Mosaic, Almudena Cathedral

1st April 2020

In these very challenging times there have been various suggestions about creating your own “art gallery” at home, as we can no longer go out and visit one. The charity Art UK is giving access to a large online library of paintings from UK galleries to allow people to “curate” their own virtual exhibition.

This prompted me to review my own collection of art postcards which I have acquired over the years. I came across a postcard of a beautiful mosaic from a visit to the Almudena Cathedral (Santa María la Real de La Almudena) next to the royal palace in the centre of Madrid.

Plans to build a cathedral in Madrid dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena were discussed as early as the 16th century. Even though Spain built plenty of cathedrals in the new world during that century, Madrid’s cathedral was postponed and the construction of Almudena only began in 1879. It was consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1993. The interior is modern and decorated in a variety of styles including “pop-art”.

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel features this mosaic from the artist and theologian Father Marko Ivan Rupnik. He was born in Slovenia in 1954. Since September 1991 he has worked in Rome as Director of the Centro Aletti. He specialises in mosaic art, using irregular “tesserae” of different sizes and materials including granite, marble, enamel, and gold leaves. He is quoted as saying “The great difference is this: an art work can rouse wonder and admiration, but the art that enters the liturgical space must stir veneration.”

I have had a love for mosaics ever since being introduced to Roman mosaics at school through studying Latin. I hope you too will find this mosaic inspiring, with its beautiful colours and illuminated images.

Mary Robinson

God be in my head

God be in my head and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes and in my looking;
God be in my mouth and in my speaking;
God be in my heart and in my thinking;
God be at my end and at my departing.

31st March 2020

As a self-confessed Anglo Catholic I consider Lent as a time for reflection, prayer and for giving something up as means of trying to understand the turmoil that Christ went through for us and in preparation for the glorious Easter festival. Giving something up is not easy and perhaps some of us give something up that we find not that challenging. For those who follow this discipline I applaud and wish every success in reaching Easter successfully. But are we missing a trick?

To me Christ’s life on earth was one of positivity, faith, hope and forgiveness. The message to love God and one another was a constant theme of his ministry. He went into the wilderness to face his human frailty to confront the weakness of his human side. Being human and divine was always going to present challenges and Jesus faced them all in the time he spent in fasting, prayer and above all in temptation in the wilderness. Jesus with the help of God overcame his human weakness and through the love of God his divinity triumphed.

We are all presented with challenges throughout our lives and we must overcome them to survive. As Christians we rely on our Heavenly Father to help and guide us through. God loves us and he asks us to love our neighbours. The Coronavirus has presented us with such a challenge. In fact an enormous challenge, the like of which none of us have encountered before. In an effort to control and eventually overcome the virus we all are being asked to give up many things including our freedom of movement.

This means that many people including the elderly and those with underlying health issues are isolated from the community and subsequently many cannot venture out to fetch food or medicines. The NHS is stretched beyond belief and needs help. Come forward the volunteers following a request nationally for people to help. At the time of writing over 600,000 souls have volunteered, many putting themselves at risk by doing so. Churches and local groups are also working to alleviate hardships caused by the crisis

For me this is Lent in action. These volunteers and organisations are acting selflessly to help others in need. This is the heart of Christianity in action. This is God’s love being shown in people who care. Often we go through very difficult times where “an ounce of action is worth a ton of sympathy”. If all of us offered ourselves to others in kindness and action through Lent, and other times of the year as well, like the volunteers, we would please God and strengthen our own moral fortitude and Christian conviction. Pray God will give us the strength to play our part.

So how does all this relate to art? To me everything I have said can be seen in the hymn ‘God Be In my Head”. It is a prayer for life, it is a prayer for action through hearing, seeing and understanding and it is a prayer of hope and confidence for the future. It is the essence of life.

Ken Hitchings

The Man Who Planted Trees

30th March 2020

Trees are on the agenda these days, not least because of climate change. And trees can make their contribution to human wellbeing, sometimes with startling effect, as this gem of a narrative illustrates.

It tells of a solitary shepherd in early 20th century France. As Elzear Bouffier tended his flocks and led them over deserted areas, each day he planted 100 tree seeds such as beech mast. Each evening he would sort out his 100 seeds for the next day’s planting; of these some 30% would germinate and grow. The patient repetition of this self-appointed task is beautifully conveyed in the simple prose of the account. Over the years, his flock dwindled and he spent his days caring for his saplings, putting life on barren land. The trees drew water to these places, people began to find the areas to be inhabitable and indeed desirable and the silent valleys were filled with life and laughter.

This story, and alas! it is fiction, speaks so eloquently of Hope. It reminds me of God’s patient work in our lives, sowing good seed, and prepared for some to fail, some to bear fruit for life.

THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES was written by Jean Giono and intended as a free gift. The text is freely available online (en.wikisource.org or Google Giono trees free text) but the common English printed version is illustrated by beautiful woodcuts and is available from Amazon.

The story is so special, people ask “Is it true? Did it happen?” No, it is a work of fiction, and it didn’t happen but we cannot, dare not, say that it’s not true.

Mary Wood

St Teilo

27th March 2020

Asked to write a piece for the Lent Blog, I was stumped, I couldn’t think of anything that I could tell you about, until I read Chris’ piece about St George’s reredos. This reminded me of another reredos at a little church in Llandeloy, Pembrokeshire.

St Eloi’s (also known as St Teilaw or St Teilo) Church was closed in 2002 and taken on by a group called ‘Friends of Friendless Churches’. On entering the church, it is very small, cold and dark – similar to many other churches! It’s difficult to make out much detail of the church in the dark, so the first time we went, we took photos without being able to see what exactly we had photographed. Lit up by the flash, the brilliant colours of the reredos glowed, the dim light in the church not nearly doing justice to the exuberance of the painting. We’ve been back since; this time we found the light switch and were better able to appreciate the painting and the rest of the church. We now have the photo of the reredos on the television screensaver and my heart lifts with pleasure every time I see it.

The painting reminds me of the stained-glass window at Gloucester Cathedral, a memorial to Herbert Sumsion, organist and choirmaster at the cathedral for 40 years. The window is tucked away in the Lady Chapel and I walk past the bigger, grander windows for a little moment of joy just to see the tiny window with the bold, simple colours.

There’s obviously a theme coming through here, I always liked the pictures in the Mr Men books by Roger Hargreaves, (Mr Tickle was my favourite!) and since then I’ve also enjoyed the works of Clarice Cliff. I like the strong, naive colours and the simplicity of the work. These artworks all give me joy in their unexpectedness and brightness. I look forward to the next time I can enjoy them, and I enjoy the hunt for similar art.

Louise Hill

The start of a journey

26 March 2020

This was a hard one – how has God spoken to me through the arts? But then I remembered I have a copy of a painting stuck in the inside cover of my Bible that I was given by my two great friends at university. It is the famous ‘Light of the World’ painting by William Holman Hunt. I do like the painting – a serene Jesus knocking at an old wooden door in a woodland scene, but actually it’s the words that my friends chose to write next to it, saying:

Lynne – ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him. And he with me.’ Rev 3:20.
With lots of love, Martin & Fiona. Christmas 1988

When I was growing up I hardly ever went to church except for occasional Brownie parades and to go brass rubbing with my school friend and her family. Fiona and Martin were the first people to take me along to a church service with them where things were lively, exciting and appeared to make a difference to people’s lives. That was St Aldates church in central Oxford. They followed this up by encouraging me to go with them on a Lee Abbey working weekend where I went along for the sea views and some fun chopping down rhododendrons. Experiencing how they worship there completely opened my eyes to a living faith and seeing how people could have a direct relationship with God. And I knew I wanted to explore more of that.

So really that picture was the start of my Christian journey, and I am still exploring over 30 years later, thanks to those old friends and many more recent ones as well.

Lynne Palmer

Wells Cathedral icons

25th March 2020

We recently visited Wells Cathedral and were blessed with sunshine filtering through some exquisite 14th century stained glass windows, having sought shelter from a snow storm in the Bishop’s Palace gardens nearby. The atmosphere of the ancient cathedral engendered a sense of awe and interestingly, the unique modern-looking scissor arches were revealed as a medieval solution to sinking foundations.

However, the items which really inspired me were the iconic Stations of the Cross, placed around the nave during Lent, for visitors to make their own pilgrimage around the ancient building. The icon paintings, attached to heavy boards by nails, radiate an ancient aura. I was surprised, therefore, to read that they were commissioned in 2000 from Silvia Dimitrova, a Bulgarian who lives in Bath.

They help us better understand the generosity of Jesus giving his life for us – none more than this one, where he is stripped; “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be” (John 19.2.4).

Ian Robinson

Cuzco 'Last Supper'

24th March 2020

We recently visited Peru and found this depiction of the Last Supper in the cathedral in Cuzco .We loved the way the 16th century artist had brought in his own culture by including a guinea pig as the main dish for the meal!

We were also impressed by the way that the people of Peru had embraced Christianity despite the terrible example the conquistadores showed them of cruelty and lack of compassion.

Paul Bartlett