Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Push on through the obstacles

Here is my reflection from today's Choral Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields:

He was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. (Mark 6. 1 - 6)

I wonder how often you have been in a situation where your work or your mission keeps coming up against barriers or difficulties. That seems to have been the situation that Jesus faced here when he taught in his home town of Nazareth. Elsewhere, at this time, his teaching and his healing ministry were broadly welcomed. In Nazareth, however, he encountered an almost complete block.

Such situations pose a dilemma; do we press on regardless and push on through the obstacles convinced of the need for our work or mission, or should we view the existence of barriers to progress as a reason for reflecting on our approach and altering our plans? In this situation, Jesus modified his immediate activity in Nazareth but pressed on with his wider mission. This is an approach that he later commended to his apostles when he sent them out to preach saying, ‘If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.’

It is advice that those the Church has recognised as saints have often followed as well. Today, the Church remembers John Bosco, Priest and Founder of the Salesians. Born in 1815 to a peasant family, John Bosco spent most of his life in the Turin area of Italy. He had a particular call to help young men and pioneered new educational methods, for example, in rejecting corporal punishment. His work with homeless youth received the admiration even of anticlerical politicians and his promotion of vocational training, including evening classes and industrial schools, became a pattern for others to follow. To extend the work, he founded in 1859 a religious community, the Pious Society of St Francis de Sales, usually known as the Salesians. It grew rapidly and was well-established in several countries by the time of his death on this day in 1888.

What that brief summary of John Bosco’s life fails to reflect is the extent to which his ministry encountered opposition. John's early years were spent as a shepherd, and he received his first instruction from a parish priest. His childhood experiences are thought to have inspired him to become a priest. At the time, being a priest was generally seen as a profession for the privileged classes, rather than farmers, although it was not unknown. Some biographers portray his older brother Antonio as the main obstacle for Bosco's ambition to study, as the brother protested that John was just "a farmer like us!" - a similar response to that which Jesus encountered in Nazareth!

Later, when visiting Turin’s prisons, John Bosco was disturbed to see so many boys from 12 to 18 years of age. He was determined to find a means to prevent them ending up here and began to meet the boys where they worked and gathered in shops and market places. He looked for jobs for the unemployed and provided sleeping quarters for those sleeping rough. As a result, he was turned out of several places in succession. After only two months based in the church of St. Martin, the entire neighbourhood expressed its annoyance with the noise coming from the boys at play. A formal complaint was lodged against them with the municipality. The group was evicted.

Opposition to Bosco and his work came from various quarters. Several attempts were also made on his life, including a near-stabbing, bludgeoning and a shooting. He was also subjected to petty annoyances and obstacles which, at times, seemed to spell the ruin of his undertaking. His perseverance in the face of all difficulties led many to the conclusion that he was insane, and an attempt was even made to confine him in an asylum. He persevered, however, to the point that some of the boys he helped decided to do what he was doing, that is, to work in the service of abandoned boys. And that was the origin of the Salesians, the religious order that would carry on his work.

At the time of John Bosco's death in 1888 there were 250 houses of the Salesian Society in all parts of the world, containing 130,000 children, and from which there annually went out 18,000 finished apprentices. Up to 1888 over six thousand priests had also gone forth from John Bosco's institutions. Today Salesian houses are located far and wide, and include elementary and high schools, colleges, seminaries, hospitals, vocational schools, and foreign missions.

John Bosco’s certainty that, in the face of desperate circumstances, he would nonetheless build a thriving religious community for boys came from a vision received as a dream. In his dream he saw Our Lady directing him in the way he should go; a way that involved walking on thorns. Friends, lay and clergy, were alongside him but declined to also walk on thorns. Finally, a new group of followers arrived who were willing to walk with him. The Mother of God said to him: ‘The thorns on the ground represent the sensitive human affections, sympathies and antipathies that divert a teacher from his true goal, hurt him, hinder his mission and prevent him from forming and reaping wreathes for eternal life. Roses are the symbol of the ardent charity by which you and your associates must distinguish yourselves. The thorns symbolize the obstacles, sufferings and sorrows that await you. But do not lose heart. With charity and mortification you will overcome everything and will have roses without thorns!’

God also calls us to face and overcome obstacles when these are encountered as part of the ministry to which we are called. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote: ‘My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.’ (James 1. 2 - 4)

That is what we see lived out by Jesus, his apostles and John Bosco. Jesus was amazed at the unbelief of those in Nazareth but then he continued his mission by going to other villages to teach there instead. John Bosco’s fellow priests tried to persuade him to abandon or at least limit his thankless work with youth, which had only brought ridicule and suffering. He had become obsessed by hopeless idealism, they told him. “Not at all,” replied Bosco, “I see things plainly as they are. Presently we shall have churches, vast playgrounds, priests, helpers of all kinds and thousands of boys.” Such was his confidence about these goals that he freely and frequently spoke of them as accomplished realities.

The perseverance and endurance of Jesus and John Bosco was, therefore, based on their sense of calling and mission. Are we clear about our call and mission? Then, when we are, do we have a similar degree of commitment to pressing on despite the obstacles we face? Let us pray: O God, who raised up John Bosco as a father and teacher of the young, grant we pray, that, aflame with the same fire of love, we may seek out souls and serve you alone. Amen.


Bob Dylan - Pressing On.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Windows on the world (381)

London, 2018


Francis Thompson - The Hound Of Heaven.

HeartEdge Mailer | January 2018

HeartEdge Mailer | January 2018

Our passion is growing Kingdom communities via four C’s - congregations, culture, commercial activity and compassion.

Welcome to our January de-tox Mailer. This month:
  • Culture: Churches as space for art and... comedy clubs
  • Commerce: Macaroons and cakes as social enterprise - and 'start up' hints and tips
  • Congregation: Looking Up with Annie Lamont, Harry and Chris on the Apocalypse, Maggie Dawn on submerging church and Barbara Glasson on diversity
  • Community: Craftivist and introvert activism with Sarah Corbett - and Naomi Thompson on lessons from the Sunday school movement
Plus - Lucy Winkett on rare sympathy and holding fast in turbulent times

HeartEdge is making spaces where members give from their experience and take from others – an exchange that’s inspiring and mutually useful for all. HeartEdge works with members to find solutions, share resources and connect with others developing their church and community. If you have ideas or requests for topics on which you would like to share ideas and experiences with other churches, please call 020 7766 1127 or email Jonathan.

Join HeartEdge - detail here.


David Gascoyne - Lachrymae.

Nature Morte: A brush with death

My latest exhibition review for Church Times reflects on Nature Morte, a touring exhibition by MOCA London which is currently at the Guildhall Art Gallery:

'Can an exhibition change our understanding of what it means to be human? “Nature Morte” is an exhibition that essentially makes that claim, as it invites us to pause and look anew at the human condition.

The exhibition explores the chang­­ing significance of the still life (or nature morte in French) by bringing together historic still-life paintings and contemporary art­­works ...

“Nature Morte” can make the claim that still life is life-changing because the genre has never involved the innocent depiction of everyday objects, but has always utilised coded images.

For much of the history of the still-life, it has been Christian codes that viewers have been required to decipher.'

I have also written on the same exhibition for Artlyst in an article exploring whether art can transform society.


Shovels & Rope - Death Or Glory.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Claudio Crismani concert

St Stephen Walbrook has a beauty and an acoustic that has drawn Claudio Crismani back to give his third concert in the space. Crismani is an impassioned performer who gives his whole being to the music as he plays; feeling, not simply performing, the emotion inherent in each piece. As a result, he has been described as possessing an 'almost metaphysical vision.' Certainly, his audience tonight spoke of his performance as a mystical and tangibly visceral experience.

Crismani gave us selections from Franz Liszt's 'Last Works' and 'Troisième année de pèlerinage' plus Richard Wagner's 'Tannhäuser', before returning to Liszt for selections from 'Etudes d'exécution transcendante'.


Claudio Crismani - Rapsodie.

ACG "Between Friends" exhibition

13th-16th February 2018

The 2018 Arts Centre Group art exhibition, ’Between Friends’, will take place at St. Stephen Walbrook EC4N 8BN (near Bank tube station).

The exhibition will feature paintings and 3D artwork. ACG are very pleased that, as well as entries from ACG artists, a number of artists from Morphe will be exhibiting.


Cliff Richard - Up In Canada.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

HeartEdge: Churches & Commerce event

HeartEdge is a growing ecumenical network which supports churches in blending their mission around four key areas:
  • Congregation – inclusive approaches to liturgy, worship and day-to-day communal life
  • Community – models of outreach serving local need and addressing social justice
  • Culture – art, music and ideas to re-imagine the Christian narrative for the present moment
  • Commerce – commercial activities that generate finance, creatively extending and enhancing mission and ministry through social enterprise

HeartEdge has organised a day on Churches & Commerce at St Martin in the Bull Ring (Edgbaston St, Birmingham B5 5BB)  on Wednesday 7 March to explore the benefits of commercial activities for churches (including social enterprise).

Contributors include:
Refreshments 10am. Programme 10.30am. Finish 3.30pm

The programme includes sessions on: Christian Entrepreneurs; Entrepreneurial Theology; and Structuring Missional Commerce. Additionally, there will be a panel discussion with entrepreneurs and small group input sessions led by specialists (on specific aspects of commercial activity e.g. structures, marketing etc or particular commercial opportunities e.g. social enterprise, training programmes etc).

The programme also includes time for networking and connecting, plus lunch and refreshments.

Cost: £10 for HeartEdge members, £20 for all others.

To book: contact Jonathan Evens – 02077661127 or


Gungor - Dry Bones.

HeartEdge Mission Model workshops

HeartEdge is a growing ecumenical network which supports churches in blending their mission around four key areas:
  • Congregation – inclusive approaches to liturgy, worship and day-to-day communal life
  • Community – models of outreach serving local need and addressing social justice
  • Culture – art, music and ideas to re-imagine the Christian narrative for the present moment
  • Commerce – commercial activities that generate finance, creatively extending and enhancing mission and ministry through social enterprise

Specific mission models have been identified which are being shared through HeartEdge. These include:
  • Disability Advisory Groups - Ensuring disabled people can ‘join in’, not simply ‘get in’
  • Great Sacred Music - Sharing faith insights with secular audiences
  • Inspired to Follow - Enquirers’ course exploring the story of the Bible through works of art
  • International Groups - Hospitality groups for those with no recourse to public funds
  • Start:Stop – Early morning reflections for working people

The next HeartEdge mission model workshops to be held are:

Inspired to Follow workshop - Monday 5 February, 2.30 – 4.30pm, St Martin-in-the-Fields

How to explore the Christian faith using a more open-ended approach? How to engage a more visually focused culture? ‘Inspired to Follow: Art and the Bible Story’ is one resource developed by
St Martin-in-the-Fields.

The discipleship course uses fine art paintings from the National Gallery, a Biblical story and a short theological reflection to help people explore the Christian faith today.
Learn about the genesis of ‘Inspired to Follow’ and discuss its use with Revd Jonathan Evens, Associate Vicar Partnership Development, St Martin-in-the-Fields and course designer, Revd Dr Alastair McKay,
Curate, St Martn-in-the-Fields.

Free to HeartEdge members, £10 for others, Register with Revd Jonathan Evens at or 020 7766 1127.

Start:Stop Workshop - Thursday 1 March, 2.00 - 4.00pm, St Martin-in-the-Fields

Learn about the genesis of Start:Stop (10-minute work-based reflections for people on their way to work) together with Revd Jonathan Evens, Associate Vicar Partnership Development, St Martin-in-the-Fields.

An opportunity to discuss:

• growing a new congregation;
• engaging with working people;
• ministering in the workplace;
• communicating with busy people.

Free to HeartEdge members, £10 for others. Register with Revd Jonathan Evens at or 020 7766 1127.


Innocence Mission - Prayer Of St Francis.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Creation Care at CTiW AGM

The Churches Together in Westminster 2018 AGM with speakers and displays on the theme of “Creation Care” took place last night at Salvation Army, Regent Hall.

The AGM included displays and talks by organisations involved with conservation and environmental awareness – including Ealing Animal Charities Fair, Christian Aid, Eco Church, Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals, and Green Christian. There was also the opportunity to visit displays and speak to representatives from the organisations both before and after the meeting.


Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

George Musgrave: Journeys of St Paul

St Paul Comes to Ilford is an exhibition and events based around 25 paintings of the life and journeys of St Paul, painted by the artist George Musgrave. They will be on display at Vine Church from Tuesday 20th February until Sunday 18th March. A special preview day will be held on Wednesday 21st February from 9 am to 3.00pm with guided tours of the paintings at 11.00 am and 1.30 pm. Stay for light lunch, refreshments and informal discussions and reflective activities from 12.-1.30. Open for anyone interested to attend. 

On 5 Tuesday evenings at 7.30 pm during Lent, starting Tuesday 20th February, there will also be a bible study series based on the life of St Paul, making use of the paintings. You are also welcome to attend any of these bible studies. It may be helpful to let the organisers know if you are coming. For more information you can contact:; tel: 079986988 /02070417194. The venue will be Vine URC, Riches Road entrance, Ilford IG1 1JH There is limited car parking (available in special cases) – contact Dulcie on 0208 514 2478. 

This selection of paintings are about the life and journeys of St Paul. They show aspects of Paul’s life from his birth in Tarsus, his persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, his conversion on the road to Damascus and his subsequent life experiences as a missionary in Asia and Europe, including imprisonments , floggings, preaching, appearing before governors, baptising people, being shipwrecked and his final execution in Rome. 

The artist George Musgrave (1915 - 2012) painted these pictures over a 20 year period from the 1980’s onwards and displayed them in his museum in Eastbourne until his death. He researched the paintings thoroughly through his travels in the Mediterranean. He trained in an art school in the 1930s, became a congregational minister and missionary before becoming a toy manufacturer. Now two of his sons have decided it’s time that St Paul comes to London for a visit. You can see a preview of the paintings on this link, which also show how they were used in Eastbourne last October -

Then the paintings will be displayed in Central London, at the Meditatio Centre, St Marks, Middleton Square, which is 15 minutes walk from Kings Cross and near Angel Islington from about 22nd March until end of April. There will be a special preview of the paintings there on Saturday 24th March in Islington. If you look at the Link to the 2018 Meditatio Programme, you will see that page 4 advertises the preview event on Saturday 24th March from 5-7 pm -


Pierce Pettis - St Paul's Song.

Claudio Crismani concert: Music by Jean Barraqué & Franz Liszt

Special concert by Claudio Crismani: Music by Jean Barraqué & Franz Liszt. Homage to Portopiccolo Female Art 2018. Thursday 25 January, 6.30pm, St Stephen Walbrook.

Biography of Claudio Crismani

"Claudio Crismani is an amazing, daring and magnetic artist.”

With these words American critic John Maxim concludes his review on Music Life about Claudio Crismani’s concert dedicated to Scriabin’s music. The music by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin has always been at the centre of Crismani’s artistic interests.

Crismani was born in Trieste and he began studying music with Andrea Giorgi as a young boy. Between Andro and Claudio a solid, lifelong fraternal friendship was built in time. He continued studying piano with Alessandro Costantinides and composition with Mario Bugamelli, graduating with full marks at the Bolzano Conservatory. He then perfected his technique studying with Marguerite Kazuro in Warsaw for five years.

His international career began in Paris in 1979 with a recital at the "Salle Pleyel" and a series of radio and tv recordings for "France Musique". Since then he has performed all over Europe, Russia, Israel, USA, Japan and Australia and in the most distinguished concert halls. He has worked with directors such as James Lawrence Levine, Cristoph von Dohnányi and Thomas Sanderling and performed with internationally renowned orchestras, among which: The London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Philharmonia Orchestra, The European Community Chamber Orchestra, Les Solistes de Moscou, The Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra and The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1986 Claudio Crismani was invited to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Liszt’s death by performing twelve concerts in England and playing the complete “Années de Pèlerinage" and the transcriptions of Wagner’s operas. In 1987, UNESCO named him "European Artist" and invited him to perform at the "International Music Soiree" at the Palais des Congrès in Paris. That same year he was appointed "Guest Artist" of the Van Leer Foundation in Jerusalem and under this aegis he became co-founder of the Horowitz Festival.

In the Nineties, he staged a three-evening performance of the complete Poems and Sonatas for piano by Scriabin, which was repeated several times in different countries. He had an exclusive record contract with RS for twelve years and won two Discographic Awards. This period was marked by an important collaboration and friendship with the great Russian pianist Lazar Berman. His performance of Scriabin’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra together with The London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Sanderling and recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall in London, was a true publishing success story.

After a concert tour in 2002/2003 marking his thirtieth year of artistic activity (he was described as one of the major artists of his generation), Claudio Crismani decided to retire from the concert scene and devote himself exclusively to a long period of study.

In 2014, he returned on the musical scene – among others - with “The Prometheus Project”, which is a transposition of Alexander Scriabin’s “Promethean” dream, designed to be a literary, artistic and (of course) musical experience. He rewrote it together with his friend Edward Lucie-Smith as a synesthetic blend, suspended between visual art and music, literature and history.

Here, Pasternak and Scriabin intersect with contemporary traits, tracing a hitherto undescribed randomness of real- life moments spanning from Russia to Trieste and present and future human relations developing between Trieste and London.

In 2015, Claudio Crismani returned on the international scene at the exhibition on Boris Pasternak: “la Genesi del Sogno” (The Genesis of the Dream). The event highlighted artworks by Oleg Kudryashov, photographs by Moisei Nappelbaum and Crismani’s concert (performed strictly on a Fazioli piano) at the Teatro Verdi in Trieste, and repeated in 2016 in Cividale del Friuli with a tribute to Boulez, and in London, at St. Stephen Walbrook, playing Boulez, Liszt and Scriabin.


Claudio Crismani - Friss-Lassan.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Writers and artists associated with St Martin-in-the-Fields

My colleague Katherine Hedderly recently made me aware of the connection between St Martin-in-the-Fields and the poet Francis Thompson. Katherine quoted the famous lines from Thompson's 'The Kingdom of God':

'... Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.'

in relation to the installation of Ron Haselden's Echelle on the spire of St Martin's for Lumiere London 2018.

'On a cold winter’s night in 1887, the churchwarden of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, John McMaster, gave an impoverished young match seller a room at his shop in Panton Street, which is just behind the National Gallery. The match seller was also an opium addict named Francis Thompson, who many know as a visionary Roman Catholic poet and ascetic. After being further rescued from himself, Thompson’s first book of poetry was published in 1893. He became an invalid and after years of extreme poverty and addiction, he died in 1907 of tuberculosis, at the still young age 47. His tomb bears the last line from one of his own poems: Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven.'

Dick Sheppard was appointed Vicar of St  Martin's in November 1914 and, in the words of Vera Brittain, 'transformed a moribund city church into England's most vital Christian centre.' Sheppard certainly transformed the parish magazine into St Martin’s Review, 'an eclectic monthly that sold on newsstands and outstripped the circulation of the Spectator, with subscribers in forty countries? George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy, Hilaire Belloc and John Middleton Murry were among the contributors to a journal of opinion that Sheppard edited with a flair for controversy and an unsleeping eye for publicity.'

Writers also came forward to lend the Peace Pledge Union, which Sheppard founded in 1935, intellectual prestige, 'notably the feminist Vera Brittain and the critic John Middleton Murry, a convert to pacifism whose efforts to present Christ afresh as a hero of humanity had much in common with Sheppard’s own.'

'In 1933, Vera [Brittain] published her most important and lasting book, Testament of Youth, a memoir of her war experience, and a literary memorial to her brother, fiancé, and their friends. The book was a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic, and in the autumn of 1934 Vera embarked on a successful lecture-tour of the United States.'

'On 22 February 1934, at a meeting in the vestry hall of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square, the Council for Civil Liberties was formed. Their immediate goal was to make sure that the next ‘hunger march’ was peaceful and safe.' The formation of the Council and their pledge to act as responsible and neutral legal observers on the next [hunger] march was announced in a letter printed on the 24 February in The Manchester Guardian. It was signed by 14 of the Council’s most prominent supporters, including H.G. Wells, Vera Brittain, Dr. Edith Summerskill, Clement Atlee, Kingsley Martin, and Prof. Harold Laski.

'In 1935 [Vera's] father committed suicide, and Winifred Holtby died from Bright’s disease. Vera’s ambitious novel, Honourable Estate, dramatising the recent history of the women’s movement, was published in 1936. As another world war threatened, Vera’s focused her attention on campaigning for peace. In 1937 she converted to pacifism and became a sponsor of Dick Sheppard’s Peace Pledge Union. During the Second World War, Vera wrote a fortnightly Letter to Peace-Lovers, and jeopardized her literary standing by making a courageous protest against the Allies’ policy of the saturation bombing of German cities. In her final decades, she continued to publish historical and biographical works, and to be a significant figure in the peace movement in Britain. In November 1966 she suffered a fall after giving a talk at St Martin-in-the-Fields, in Trafalgar Square, and, following several years’ illness, died in Wimbledon on 29 March 1970.'

'A memorial service was held for her at St Martin-in-the-Fields, crowded with family, friends, and people from all the organisations she had worked with and for.'

She published two books about St Martin's, The Story of St. Martin's: An Epic of London (1951) and The Pictorial History of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (1962), while her novel Born 1925 was based on the life of Dick Sheppard. The story of her friendship with Dick Sheppard and of her Christian conversion is told in Testament of Experience. In The Story of St Martin's she draws principally on churchwardens' accounts (dating back to 1525), but with much on Dick Sheppard - 'I saw a great Church standing in the greatest Square of the greatest City in the world.'

St Martin's has also attracted many artists, such as Peggy Smith, who, like Brittain, devoted her life to campaigning for peace. 'During the 1920s she gave up art school for a secretarial post in the League of Nations Union London Federation. Her poor health (she had spinal tuberculosis as a child) made this work impossible. She found more suitable work in 1929 when, impressed with a doodle she made at a meeting, Fenner Brockway asked her to draw regularly for the journal of the Independent Labour Party, “The New Leader”, of which he was then editor.

During the 1930s, Peggy was a freelance artist: “I drew anybody who came to London to talk to the government or to speak”, as well as musicians playing or conducting in concert halls. In 1936, she was one of the first women to sign the Peace Pledge. She knew (and drew) many of the Peace Pledge Union’s sponsors, being particularly influenced by Gerald Heard. Peggy produced sketches for Peace News, founded in 1936, and supported the paper for the rest of her life, in later years selling copies on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields. From this grew her involvement with the London School of Nonviolence, which met in the Crypt of St. Martin’s. She joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s, was arrested 11 times for her involvement in Committee of 100 actions, and in 1968 travelled to Cambodia as part of a non-violent action group to draw attention to the American bombing of North Vietnam.

In 1973, Peggy showed her 1930s drawings to friends who recognised their artistic and historical value. Thanks to their efforts, in 1975, she held her first exhibition: “Music and Line” showed her 1930s drawings of musicians, in the highly appropriate setting of the Royal Festival Hall. Peggy Smith died on 12 February 1976.

Peggy Smith's drawings show individuals active for peace in the 1930s, including Norman Angell, Vera Brittain, Laurence Housman, Fridtjof Nansen, Philip Noel-Baker, Maude Royden, Dick Sheppard, Philip Snowden, Donald Soper, Wilfred Wellock, and Gandhi. There are British politicians: Stafford Cripps, Fred Jowett, Ellen Wilkinson, musicians including Sir William Rothenstein, writers and church leaders.'

'Josefina Alys Hermes de Vasconcellos (26 October 1904 – 20 July 2005) was an English sculptor of Brazilian origin. She was at one time the world's oldest living sculptor. She lived in Cumbria much of her working life. Her most famous work includes Reconciliation (Coventry Cathedral, University of Bradford); Holy Family (Liverpool Cathedral, Gloucester Cathedral); Mary and Child (St. Paul's Cathedral); and Nativity (at Christmas) at St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Trafalgar Square).'

'Many people encountered the sculpture of de Vasconcellos through her popular interpretations of the Holy Family placed at Christmas in Trafalgar Square and also in other churches and cathedrals throughout Britain. She became a close friend of the Rev Austen Williams at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and organised exhibitions in the crypt to highlight public awareness of the plight of the African poor.'

In 1958 she 'designed a nativity scene for the crypt of St Martin's.' 'The centrepiece was called 'They Fled By Night' and depicted Mary and Joseph resting during their flight from Egypt, with a lively child sitting on Mary's feet.' This sculpture was later presented to Cartmel Priory, at the suggestion of the artist.

Beginning in 1959, she was commissioned 'to construct an annual Nativity scene made of life-sized figures,' (made for World Refugee Year, an international effort to raise awareness of, and support for, the refugees across the globe) 'which became a regular fixture of the Christmas display in Trafalgar Square.' This 'Holy Night crib was a redemptive presence in Trafalgar Square for almost four decades.' 'For many, it summed up the spirit of Christmas' but it 'came to a sticky end during the celebrations after England’s triumph in the Rugby World Cup in late 2003.' 'The shed that had housed the sculpture was wrecked, one angel was stolen and another broken, and the crib was damaged beyond repair.'

'Josefina again contributed to the work of St Martin's by installing in the crypt an African altar which had as its centrepiece a reproduction of [her husband] Delmar [Banner's] early painting of Simon of Cyrene carrying the Cross. Beside it was a life-size figure of an African boy carved by Beth Jukes.'
In the gettyimages archive is a photograph of de Vasconcellos cutting out an anti-apartheid badge as she sets up an exhibition against apartheid in the crypt of St Martin's. The statue and painting can be seen in the photograph.

Gillian Szego's Mother and Child was a painting shown in the St Martin-in-the-Fields refugee action programme in 1972, as part of efforts to raise awareness of the plight of Ugandan refugees. This canvas surrounded by barbed wire depicts a mother and child scene in a refugee camp, but set in such a way that people would mistake it for the Madonna and Child. Szego said at the time that 'if Jesus Christ had been born in 1972, it would have most likely been in a refugee camp.'

Romanian artist Dr Doru Imbroane Marculescu arrived in England in October 1978. By 1986 he had obtained dual British / Romanian nationality. Whilst firmly established in England, he continued to spend periods with his family in Bucharest consolidating all his interests and ideas - producing work which became part of a large personal exhibition. Marculescu's Tortured Humanity, an extraordinary 2.4m (eight foot) high bronze statue depicting the head of Christ together with a hundred faces worked into the shape of a cross, was shown at St Martin's in 1999 as a focus of the church's Easter celebrations. The sculpture depicts 'the dilemmas of modern times, a continuation of the tragedies of the past,' and 'is offered as a symbol of unity for all – irrespective of their religion, race and culture.' 'In it, all of humanity is perceived as taking on a cruciform shape and the suffering love of Christ is recognized as involved in, and bearing up the whole.'


Francis Thompson - The Kingdom Of God.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Windows on the world (280)

London, 2018


Fairport Convention - Who Knows Where The Time Goes.

Lumiere London 2018: Westminster


Bruce Cockburn - Northern Lights.

Imaging the Story: Rediscovering the visual and poetic contours of salvation

Imaging the Story: Rediscovering the visual and poetic contours of salvation aims to create imaginative encounters with the salvation story by bringing images and poetry into conversation with the Bible in ways that spark creativity in readers or course participants.

In my review of the book for Church Times, I say:

'This is a book full of ideas, theological and artistic. The wealth of material within its pages is structured in terms of content through ten themes that take us from Creation to Consummation, while exploration of each theme is structured in terms of reading (of the biblical texts), responding (questions using “visuo divina”), reflecting (theological reflection with images and poetry), and making (artistic exercises leading to an exhibition).'

A complementary resource to Imaging the Story is Inspired to Follow: Art and the Bible Story, a free resource to help people explore the Christian faith, using paintings and Biblical story as the starting points which has been created by St Martin-in-the-Fields in partnership with the National Gallery.

There’s an opportunity to experience one of the sessions of Inspired to Follow and to learn how to make the most of the resource at a short workshop on Monday 5 February. There’s no substitute to experiencing a session led by the course developer.

The workshop runs from 2.30-4.30pm at St Martin-in-the-Fields. It will be led by Alastair McKay, who developed the resource. Please aim to arrive at 2.15pm, for a hot drink before we start.

The workshop is being offered by the HeartEdge network, and is free to HeartEdge members. If you’re not yet a member of the Network, the cost is £10 per person. We are restricted to 24 participants, so do book soon.

If you’d like to attend the workshop, please contact me at or phone 020 7766 1127.


The Band - When I Paint My Masterpiece.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Silks from Imperial China: Ming and Qing dynasty costumes and textiles 1368-1911

Jacqueline Simcox gave a wonderful talk on Silks from Imperial China: Ming and Qing dynasty costumes and textiles 1368-1911 at St Martin-in-the-Fields on Monday. The event was jointly organised with our Chinese Congregations and was greatly appreciated by those who came.

Jacqueline spoke about some of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) textiles and some of the imperial costumes and festivals and showed how they changed when the Machu from the north took over the country from 1644-1911 (Qing dynasty).

We received lots of appreciative comments about the amount that people had learnt and also the opportunity to see actual silks. People were fascinated about how the embroidery work was done. The quality of the professional embroidery work is stunning. Those from our Chinese congregations also appreciated the stories linked to designs that Jacqueline shared, with several commenting that she had reminded them of stories they had been told but had forgotten. 

Jacqueline Simcox has written numerous articles on Chinese textiles, catalogued private collections and contributed essays to museum exhibition catalogues, such as ‘Celestial Silks’, Art Gallery of New South Wales, in 2004. More recently she has co-authored, with John Vollmer, a book on the imperial Chinese textiles in the Mactaggart Art Collection, University of Alberta, in Canada. ‘Emblems of Empire’was published in 2010.

The talk was sponsored by Bonhams Chinese Department.


Beijing Central Music Academy - Music of the Zhihua Temple.

NSPSP New Year's exhibition

The National Society of Painters, Sculptors & Printmakers is holding its New Year Exhibition at St Stephen Walbrook until 26th January, Mon - Fri 10.00am - 4.00pm (Weds, 11.00am - 3.00pm).

The National Society was formed in 1930 to meet a growing desire among artists of every creed and outlook for an annual exhibition in London, which would embrace all aspects of art under one roof, without prejudice or favour to anyone. This legacy has continued as a guide and inspiration to creative artists ever since, with only a short break between 1940 - 1945. The freedom to experiment and explore new media or techniques has created a society that is very professional while allowing the individual artists to realise their full potential.

The National Society is, therefore, a society that offers a challenge to all creative artists of the highest ability from any school of thought. By its very nature it strives to communicate with the widest possible audience, to excite interest and involve the public by showing a broad spectrum of contemporary and innovative painting, sculpture and printmaking.


Hunter Singers - Locus Iste.