deciding upon tapestry – a medium which would sit comfortably alongside the screen, but which he could make his own. In fact, the piece consists of seven tapestries, hanging in each of the bays of the screen, which are read as a continuous design. This was Piper’s first work in this medium.

 

The subject of the tapestry also went through various iterations before the final conception, consisting of symbols of the Trinity (the dedication of the Cathedral) in the central portion, and on either side depictions of the four classical elements (earth, air, fire and water) and the beasts associated with the Evangelists (the man for Matthew, the lion for Mark, the ox for Luke and the Eagle for John). Piper had prepared a version of this scheme by the end of 1964, but at this point Lancelot Mason, Archdeacon of Chichester, raised an objection: in the central portion, Piper had included a Tau cross for the Son, a flame for the Holy Spirit, and a triangle for the Father. Mason objected that the triangle was a symbol of the Trinity and could not represent the Father; Piper would, Mason insisted, need to add another symbol.

 

Piper was unhappy about this request at a late stage in the process, having felt that the design had reached final form, but eventually he decided to add a white light, in addition to the triangle, giving the composition of elements that we see in the final design.

 

The tapestries were woven by Pinton Frères in Felletin near Aubusson in central France and installed in 1966. Their dedication took place at Evensong on 20 September. Hussey had certainly achieved his desired injection of colour into the space, but although he was delighted with the result, the public reception was rather mixed.

 

Both Hussey, and the local press, received numerous letters about the tapestries – some delighting in this bold introduction to the Cathedral interior, but others claiming that it was too garish; some even wrote that they could not take Communion before it. Perhaps the most famous objector was Cheslyn Jones, Canon Chancellor at the Cathedral, who reportedly wore dark glasses to the dedication service.

 

Fifty years later, in September 2016, the anniversary was marked with a prayer from the dedication service being read at Evensong, which was followed by a talk in which I told the story of the tapestry and shared some contemporary responses to it. The current Chancellor, Anthony Cane, dug out his own dark glasses for the occasion in a nod to his predecessor.

 

The occasion brought to life the richness of this piece and the regard in which it is held by the Cathedral community; at the end of the talk, I invited the audience to share their own thoughts on the tapestry.

 

A popular interpretation of the ‘air’ motifs – the most difficult element to depict in visual form – was that there is something of Sputnik I (the first artificial satellite, launched in 1957) in Piper’s choice of forms. Although I have not come across Piper mentioning this inspiration, this interpretation certainly resonates with the era of early space exploration at the time when the tapestry was created.

 

A memorable impression shared by another person was that the dramatic shard of red background in the central portion of the design can be seen as the opening of the veil in the Temple in Jerusalem, torn in two at the moment of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45). This biblical moment represents God’s presence bursting forth into the world, and the speaker who proposed this interpretation of the tapestry felt that the symbols in the central portion seem to burst from the surface of the hangings. Extending this reading to consider the other symbols included in the tapestry, we have a vision of God’s presence embracing all Creation – the world, beasts and humankind.

 

After fifty (one) years, Piper’s tapestry still feels daring and challenging, and doubtless does not please all. But, to paraphrase a participant in a discussion group I held about the tapestry, Christianity is not safe and wishy-washy, and so the tapestry continues to do important service to the Cathedral.

 

Further reading

 

Naomi Billingsley, ‘“A Magnificent Adornment to this House of God”? The Piper Tapestry at 50’, Lecture at Chichester Cathedral (22 September 2016).

 

Paul Foster (ed.). Chichester Tapestries. Lurçat – Piper – Benker: A Sequence of Exploration (Otter Memorial Paper 7) (Chichester: Bishop Otter College, 1991).

 

Walter Hussey, Patron of Art: The Revival of a Great Tradition Among Modern Artists (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985).

 

Simon Martin, John Piper: The Fabric of Modernism (Chichester: Pallant House Gallery, 2016).

 

Frances Spalding, John Piper. Myfanwy Piper. Lives in Art (Oxford: OUP, 2009).

 

A version of this post was published by Transpositions on 23 November 2016. 

NAIB.

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20 May: Taizé and Icon writing in Birmingham.

Our contributor Constantina has published an account of the Icon Workshops she recently led in Birmingham. Follow the link to Hidden Treasure .

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13 May: Time to have fun

herefords

The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs. My childhood parish priest seemed determined to make sure we were suitably miserable. Fun was equated with self-indulgence – all too likely to carry us away into the path of sin. The eleventh commandment was ‘Thou shalt not laugh, nor enjoy thyself’.

The hangover of that upbringing is that I have sometimes struggled to allow myself to enjoy life. The notion that God is a spoiler is not one I adhere to rationally but somewhere inside that image of God must linger. And yet when I remember some of the moments of deep fun that I have known I see how they abound with love, friendship, wonder, energy, and liberation: and as I put themselves back into those times I sense the presence, joy and life of God.

  • Sledging down the snow covered slopes of Greenwich Park while the ambulances circled below
  • Playing foot ball with my nephews in a muddy field
  • Losing myself in working with clay and not minding too much what shape I came up with
  • Making music with a group using my three and a half chords on a guitar
  • Going swimming on the spur of the moment with my sister in West Wales
  • Being thrown around at a barn dance without really having much clue what steps I was supposed to be making.

What moments do you remember?

Fun can have its downsides. Making fun of another at their expense is destructive. Thrill seeking can be addictive and self-centred. But these are perversions of what is essentially good and of God.

It is through fun that we lose our self-consciousness and allow ourselves to run free.

Walls of polite distance or even hostility between people evaporate in shared laughter.

Bonds of friendship are forged.

We stop taking ourselves too seriously – as if everything depended on our performance

We discover that we are creative after all – and all we needed was the opportunity and the courage to dare to express ourselves.

We delight in life, in the company of those with us and are completely held in the moment, putting aside our fears and preoccupations.

These are good moments, God moments.

In our churches and within our neighbourhoods,

in our tired lives, and amidst our difficulties

it is time to have fun!

CC.

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14 April,Good Friday: Pilate’s Politics.

608px-brooklyn_museum_-_the_message_of_pilates_wife-_pilate_-_james_tissot

John Masefield wrote a play in verse about Good Friday. In an exchange after Jesus was condemned, we hear Pilate and and his wife Procula, who famously warned him ‘Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.‘ (Matthew 27:19)

Pilate:

Another charge was brought some hours ago,

That he was claiming to be that great King

foretold by prophets, who shall free the Jews.

This he persisted in. I could not choose

But end a zealot claiming such a thing.

Procula:

It is a desecration of our power.

A rude poor man who pitted his pure sense

Against what holds the world its little hour,

Blind force and fraud, priests’ mummery and pretence.

Could you not see that this is what he did?

Pilate:

Most clearly, wife. But Roman laws forbid

That I should weigh, like God, the worth of souls.

I act for Rome, and Rome is better rid

Of those rare spirits whom no law controls.

He broke a statute, knowing from the first

Whither his act would lead, he was not blind.

‘Good Friday’ in John Masefield, ‘Collected Poems’, London, Heinemann, 1925, pp449-507.

Procula’s speech is as good an examination of conscience as any for today, but if you can find the text, the whole play is worth reading and pondering.

Tissot: The Message of Pilate’s Wife, Brooklyn Museum

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2 April: Jesus Wept.

Chichester Cathedral is famed for its modern art – especially the prominent commissions of the artists Graham Sutherland, John Piper and Marc Chagall by Walter Hussey during his time as Dean (1955-1977). It is also home to some fine works of art from earlier periods, and there have been a number of important acquisitions since Hussey’s time as Dean.

 

During 2016, as part of my work as Bishop Otter Scholar for Theology and the Arts in the Diocese of Chichester, I was researching the art in the Cathedral, and leading a series of discussion groups through which I gathered some contemporary responses to the works.

 

 

Among the oldest treasures in the Cathedral are two reliefs, thought to date from the twelfth century, depicting scenes from the Lazarus narrative in John’s Gospel: Martha and Mary going to meet Jesus (John 11:30-32) and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:33-44).

 

These are rare examples of Romanesque sculpture in Britain, and a remarkable survival. Resonating wonderfully with their subject-matter, the reliefs were hidden for centuries, and rediscovered, behind the choir stalls, in 1829. Other fragments of carvings were discovered along with the reliefs, and it is thought that they formed part of a larger scheme in a chancel screen. When rediscovered, the reliefs were moved to their present location in the south aisle, which saved them from another risk – the collapse of the Cathedral spire (into the quire, where the reliefs were found) in 1861.

 

One of the most striking features of the carvings is the emotional intensity in the faces of the figures, and this was the first thing that was commented on during the discussion session about the reliefs; as one participant put it simply: ‘they look so sad’. Jesus’ face in the raising of Lazarus is particularly powerful – a very striking rendering of the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, usually rendered ‘Jesus wept’.

 

There is a wonderful drawing of the face of Jesus by John Piper in the collection at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, where Dean Hussey bequeathed his personal art collection (further links between the Cathedral and the gallery will be mentioned in future posts). Piper is one of many artists inspired by the reliefs; another was Eric Gill, who grew up in Chichester, and enthused about the reliefs: he borrowed the composition of the sisters meeting Jesus for Jesus meeting the daughters of Jerusalem in his Stations of the Cross at Westminster Cathedral.

 

Part of the appeal of the reliefs lies, as one participant highlighted, in the very human presentation of Jesus here. According to the contemporary custom, we are left in no doubt that Jesus is the most important figure in the reliefs by his exaggerated height. But at the same time, this is a figure who has friendships and emotions, and whose grief-stricken face inspires empathy from viewers many centuries after it was carved.

 

Indeed, for me, the fact that the reliefs were carved many centuries ago heightens their impact – partly because their very survival is so remarkable, but more so because their emotional immediacy speaks across the centuries. And because most of the ‘facts’ about these carvings are lost in the mists of time, the viewer is liberated from becoming bogged down in analysing details such as the artists’ intentions and instead is given, as one participant put it ‘a blank page’, inviting ‘an immediate, emotional reaction… [rather] than something which is more intellectual.’

 

On the other hand, Linda Brown highlighted that we can also view the reliefs as giving us an insight into twelfth century perceptions of the Lazarus narrative, and, in the architectural features in the sisters meeting Jesus, impressions of the Holy Land in this period. This thought prompted a discussion about travel and pilgrimage in this period, and in turn made me wonder if we might view these works like the mediaeval church labyrinths which allowed the faithful to make a surrogate pilgrimage. Perhaps the twelfth-century viewer of the reliefs (or indeed the twenty-first century one) could (and can) imagine him/herself standing at the gateway and the graveside in Bethany, with Jesus, Martha and Mary, and sharing in their anguish.

 

Thank you to Linda Brown, Margaret Baugier, Fran Box, Tessa Cox, Rebekah Hanson, Jennifer Sandys and the participants who asked to remain anonymous for their contributions on this topic.

 

Further reading

 

Trevor Brighton, ‘Art in the Cathedral from the Foundation to the Civil War’ in Chichester Cathedral: A Historical Survey, ed. Mary Hobbes (Chichester: Philimoe & Co. Ltd, 1994), 69-84: 72-73.

 

Chichester Cathedral, ‘Delve Deeper: The Chichester Reliefs’, Chichester Cathedral website, 2016. Accessed 27/12/2016.

 

Alan Saunders, The Chichester Reliefs (Chichester: West Sussex Institute of Higher Education, 1989).

 

 

A version of this post was published by Transpositions on 3 October 2016. 

 

NAIB.

 

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