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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Latest ArtWay report

My latest sabbatical art pilgrimage report for ArtWay has been published in their Church of the Month slot. This report concerns St Aidan of Lindisfarne in East Acton, which is a treasure casket of sacred art. The reports which ArtWay are publishing generally contain additional information or reflections from those which I am posting here and, as with the posts here, will gradually build up a partial history of the revival of sacred art in the twentieth century.

This report follows others on Aylesford Priory, Chelmsford CathedralLumen and Sint Martinuskerk Latem, as well as earlier reports of visits to sites associated with Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, Antoni Gaudi and Henri Matisse.


Water into Wine Band - Waiting For Another Day.

Celebration of the Arts: Bradwell Evening Service

Peter Banks, Peter Webb and I are leading an Evening Service at St Peter's Chapel, Bradwell on Sea on Sunday 31st August at 6.30pm which will be a celebration of the Arts.

Peter Banks, who co-authored 'The Secret Chord' with me, is providing the music and is bringing a five-piece acoustic ensemble.

Peter Webb is bringing artwork by commission4mission artists. The service will feature artwork by Ross Ashmore, Harvey Bradley, Anne Creasey, Michael Creasey, Clorinda Goodman, Peter Webb and myself. Work by other commission4mission artists may also be included.

The service will use an arts-focused liturgy with spaces for meditation. I will speak on Luke 24. 13 - 35.


ATF - You.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Romont

My sat nav didn't register the address I had for the Swiss Museum of Stained Glass (Vitromusée) at Romont. However, as a major tourist attraction in a stunning location on a hilly island in a sea of green, it was simple to find.

The Vitromusée is housed in Romont Castle which, together with the medieval church and houses surrounded by the old town walls, ‘shapes the distinctive silhouette’ of the small, historic and attractive town that is Romont.’  The hill on which the castle stands extends to an altitude of 780m (approx. 2,500 ft.) meaning that ‘the square in front of the castle opens onto a magnificent panorama of the Alps, with the majestic Mont Blanc visible to the right on a clear day.’

‘The keep and the main part of the castle - which today houses the Museum’s stained-glass collection - were built in the 13th century under Pierre II of Savoy. In the 16th century, the new governors from Fribourg built a further wing - now home to the Museum’s collection of reverse painting on glass. The entrance gate to the courtyard and the well (depth 40m) also date from that period. The huge wooden draw-wheel for the well (18thC), the parapet walkway, and some lovely old trees lend the courtyard a particular cachet. In the course of time, the buildings were converted to suit various purposes (barn, garage, prison etc.); until in 1981 the Vitromusée and in 1988 the Vitrocentre were installed.’

‘The Museum has a marvellous collection of stained glass and reverse painting on glass plus temporary exhibitions. The fascinating history of the development of stained glass is presented in a permanent exhibition of key works. The visitor follows a path leading past archaeological fragments from the 5th century AD, via masterpieces of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Historicism and Art Nouveau right up to the most recent modern glass art … Although the names of the artists who designed the oldest pieces of stained glass are generally not known, later works often bear the hallmark of well-known workshops or artists: among them, to name but a few, the workshops of Dirk Vellert (16thC), of Gustav van Treeck (19thC), or of Louis Comfort Tiffany; or the artists Alexandre Cingria, Léon Zack, Alfred Manessier, Yoki, Augusto Giacometti or Brian Clarke’. Of particular relevance to my sabbatical art pilgrimage was a piece by Konrad Vetter entitled 'Canticle of the Sun' inspired by the Song of Praise of St Francis of Assisi and, through his reduction of leaded glass to its most essential, a pure hymn to light.

A stained glass fragment by Marc Chagall has recently been purchased and is on display together with a film discussing his stained glass work with Charles Marq. ‘While he was finalising the stained glass for Mainz Cathedral, Marc Chagall gave a small stained-glass panel to the master glazier at the Simon Marq atelier in Reims with whom he had worked for many years. This glass bouquet by Chagall is one of the rare stained-glass panels by the artist that was not designed as part of a building.’ It occupies the central place in a special exhibition of the latest importantacquisitions by the Museum.

The Groupe de St Luc et St Maurice became based in Romont when its leader Alexandre Cingria settled there in 1937. This group was founded in 1919 and brought together artists, architects and intellectuals (including François Baud, Fernand Dumas, Marcel Feuillat, Adolphe Guyonnet,  Marcel Poncet and Georges De Traz, among others) whose aim was to breathe new life into church art in French-Switzerland. Group members restored, refurbished and built numerous churches, often designed as integrated works of art. In 1924, a counterpart, Rot-Blau (red-blue), was formed in German-speaking Switzerland, led by Hans Stocker and Otto Staiger, which is still active today.

Cingria had a significant involvement in the cultural life of Switzerland - literary, musical and artistic – bringing an approach of ‘nonconformity and rebellion in an environment marked by the Puritan reserve’. He was involved in the creation of ‘Les Cahiers Vaudois’ founded by Paul Budry, Edmond Gilliard and Charles Ferdinand Ramuz. In addition, he participated in journals such as ‘L'Oeuvre’, ‘Nova et Vetera’, ‘Aujourd'hui’ and ‘Ars Sacra’. From the 1920s onwards, Cingria created sets and costumes for popular theatre shows in Switzerland while in 1936, he founded the Compagnons de Romandie with Jo Baeriswyl with the purpose of promoting masterpieces of Catholic theatre.

In 1917 he published a manifesto 'La Decadence d'art sacre', which, in the opinion of William S. Rubin, ‘constituted the first serious confrontation of the problem of modern religious art’ and ‘elicited considerable interest throughout Catholic intellectual and artistic circles’ (‘Modern Sacred Art and the Church of Assy’, Columbia University Press, New York & London, 1961). Paul Claudel responded with a famous letter in which he described the contemporary churches against which Cingria was reacting, as ‘heavily laden confessions.’ Their ugliness, Claudel insisted, was the ‘demonstration to all the world of sins and shortcomings, weakness, poverty, timidity of faith and feeling, disgust with the supernatural, dominations by conventions and formulae ... worldly luxury, avarice, boasting, sulkiness, Pharisaism and bombast.’

These artists and other French-speaking ecclesiastics were in touch with and inspired by the writings of Jacques Maritain and the practice of Maurice Denis. It was Maritain who put Cingria in contact with Gino Severini which led to many ecclesistical commissions in Switzerland for Severini, often together with the St Luke Group. Denis first worked with some of these artists when he was commissioned to work on the renovation of Notre-Dame Geneva and also became artistic director for the construction of Saint-Paul Grange-Canal, also in Geneva. Together they dreamed of "creating a movement of rebirth of religious art in France and in all Catholic countries." This ambition resulted in 1919 in the formation of the St Luke Group and also of the Ateliers d'Art Sacré by Denis and Georges Desvallieres in Paris.

Although having support from the likes of Claudel and Maritain and racking up significant commissions between them, these groups by no means had it all their own way. The reactionary Catholic critic Charles Du Mont, for example, reproduced works by Denis and Cingria side by side in his booklet 'Ou en est notre art religieux?', using them as examples of ‘free and wild artistic expression, whose dynamics have led the world to catastrophe.’

Endowed with a vivid imagination and full of poetic realism, Cingria’s style was similar to folk and naïve art. His painting and stained glass is lyrical, seemingly spontaneous and full of both sensuality and mysticism. The iconography that inspired his work has its roots in the early Christian tradition.

At the Vitromusée I discovered that the area has a Stained Glass Art Trail featuring work by Jean Bazaine, Alexandre Cingria and Brian Clarke, among others. On this trail I was able to visit Collegiale Notre-Dame de l'Assomption, the Gothic church in Romont, and Notre-Dame de l'Epine in Berlens to see work by Bazaine.

Collegiale Notre-Dame de l'Assomption has so many stained-glass windows it is a veritable museum of stained glass itself; the oldest dates back to the beginning of the 14th century, while others date from the 16th and 19th centuries. Modern windows have been created by Henri Broillet, Sergio de Castro (north side-aisle), Cingria (the Twelve Apostles in the clestory) and Yoki (Chapel of our Lady of Portail). The ancient and contemporary coexist, although the contrast between the works of different styles and eras is striking.

Yoki Aebischer Emile, who hailed from Romont, was an innovator of modern geometric and expressive techniques in religious art. Yoki was born in 1922 and, as a child, cycled through the countryside to marvel at the stained glass windows of Cingria in Siviriez. After various jobs, including that of a worker in a glass factory, he became a draughtsman in an architectural office. As a result, in 1938 he met Fernand Dumas, the highly prolific church architect, and through him, Maurice Barraud,  Emilio Beretta, Cingria, Severini and other artists of the St Luke Group. In the 1940s, he discovered the art of the Nabis and, after the war, he attended the Academy of French painter André Lhote in Paris. He went on to create more than a thousand windows for churches in England, France, Germany, Israel, Italy and Switzerland,. He was also involved in the repair of war-damaged monuments in Britain, France and Germany. As well as frescoes and stained glass, he produced many paintings, lithographs, mosaics and tapestries.  In 1981 he co-founded the Museum of Stained Glass, which is now the Vitromusée.

Also on the trail is the Cistercian Abbaye de la Fille-Dieu which commissioned Brian Clarke in 1996 to create windows for its renovated and reordered chapel. Arriving to see these windows I chanced to arrive for Vespers followed by silent contemplation in the still onset of darkness falling. The flakiness of some of the lead nun's vocals, before being caught in the wondrous harmonies of unified responses, only added a sense that our individual fallabilities are accepted and swept up together in the great corporate song of heaven. As participation in the service did not facilitate the taking of photographs I enjoyed an overnight stay at the Hotel du Lion D'Or before returning in the morning for a photographic session in the early morning light.


Van Morrison - Into The Mystic.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Julian Meditation 2

Here is the second collage of words from Julian of Norwich which I have compiled as part of reflecting on the her writings, particularly as used in the DVD featuring Alan Oldfield's paintings. They are intended to put Julian's words in new combinations while retaining her overall meaning:

There were times when I wanted to look away from the Cross, but I dared not.
The huge, hard, hurtful nails pulled the wounds wide open
The body sagged with the weight of its long hanging
Fair skin was driven deep into the tender flesh
Harsh striking all over the sweet body
The nails wrenched it as the weight of the body pulled against it
Shaken in sorrow and anguish and tribulation
As a cloth is shaken in the wind
The weeping and wailing of the soul
Bearing the loss of every kind of comfort except the deep, quiet keeping of God

I knew that while I gazed on the Cross I was safe and sound.
The holy joining made in heaven. God's son fell with Adam
Adam's old shirt - narrow, threadbare and short - our mortal flesh that God's son took upon him
So joined in love that the greatness of our love caused the greatness of his grief
The shame, the despising, the utter stripping he accepted
All the bodily and spiritual pains and passions of his creatures
Our Lord Jesus made nothing for us and we made nothing with him
In our joining together in love lies the life of all who shall be saved
In falling and rising again we are held close in one love
For our falling does not stop him loving us

I dared not look away. I was not willingly going to imperil my soul.
Flee to our Lord and we shall be comforted. Touch him and we shall be made clean.
Cling to him and we shall be safe and sound from every kind of danger.
For our courteous Lord wills that we should be at home with him
as heart may think or soul may desire .
Our soul rests in God its true peace, our soul stands in God its true strength,
and is deep-rooted in God for endless love.
He did not say 'You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary,
you shall not be discomforted'.

But he did say, 'You shall not be overcome.'


Indelible Grace - All Must Be Well.

Enterprise Club

Our first evening enterprise club at the Sophia Hub is tomorrow 7.00 - 9.00 pm and will be on e safety for business. This session is being run by local businessman Terry Freedman who is an expert in this field. Laptops will be on hand to set up social media accounts or change privacy settings etc.

More information is available here -


Van Morrison - Brand New Day.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Insults which challenge prejudice

Jesus was damn rude to the Canaanite Woman in today's Gospel reading (Matthew 15. 21 - 28). He begins by making it clear that she is not one of the chosen people for whom he has come and continues by insulting her and her people in calling them 'dogs'.

Why is he so uncharacteristically rude? His disciples want him to send the woman away; ostensibly because of the fuss she is making but, more probably, because she is not one of 'them'. Jesus throws their prejudices at the woman both as a way of confronting his disciples with the ugliness of their prejudice and as a provocation that reveals the faith within this woman.

In the face of seeming denial and insult, she persists in her request and in her faith in Jesus' ability and willingness to heal. On the back of this tangible example of faith, Jesus is then able to challenge the prejudices of his disciples (as was his intent from the outset) by pointing out the depth of faith which he had uncovered in a woman of another race, culture and faith.

In the course of the Gospels Jesus tends to call on his disciples to grow in their faith (e.g. Matthew 14. 31), to condemn the lack of faith found in religious leaders (e.g. Matthew 15. 14) and, as here, to commend the faith found in those of others races, cultures and faiths (e.g. Matthew 8. 10).

This interpretation of this incident as a deliberate challenge to the prejudices of his disciples is consistent with the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10. 25 - 37) where Jesus tells a group of God's chosen people a story in which one of their own receives help, not from his own people, but from a man of another race, culture and faith. In this story, Jesus goes further than his already radical teaching of love for our enemies by telling a story in which a member of God's chosen people receives God's love and help from a person that he considers to be outside the people of God and an enemy of his own people.  

However we choose to draw the boundaries of who is and who is not one of God's people, Jesus breaks through those boundaries with his love for all people, his sacrificial giving for all and his recognition of all that those who are excluded actually have to offer to those who exclude.


Mark Heard - Strong Hand Of Love.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Windows on the world (305)

London, 2014


Inner City - Praise.