Particular Books, 2022
For anyone who laments the ongoing decline in standards of book production, Country Church Monuments will be welcomed as an excellent example of good design and high-quality printing and binding. Newham deserves this treatment – this is an exceptional book that should transform perceptions of the many thousands of funerary monuments found in churches across England and Wales. Given the quantity, and quality, of these works of art and craftsmanship, they have been relatively little documented by scholars – books by F.H. Crossley (1921) and Katherine Esdaile (1946) stand out, and Nigel Saul’s 2009 scholarly study of medieval monuments is already a classic. Yet Cameron Newham’s book will hopefully reach a broad audience and encourage a wider interest in an astounding national legacy found in churches across the country yet too often undervalued and, in some cases, somewhat neglected.
A fine monument by Flaxman in a Yorkshire church is described as ‘black with dirt and badly in need of professional conservation.’ Newham recalls occasions when stacks of chairs, hymn books and hassocks had to be removed to allow a neglected monument to be photographed. The Edwards mausoleum at Welham in Leicestershire was found ‘filled with unnecessary items.’ The 17th century Rich monument at St Andrew, Sonning, languishes under the tower, surrounded by cleaning equipment – described by a former incumbent, who wanted it removed from the church, as being ‘in the worst style of the worst age’, it was formerly in a private chapel, later given over to the organ. Yet, Newham reports, ‘most monuments are today in a better state than at any time since they were erected,’ thanks to the efforts of local people, the work of expert conservators, and the support of grants from charitable trusts. Tourism, he concludes, is a vital element in the survival of many of the churches featured in the book.
Newham’s book is weighty in all senses of the word – but then today’s ‘Pevsners’ have equally ceased to be the pocket books they were half a century ago. It could be enjoyed as a picture book alone – Newham’s photographs are stunning in quality and the printers have done them justice. But the short essays – I hesitate to call them captions – that accompany each image are as learned as they are succinct, and sometimes quite poignant. We learn, for example, of the sad demise of soldier and scholar Thomas Cholmondeley of Condover in Shropshire. Inheriting Condover Hall in 1863, a condition being that he changed his surname to Owen, he married and went on honeymoon to Florence. Sadly he died there of malaria. His widow commissioned G.F. Watts for a monument depicting her late husband kneeling in prayer, resting on his sword. It is apparently the first documented work by Watts, one of the most celebrated 19th century sculptors.
The monument to the second and third Dukes of Beaufort in Badminton church, Gloucestershire – a magnificent work by J.M. Rysbrack, erected in 1754, commemorates two Beauforts who came to sad ends, the first drinking himself to death at the age of 30, the second dying in the midst of a gruelling court case (in which he had to prove – how? – that he was not impotent). The death of six year old Penelope Boothby – famously painted by Joshua Reynolds at the age of three – was commemorated in an exquisite work by Thomas Banks in Ashbourne church, Derbyshire. An inscription records: ‘the unfortunate parents ventured their all on this frail bark and the wreck was total.’ (Her death led to the collapse of her doting parents’ marriage, her father dying in misery on the Continent.)
Funerary monuments regularly extol the virtues of those commemorated. That to Richard Rich (d.1567) at Felsted in Essex, “’a man with a reputation for immorality, perjury and financial dishonesty that was exceptional even for his own time’ and notorious for his part in the trial of Thomas More, is richly arrayed with images of truth, justice, charity and other virtues that Rich never espoused. The monument to Thomas Coventry in Croome d’Abitot church in Worcestershire is guarded in its praise – he was, an inscription records, ‘rather exceedingly liked than passionately loved.’
Of the 365 monuments recorded in the book, slimmed down from an initial list of 650, not all are major works of art. The white marble tomb of Amy Woodforde-Finden (d.1919) at Hampsthwaite in Yorkshire was compared by Pevsner with ‘melting ice cream.’ But our churches contain countless works by Nicholas Stone, Rysbrack, Nollekens, Flaxman, Chantrey and other great artists. Some of those commemorated seem less than admirable by 21st century standards, but Newham wisely counsels: ‘we should not expect all monuments to have been set up to entirely morally admirable people […]. If on the basis of contemporary moral judgements, we deface monuments or cause them to be taken down, then the debate is stifled and the opportunities to learn from past mistakes is lost. Our future is nothing without our past.’
Finding the Language of Grace:
Dom Christopher Jamison OSB
Dom Christopher Jamison’s latest book Finding the Language of Grace: Rediscovering Transcendence, published in September this year, follows the similar naming pattern of earlier works – Finding Sanctuary and Finding Happiness – but stands alone.
At the heart of this book is a challenge to find grace at work in the world today – a world which feels rather troubled at present. More specifically, Jamison is concerned with ‘the language of grace’ – how grace, manifest in the world, is communicated. Can we find transcendence through discovering the language of grace in our lives? After offering a working definition of grace, Jamison works through different forms of communicating the language of grace: listening, speaking, writing, and reading.
Defining grace, Jamison develops a theology of ‘original mistrust’ which, drawing on the Fall and Original Sin, argues that Adam first mistrusted himself, then mistrusted God and therefore we have inherited this mistrust of one another. Mistrust is the problem; grace is the solution. Abbot Jamison writes, ‘Grace is God’s way of restoring our trust in the goodness of life … grace is the goodness that nourishes the soul; it feeds the good in us so that we can trust each other and flourish together.’
The central chapters each identify a general weakness in societal communication of grace; listening poorly to others, not having the language to express grace in speech, rarely writing our prayer and desire for God, reading for information over wisdom. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Jamison discusses these issues offering exercise at the end of each chapter for readers to develop practical skills such as: listening and discerning language in conversation, intentionally speaking well, expressing oneself in written form – writing prayers for example, and slow our reading.
The final chapter, Reading the Situation, is particularly excellent. In it, Jamison draws together the threads of the book by analysing the language of grace implicit and less obvious in different sources. Starting with Jesus’s teaching in parables, Jamison highlights the fact that grace is often found in language beyond words, arguing for the need to discern grace in situations where it is often hidden. This argument is developed through analysis of poetry and music. Again, Jamison exemplifies this argument by drawing on diverse sources such as Korean pop and Sir James McMillan’s Christmas Oratorio, showing the language of grace in styles ancient and modern.
In the closing section, Jamison does not shy away from complex issues in current Western political, social, and religious conversations: transgender rights, sexuality, Black Lives Matter, climate change and clerical abuse. Analysing the language used in these conversations, Jamison poses a challenge for the future which encourages ‘good conversations’ in which dialogue partners apply the skills encouraged throughout this book. There is nothing new about his challenge, nor the exercises, but it reminds readers of a positive way forward, towards better dialogue which does not polarise groups more, nor ‘demonize the past.’ Put simply, Jamison challenges the Church and society as a whole to listen and speak better, by applying the language of grace, so that grace may flow into the future.
‘Living the language of grace’ as Jamison puts it, is a process by which the language of grace, found in all forms of communication, is taken from the pages or people’s tongues, and lived. Jamison concludes ‘The language of grace is an increasingly dead language in Western Society, unknown to most and restricted to those who would keep it in the deep freeze of so-called orthodoxy. This book is offered to those who want to explore how grace can be a living language.’
This is an incredibly accessible text, suitable for school leavers and academics, clergy and laity and those of no faith. Abbot Jamison writes ecumenically, discussing works of Roman Catholics, Anglican Reformers, Calvinists, atheists, and other faiths.
The breadth and depth of source engagement is commendable, introducing the reader to numerous writers, poets, musicians, and scientists, meanwhile reflecting on recent events in the world and current patterns in Western society. It is rare to read the works of ancient Saints, such as Saints John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila discussed alongside that of a modern rapper Stormzy. This is a strong point of Finding the Language of Grace, and one which makes this text so accessible. One needn’t have read any of the sources referenced; Jamison offers a succinct introduction and summary to all the work he engages with – whilst planting the seed for the readers’ further engagement.
I commend this book to study groups for discussion. The text is divided into clear chapters on specific themes, engages the world today, and offers exercises which could also serve as discussion starters. Reading and discussing this book as a group brings alive Abbot Jamison’s intention – skilling readers to not only find the language of grace, but also live the language of grace.
A Gift of Joy and Hope
Translated from the Italian by Oonagh Stransky
Hodder & Stoughton 2022
‘This is Christian hope: the certainty of walking towards something that exists, not something I hope might be there.’ So writes Pope Francis who like his patron Saint Francis shares the gospel in succinct phrases when necessary. The presence and joy of God are offensive to many, but to Christians this certainty isn’t offensive but definitive. As definitive as the fact Christ is alive and wants us alive, rising from negativity into undefeatable joy. ‘Since Christ has risen and leads us into the afterlife, faith is also a light from the future, illuminating vast horizons before us, taking us beyond our isolated individual selves and towards the expanse of communion. We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness. Dante, in The Divine Comedy, after professing his faith to St Peter, describes that light as the ‘spark that extends into a vivid flame and, like a star in heaven, glows in me.’’
The Pope’s new book gives credit to an English Saint, Thomas More, whose prayer for good humour ‘the star that glows inside’ the author tells us he says daily. In that prayer St Thomas More asks: ‘Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress because of that burden known as ‘I’. Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humour. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke, to discover in life a bit of joy, and to be able to share it with others.’ Reflecting on a hard working yet gloomy religious sister who got nicknamed ‘Sister Complaint’ Francis captures an image of negativity sadly familiar in church circles. In A Gift of Joy and Hope the Pope takes us to the joyous power of scripture and the Eucharist illustrated, for example, in the story of disappointment countered by hope of the Easter journeys by two disciples to and from Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.
‘One of the first things that happens to people who distance themselves from God is that they stop smiling. While they may laugh loudly and frequently, enjoying a joke or chuckle, their smile will be missing! Only hope brings a smile to our faces: the smile of hope that we will find God… two opposing directions lie before us. There is the outbound path taken by people who let themselves be paralysed by life’s disappointments and who walk in sadness. And then there is the path of those who do not put themselves and their problems first, but whom Jesus visits, whose brothers await their return so they can be cared for. This is the turning point: we must stop orbiting only around ourselves and the disappointments of the past, unmet dreams, and many bad things that have happened in our lives. So very often we tend to keep revolving around and around our own problems. We have to leave this cycle behind and move forward by accepting the greatest and truest reality of life: Jesus lives, Jesus loves me. I can do something for others. This is the greatest reality. It is a beautiful, positive and bright reality! This is the U-turn we need to make: to go from thoughts about me to the reality of my God’.
What I found especially helpful in this book was the author’s heart for the suffering and disillusioned yoked to the joy of God’s presence which is so capable of lighting and lightening human darkness and anguish. A Gift of Joy and Hope describes the Christian good news in six words. Its 209 pages represent Francis’s reflections over the COVID lockdown which was isolating for him as for many of us. Yet as Christians we are never isolated from God’s love, presented here in tandem with God’s joy as the heart of the Christian message. It is a liberating call which invites us to shake off unnecessary burdens and look to an awesome horizon.
‘This is our certainty. Jesus is eternally alive. If we hold fast to Him, we will have life and be protected from the death and violence that lie in wait for us along the way. All other solutions will prove to be inadequate and temporary. They may be helpful for a short amount of time, but soon we will find ourselves defenceless, abandoned, and exposed to the storms of life. With Him, on the other hand, our hearts are rooted in security, which endures all […] What has value in life? What riches do not disappear? Two, for sure: the Lord and our neighbour. These two riches never fade! These are the greatest goods and are meant to be loved. Everything else – the heavens, earth, beauties of all kind – passes; but we must never forget about God or our neighbour’.
The Quiet Haven:
An Anthology of Death and Heaven
Darton, Longman and Todd 2021
Her Late Majesty’s funeral rites brought into focus how our liturgies at the last can be seemly and dignified. This is important as we lose the last generation truly committed to a church funeral, or having a priest conduct it at the very least. Those broadcasts showed the value and consolation we all know, and may encourage more families to engage with a religious Christian service for the loved ones they come to lay to their rest.
Ian Bradley is the Emeritus Professor of Cultural and Spiritual History at the University of St Andrews, and has produced a very fine, thoughtful anthology of ‘Readings on Death and Heaven’. The Quiet Haven is a comforting compilation with a depth to help anyone through the demands of death and bereavement. He takes his title from William Wordsworth’s Epitaph III – ‘We sail the sea of life… Death is the quiet haven of us all,’ and it signals a literary, discerning selection throughout of prayers and extracts each introduced with a brief reflection, theologically sure and appropriate. ‘The inspiration for this book is both pastoral and spiritual,’ he says, in a Preface that serves as an introductory essay. He also stresses how each of the extracts ‘has an essentially positive approach to death’ and many employ ‘what one might call “watery” metaphors of streams and rivers running down to the sea, droplets merging in a vast ocean, spray foam and waves, and of the individual human soul either crossing a river, setting out in a boat across the sea, or putting into a safe harbour or quiet haven’.
Fittingly, he begins with Psalm 23 ‘possibly written as long ago as 1000 BCE’. People probably do not realise such ancient origins when they sing Crimond or hear it recited at funerals. The other 59 readings range across time and faith, including the Hindu Upanishads and Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet. Biblical texts are there, as are philosophers and theologians. Poets get their moment too, for here is Christina Rosetti aplenty, Wordsworth, and Tennyson’s ‘Crossing the Bar’ which I read at my own grandfather’s funeral. It cannot be overstated how impressive the selection is: John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, John Bunyan, William Penn, Isaac Watts. Present too are (St) John Henry Newman, Arthur Clough, and F.D. Maurice. With his Scottish context, Bradley also includes a good swathe from Caledonian culture. It was moving to be introduced to the 1870s Hebridean ‘Death Dirge’ Carmina Gadelica ‘to be sung over someone who is dying, with a strong emphasis on sleep and on going home’. African-American Spirituals a couple of pages later round out the picture, and the inclusion of W.S. Gilbert both enlarges it and nods to the avowed fondness Bradley has for G&S.
The sense of the popular is selective, and even erudite. There are no Gracie Fields or Frank Sinatra lyrics. It is distinctly Anglophone and largely British. It therefore does not bring in much from other languages, even if the Scriptural texts could be seen as such, and there is nothing after the 1920s. The final entry is from 1923 (Gibran). This is no way a weakness, for the idea of the anthology is theological and philosophical through literature, expertly selected and presented. It is all a great gift to preachers, and a highly desirable addition to anyone’s bookshelf.
There are two clear uses for this book, handsomely published by DLT. The first is for any minister seeking a selection of texts for use at a funeral, or during care of the dying and bereaved. The second is to loan to any family unsure as to what they might use or want to do when talking through the funeral arrangements. (The only other standout volume in this space is edited by Mark Oakley.) Some will be committed to a family poem or popular song, but many will reach for something they once heard or can vaguely remember, or would like just the right thing to link their own grief with the person they remember and the moment of saying goodbye. Bradley also offers a list at the front of extracts ‘which may help in particular circumstances’ such as ‘over the dying’ or ‘after someone has just died’ or ‘for meditation and quiet contemplation’ with page numbers. It is characteristically comprehensive and sensitive.
But it offers more: for those coming to terms with a bereavement of their own, for students of pastoral liturgy, and for a rich understanding of the noble tradition where literature and theology meet. Death and dying are constant, unavoidable realities. The kindness of these texts, which speak from the depths of their experience and lasting appeal, and of Ian Bradley in curating them with his sound instinct, judgment and skill, bring together a wholly reassuring Christian vision of death and the life everlasting. They will enhance and soothe, and for many might well be just the consolation and inspiration they are looking for, in times of grief and preparation alike, with confidence and hope.
National Gallery, London
until 22nd January, 2023
New perspectives? Perhaps not. But what is indisputably new for the National Gallery is the Friday night Pay-as-you-go. From 6-9 pm you can see the exhibition without booking and pay from £1 upwards, as much as you want. This is an interesting experiment and the gallery might be mobbed. Let’s hope it isn’t a precedent for theatre or travel-style tickets priced on demand (the show costs more if you visit at weekends).
2022 is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Lucian Freud (1922-2011; grandson of Sigmund Freud). Freud had a longstanding connection with the National Gallery. He had a pass key to the gallery and came frequently: ‘I use the gallery as if it were a doctor. I come for ideas and help – to look at situations within paintings, rather than whole paintings.’ The Gallery reckons that the show presents new perspectives on Freud through emphasizing his dedication to painting. As memory serves, 10 years ago the National Portrait Gallery’s larger show made similar points. But any excuse to see 65 of Freud’s works, especially some which aren’t often on public display.
And, given Freud’s devotion to the Gallery and the tradition it represents, a show which could relate more clearly the relationship between his work and past masters would have been interesting. The Gallery recognizes the potential in this and suggests the visitor visit other parts of the site for works which inspired Freud. However, no doubt wisely, it has chosen to confine the show and its signposting to Freud’s work alone.
Yet, thinking about relations to the past does bring out Freud’s individuality. So, the gynaecologically explicit ‘Naked Girl’ (1966) is like Mantegna’s ‘Dead Christ’. It was Freud’s first nude, or, to be more precise, his first fully naked picture. Typically, he did not name the sitter (the noted model Penelope Cuthbertson). And this is of a piece with his cold, ‘objective,’ very careful and intense scrutiny. But it’s not objective. Freud’s way of making beautiful women look miserable or scared is a chosen reading of character in just one particular moment. It’s not the whole person.
Not that the men get off any better. Indeed, dogs are the only creatures who are lovingly pictured by Freud. Received opinion might suggest this would make Freud an ideal portraitist of Her Late Majesty. But Her Majesty did value human beings and her portrait which is in the show was a notorious failure. Maybe that was because Freud wasn’t able to take the long time he needed to make a picture. Or maybe it was because the Queen was famous for her smile and Freud didn’t ‘do’ smiles outside his own circle.
One aristocratic painting which does work, and one of Freud’s finest, is ‘The Brigadier’ (Andrew Parker-Bowles). This is the last painting in the show, seven-foot tall and made with a nod to Tissot’s ‘Captain Frederick Gustavus Burnaby’. The Horse Guards uniform helps define both pictures. Indeed, Freud required that Parker-Bowles wear uniform for the painting. The bottom third of the work looks splendid with highly polished shoes and the black and red trousers immaculately rendered – Freud was a master of different kinds of brushwork. As Parker-Bowles has written, the uniform no longer fitted him and he all but burst out of his white shirt. And thus Freud was able to show authority and weakness.
There is something similar in other paintings of powerful figures, notably Jacob, Fourth Baron Rothschild and Baron H.H. Thyssen-Bornemisza. Here, as did his friend Francis Bacon with the Screaming Pope series, Freud used the Renaissance convention of a powerful man seated. These paintings also show Freud’s long time interest in hands. In the earliest characteristic paintings in the show, hands and especially long fingers are important. So, the fingers in ‘Girl with a kitten’ (his then wife Kitty Garman) might well strangle the said kitten. Those in ‘Hotel bedroom’ (with his then wife Lady Caroline Blackwood) are long and thin and echo the way Freud painted hair at that time. The fingers of the powerful men are equally long and bony, but splayed like spiders’ feet and blotchy with age. Beneath the well-cut suits there is a sense of ageing bodies and ageing souls.
The apotheosis of that kind of feeling is the ‘Painter working, reflection’ (1993). The painter is, of course, Freud himself and it shows him all but naked and covered in paint, a palette knife in one hand, a beautifully painted palette in the other, and the wall behind covered in paint as his studio was. Though wrinkly, and maybe Freud was more wrinkly in real life, even as the body declined this was a man proud to stand up and be looked at. Freud didn’t use a palette knife so its presence in this hymn to Freud the painter is most likely a reference to the figure of St Bartholomew with which Michel-angelo represented himself in the Sistine Chapel. A saint like Bartholomew dedicates himself to Jesus and becomes Christ-like. This exhibition shows how Freud dedicated himself to painting and what kind of a painter that made him.
Nicholas Holtam was the Church of England’s lead bishop on environmental concerns during his time as Bishop of Salisbury, and for the Archbishop of York’s Advent Book 2022 his Sleepers Wake: Getting serious about climate change (SPCK, £10.99) is a welcome addition to the thin body of work produced by Anglicans on environmental theology. It’s a bit of a Quality Street tin: nicely packaged with variety and interest, but it left this reader wanting more.
The first issue is the theological heritage. Quoting the Five Marks of Mission and some 2018 ‘Letters for Creation’ prep by Anglican Communion Primates in advance of the Lambeth Conference is a bit of a stretch. Pope Francis’s first encyclical Laudato Si is rightly given space in another chapter, and through that quotes Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who has been writing on this since the 1980s. The Church of England is somewhat late to the party. Yet Holtam has a chatty style and writes fluently on the area, interweaving his experience from over 40 years of ordained ministry with deftness and sincerity. It’s a very readable work and useful in a number of settings, including group work for which discussion questions are given.
But the second issue is how well this works as an Advent book. ‘Advent… is a season of judgement’ he says, and in the Introduction refers to it as ‘urgent’. So why no reference to the established framework of Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell? The Four Last Things are wholly appropriate for the season and the theme. Similarly, there is talk of the Exodus which is more for Lent; Advent is the Exile experience. Isaiah is quoted (for he is, after all, the ‘Advent Prophet’) but the hard graft on the scriptures’ environmental motifs is overlooked.
The four Advent weeks are interspersed with artworks, and the overall effect is positive. It goes some way, but indicates how much we all need to go further, which is very Advent too.
Dean of Southwark Andrew Nunn has followed up his Lent book with a similar idea. Here we are Bethlehem Bound: journeying with the characters of Christmas (Canterbury Press, £12.99 ). In many ways it’s a meditation on the Incarnation through the characters of the story, and thereby ourselves. The format is one person per day; Mary and Joseph, naturally, but also the Innkeeper, the Donkey, Stephen, John, the Holy Innocents, the Magi; also Thomas of Canterbury and Stephen the Deacon, skipping from Epiphany to conclude with Candlemas (presented through the Liturgy of the Hours). There’s much in to enjoy. Nunn is a gifted writer, presenting each one in the first-person which is transporting and pithy enough to work. So it’s not really an Advent book, being so Christmassy, but the end-prayers work well with the scriptural excerpts and carol snippets. If Advent is supposed to help us think differently each year about Christmas, yet in some ways the same, then this succeeds. Some paintings are reproduced – thankfully with references at the back to where they can be found fulsomely online – and it brings in popular culture and poetry too, all grounded sensitively in a lifetime of pastoral ministry. Nunn says he ‘absolutely loves Christmas’ and his enthusiasm is infectious, especially for anyone in need of pep after all those verses of all those carols.