Westminister Cathedral considers itself fortunate to have one of Manzù's "most sensitive works." The story of how the Cathedral came to have this work by an artist who is "regarded as among Italy’s greatest modern sculptors" is told in Oremus: "In response to the invitation by the Westminster Cathedral Art and Architecture Committee to Giacomo Manzu that he should produce a low relief bronze wall panel showing St Thérèse of Lisieux for the Cathedral, Manzu submitted a sketch in 1956. This was immediately approved and the commission awarded. Manzu then proceeded to design and produce the bronze in Italy with casting taking place in Milan. The cost was £680, which was defrayed by Miss Janet Howard as a memorial to her sister, Alice Lawrason Howard."
The exhibition at the Estorick Collection is a great opportunity, therefore, to see work by a neglected modern master. In my review of the exhibition for the Church Times I argue that: "Perhaps more than any other modern artist, Manzù experienced both sides of the debate within the Church in relation to modern art — a debate that has revolved around the extent to which the best artists of the day should be commissioned regardless of faith commitment."
Manzù and Pope John 'both came from Bergamo in Italy but there the affinity seemed to halt, for one was the beloved Pope John XXIII and the other was a Communist bereft of his religious faith was the famous sculptor Giacomo Manzù. Yet Pope John, discerning the man beyond the atheist, commissioned Manzù to make his portrait bust, and despite all the artist's misgivings, there developed between them a warm and deeply significant friendship which drove Manzù to achieve the remarkable bronze Doors of Death for St. Peter's in Rome - the first new doors for the cathedral for 500 years.'
The door 'has large modelled panels that depict the deaths of Mary and Christ, as well as lesser panels that show the deaths of saints and ordinary people. Vatican officials were wary of Manzù’s communist politics and criticized his refusal to temper his unflinching depiction of death and human suffering with a more spiritual theme. Particularly shocking was his depiction of a cardinal looking at a man being crucified up side-down, a reference to the execution of fascists after WWII.'
The website description for this Station runs as follows: "According to legend, Veronica knelt beside Jesus as he struggled with the cross. After wiping the blood, sweat, and grime from his face her cloth bore the miraculous imprint of Jesus’ face. While Veronica isn’t pictured, Epstein’s Madonna and Child looks unblinkingly towards the events of the Passion. Jesus’ outstretched arms form a cross, while the fabric which surrounds him suggests Veronica’s Sudarium. The garments of the two figures stretch across their bodies like bandages. Maybe it is up to the viewer to play the role of Veronica, lifting a cloth to tend to mother and son. Perhaps Epstein was inspired by the Convent of the Holy Child Jesus, for whom he created this sculpture; or maybe the Royal College of Nursing, which sits at the corner of Cavendish square. He didn’t need to look far to find examples of women prepared to come to the aid of the wounded."
In the public imagination, Lent is primarily a time for giving up things we otherwise enjoy. A bit like an extended period of New Year's resolutions and, possibly, honoured as much in the breach as with our resolutions at New Year. For example, in today's GuardianIan Martin writes: "Deny yourself something you like, reflect that you’re lucky to have it, feel grateful to be able to have it again."
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that, of course, although it doesn't include the idea that we give things up in Lent in order to focus more on God and others. As Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness wrestling with God and himself in prayer preparing for the period of ministry which would ultimately lead him to the cross, so we can use Lent as a time for personal prayer and private fasting as Jesus' words in today's Gospel reading teach. The artworks that we have in church during Lent are intended to assist us in contemplation and you may wish to spend extra time in this wonderful space in prayer and reflection.
As part of focusing more on God, we may take part in a Lent Course, such as the course being run by the Bank Churches group at 6.00pm on Tuesdays at St Lawrence Jewry. Sally Muggeridge and I are involved with this course which will explore the theme of The Creeds. In addition, the Walbrook Art Group have organised a series of art talks on Wednesday's at 1pm to aid our Lenten reflections. In focusing more on God and others, it is also valid to take things up for Lent. So there are campaigns like Love Life, Live Lent which encourage us to undertake 40 acts of kindness and generosity in Lent.
All of these though miss the sense of Lent as a journey on which, through prayer and reflection, we accompany Jesus as he makes his way towards his death. As we accompany him on this journey we reflect on all that he endured for us and the reasons why he endures such things for us. This sense of Lent as a journey with Jesus is one reason why the Stations of the Cross are often so helpful to us in Lent. They take us on the journey Jesus made to the cross in Holy Week from Pilate's condemnation to the burial in the tomb. On the day he died, Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa through the streets of Jerusalem, a holy city for Jews, which would later become sacred to Christians and Muslims. Across the chasm of two thousand years, this tortured path resonates with current events for people of many faiths and cultures. In particular, it calls to mind the hazardous journeys of refugees from today’s Middle East.
This Lent we are part of Stations of the Cross 2016, an exhibition created as a pilgrimage around the Stations of the Cross each of which are located at 14 different iconic locations in Central London. This unique exhibition uses works of art to tell the story of the Passion in a new way, for people of different faiths. In this pilgrimage for art lovers, viewers will travel across London, mapping the geography of the Holy Land onto the streets of a ‘new Jerusalem.’ I encourage you to go on that pilgrimage this Lent, visiting the 14 Stations and allowing these Stations to provoke artistic, spiritual and political passions while also reflecting on Jesus' journey, suffering and love.
We are the 13th station on the trail for which Michael Takeo Magruder has created the installation Lamentation for the Forsaken. By juxtaposing the sufferings of the Syrian peoples in our own day with the death of Christ, Michael reminds us that Christ's death is symptomatic of all suffering throughout time. When we lament Christ's death, our lament is for all human sinfulness which has caused such devastation and destruction through our world and history. Michael evokes the memory of Syrians who have passed away in the present conflict by weaving their names and images into a contemporary Shroud of Turin. But the real miracle isn’t the Shroud itself, it’s our capacity to look into the eyes of the forsaken — and see our Saviour.
Alan Everett, in his exhibition, draws our attention to the persecution of Christians in our world today. These are people who have made the ultimate identification with Christ in their lives; being faithful to him unto death. Theirs’ is the ultimate Lenten journey as their own lives become the Stations of the Cross. This year the Lent Appeal in the Diocese of London is for persecuted Christians. You have been given a leaflet with information about this campaign and, beginning today, there will be a retiring offering at all of our Lenten services to raise funds for this campaign.
Jesus says that we store up treasures in heaven when our prayer, giving and fasting (or other Lenten disciplines) are done, not so that others see us and think we are particularly pious, but instead are only seen by God, who rewards what we do in secret (Matthew 6). Alas, these days, as Ian Martin notes," there is no self-denial so slight it cannot be chronicled on social media." "It’s becoming odder with every passing year, the old-fashioned idea of giving something up and keeping quiet about it. If you decide to shun alcohol for a month, we’ll be following you every step of the way, won’t we? There’ll be the Facebook page for a start. A chronicle of bravery and self-love, with its rows of daily “feeling proud” badges you’ve awarded yourself like some lunatic despot. And a photo of your dead dad or your dead dog. And an algorithmic quote in a handwriting font about how it’s not selfish to do what’s best for you because in the end it makes you a better person for others, over a photograph of zebras at sunset or Robin Williams." The reverse of Jesus' teaching in today's Gospel reading (Matthew 6).
We have considered some of the menu options before us as we begin this Lent. Which will we choose? They are not, of course, mutually exclusive and some might choose a gourmet Lent by taking up all the available options while others may pick ‘n’ mix by sampling a little of this and some of that. Whatever you decide the challenge is to make active use of the next forty days in order to deepen your relationship with God. I wish you a holy Lent.
The service included the poem God's Flight by Heather Flood:
On the ground sits a bird
that's too afraid to fly.
Beautiful wings could make it soar,
but the pain of past failure makes it cry.
God said unto this frightened bird,
"Trust and have faith in me,
for I will carry you in your flight.
The miracle of life is there for you to see."
The bird said to God, "But I can't fly.
I am weak. I will fall and feel real pain
It's happened before when I tried to fly.
I'm afraid of being hurt again."
His voice soft and reassuring, God said to the bird,
I created you, and I will protect you.
Your lonesome cry I have heard.
Have faith in me. That's all you need to do.
So, stand up, bird, and spread your wings.
Wings I lovingly created to let you fly.
If you fall I'll pick you up,
and lift you back into the sky."
With trembling legs and unsure wings
the bird finally looked up to the sky.
It took a deep breath, and in a leap of faith.
The bird began to fly.
"Thank you, God, for believing in me.
Thank you for giving me wings.
Thank you for your protecting hands.
Your glory I’ll now sing."
The little bird, once so scared,
soared to a great new height.
The fear of fall no longer scared the bird,
finding its faith in Gods safe flight.
The phrase 'The Dream of the Rood', he said, has "a double meaning: on the one hand it's an account of a person dreaming about the personified cross; on the other, we are all part of the rood's dream - we are all companions of Christ, bearing his scars and sorrows."
He explored Alan's work in terms of:
the cross, for all its gruesome pain and agony, as depiction of "a realm of existence more textured, more interwoven, than the dullness of a regular life";
the cross as "a victory won at a terrible price";
"a cross in the heart of God since the foundation of the world";
the cross as "the ruin of sin, the ugliness of evil, the destruction of creation";
the cross as "salvaging true faith from doubt, true identity from obscurity, true Christianity from the accretions of history, tradition or culture"; and
the cross become "a new creation".
By way of introducing the evening I said the following:
For over eight hundred years a place of worship has stood on this site witnessing to the power of God in people’s lives. Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, the present church is the fourth to have stood here. Bombed in the Second World War and restored to its present magnificent state in 1981, twentieth century artists and craftsmen have adorned its interior. That is why Henry Moore’s travertine marble altar now stands at the centre under Wren’s dome usually surrounded by dazzling kneelers by Patrick Heron (although those are currently away undergoing repair and restoration).
Henry Moore’s altar design was intended, as you can see, for people to gather as a community around the altar where God could be found at the centre. God at the centre of our lives and communities is what we seek to celebrate through all that we do here at St Stephen Walbrook.
The stunning blend of old and new art and architecture to be found at St Stephen Walbrook draws significant numbers of tourists and other visitors’ year in and year out. William Newman’s dark wood panelling provides a dramatic backdrop to the regular programme of contemporary art exhibitions that the church hosts. The temporary exhibitions that we host add to the experience enjoyed by those who visit and aid the prayer and reflection for those of us who frequent this space regularly.
Alan Everett’s work, as you will see, also engages with current events by addressing experiences of persecution and martyrdom in our own time whilst also relating these current experiences to the foundational event for Christians of Christ’s crucifixion. In inviting Alan to exhibit here I was engaged by the organic nature of his work as he combines the deliberation of his rhythmic mark marking with the more random effects of drips and splashes; all cohering through his overall perception of the evolving work. This way of working is ideally suited to the exploration of construction and destruction, layering and fragmentation, life and death which is to be found in these works and this exhibition.
As a result, these paintings are a welcome and contemplative addition to the reflective and prayerful nature of this sacred space and will guide us in our meditation during Lent. Alan will share something of his inspiration and the motivations behind these works when he speaks about them here on Wednesday 4th March at 1.00pm. We will also explore their themes in worship through one of our Discover & explore services next Monday at 1.10pm.
The videos follow the progress of the artist Michael Takeo Magruder as he conceives, develops and finally presents his installation at St Stephen Walbrook. In the first video, Context, Michael discusses being approached to take part in the project, themes he regularly explores within his work, and the inspiration for his contribution. In the second video, Research, Michael discusses his ideas for the artwork and talks about gathering data for the installation's different components. In this third video, Production, Michael outlines the design of the artwork’s technical infrastructure and shows a completed section of the modular installation.
Further videos will follow, including one based on the installation of the artwork today at St Stephen Walbrook. For more information about the exhibition, including podcasts and associated events, visit: coexisthouse.org.uk/stations2016.html. The Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, says that the Stations “navigate a journey” that was still relevant to “dispossessed communities, fleeing refugees, displaced identities, and all who suffer injustice and oppression”.
These videos are made by Emma Puente who in her own work, likes "to examine the poetry in the commonplace, the beauty that goes unnoticed, and the 'what if?'"