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Sunday, 13 November 2016

Patronal Festival & Hidden St Martin's

This evening at St Martin-in-the-Fields we celebrated our Patronal Festival, The Art of Being Church, and marked the 1700th anniversary of the birth of St Martin of Tours, 800 years of there being a church of St Martin’s on our site, and the climax of our 15-year programme of art commissions.

Vivien Lovell spoke about The Art of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Katherine Hedderly led the service and Sam Wells preached. Music was led by the Choir, Occasional Singers and Children's Voices of St Martin-in-the-Fields and included Apolytikion of St Martin by John Tavener. The prayers were led by our artists and craftspeople's group, who also organised the Hidden St Martin's exhibition which began today in the Foyer of the Crypt. A new booklet entitled 'The Art of St Martins' has been published (available from our shop) with contributions from Neil McGregor, Sam Wells, Vivien Lovell and Sir Nicholas Goodison. The booklet tells the story of our Arts programme and reflects on the commissioned artworks themselves.

The service included the dedication of the metalwork commissions of the last four years - Candleholders and a Paschal Candlestand by Brian Catling for the sanctuary and Candleholders, Chalice and Paten by Giampaolo Babetto for the Dick Sheppard Chapel. Richard Carter spoke about the Babetto pieces and I spoke about the Catling Candleholders and Paschal Candlestand saying:

Brian Catling has described himself as being ‘obsessively engaged in the collision of separate activities that sometimes fuse together in a hybrid event.’ His artistic practice, which is a form of metamorphosis, begins by putting things next to each other so that they become something different.

With his candleholders and paschal candlestand, he has worked a similar transformation as with his earlier Processional Cross, which they reference. That is to take ordinary materials – wood in the case of the cross and cloth in the case of the candleholders and paschal candlestand – and through the processes of shaping, casting and gilding to give them new meaning.

There is a direct resonance with the candleholders and paschal candlestand to the way the cross was made, as the three works share the same gestures of process while remaining individual objects in themselves. The use of Moon Gold as gilding also provides a likeness to other elements of decoration in the church, as it is the same bright lustre that covers other architectural details in the chancel.

As well as the process of their creation, the three pieces are linked by the use of cloth. In the processional cross, the third piece of wood hanging from the centre provides an allusion to St Martin tearing his cloak in two and giving half to a beggar, while cloth, saturated in a resin based plaster, has been shaped and modelled then cast in aluminium and gilded to form the candleholders and paschal candlestand.

In the story of St Martin, the overlooked beggar was seen to be Christ. In the Eucharist, the basic staples of bread and wine are re-membered as the body and blood of Christ. By casting and gilding wood and cloth, Brian Catling retains the simplicity and poverty of his sources – wood and cloth, St Martin and Christ - whilst also revealing the glory which comes through redemption in Christ’s final overcoming of suffering and death.

Brian Catling has spoken of how it is essential that he has both a hands-on and mindful relationship with the sculptural identity of his works. ‘Design is not enough,’ he has said, ‘I need the struggle and tension that only ever comes through deep feeling, prolonged thought, and the work of the hands.’ This, too, accords with our belief in the paradigm of crucifixion and resurrection that leads to a place where we understand that transformation and glory are only ever achieved as we journey through suffering and struggle.


John Tavener - Apolytikion for St Nicholas.

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