After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art


National Gallery, London, until 13th August, 2023


This show looks at some of the art, primarily paintings made in France, in the years 1880-1914. The works were made by artists who looked to move on from traditional art and who either became Modernists or anticipated Modernism. And if that reads like a less than snappy description that’s because the direction of European art in that period was chaotic and the show gives us something of that chaos.

There are over a hundred paintings in the exhibition which includes works by Cezanne, Gauguin (and there’s a painting of a Cezanne owned by Gauguin), Van Gogh and Picasso. There’s also works by de Lautrec, Mondrian, Klimt, Degas, Derain and Rodin. And many more. Few of the works are famously great – unsurprisingly ‘Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon’ remains in New York though it is one of the key works of the period. And it’s not clear why there are some omissions – maybe even the National Gallery’s impressive lendings diplomacy has its limits. But there’s no Monet, no Schiele, no Kirchner, no quality Russian paintings.  

Still, if the show is not ideally complete and if the direction is sometimes messy – Picasso first appears with works made in Paris in a section devoted to art in Spain – the most interesting work stand out the more strongly. And, if we forget the hurtle towards Modernism, one theme which stands out is that brown is out. There are brown paintings in the show, and some of the Picassos are brown, but emerging out of a dull room of German and Austrian paintings it’s a case of thank goodness for the Fauves. Of course, the works by the Germans are not uninteresting. Lovis Corinth gives us very fleshy, modern nudes (think Lucian Freud en avant). But he also gives us a hackneyed ‘Perseus and Andromeda’. It’s a mighty relief to then look at Derain’s ‘L’Estaque’. This nod to Cézanne’s series of paintings from the same area is one of those works a six-year-old could do, but somehow never does. It is happy and vigorous. It is sun-drenched (in a painterly way). It breathes life and freshness.

There are a number of other excellent works by Derain. ‘The Dance’ (1906) with its primary colours and saturated greens mixes themes from Delacroix and Gauguin while drawing on ‘exotic’ Colombian and Thai dancers with a touch of the Isadora Duncans. It is eclecticism run riot. A more subtle and charming work by Derain is ‘Madame Matisse in kimono’. This work uses strong colours but is able to suggest beauty in the shape of a foot and the turn of a head. 

That subtilty is all the more remarkable because of the thickness of the paint used by Derain. Van Gogh is, of course, a great one for thick paint and the show has a number of his works from private collections which are well worth a look. But the most interesting thick painter is Picasso. In his later pre- and Cubist works the paint becomes less important. But in the exhibition’s centrepiece, the 1901 portrait of Gustave Coquiot, the thickness of the paint is central to the overall effect. Coquiot was a leading supporter of the young Picasso and by way of a thankyou the artist has painted him as a well-off voluptuary, with a cruel masklike face, the very model of a journalist art critic. It’s a painting which sticks in the mind, more than any other in the show, more than most in the National Gallery itself. Apart from horrifying face, what catches the attention is Coquiot’s shirt front and bowtie. These are laid on thickly but delicately in a way which might look back to Hals and forward to the Kremnitz-loving Freud (again). Picasso’s paint has a life which makes the impasto of the Van Gogh’s in the show look turgid.

Ten years later and Picasso is making the more intellectualised portrait of William Uhde, properly Cubist but without the heft of the Coquiot. Why he shifted his style is partially hinted at in the previous year’s portrait of his then partner Fernande Olivier which includes alongside the deep sculpted portrait head a still life of apples and pears, a very direct reference to Cezanne. The reference can be checked against Cezanne’s ‘Sugar bowl, pears and tablecloth’ from Japan’s Pola Museum. But Cezanne’s deconstruction of art and nature is just one of the paths Picasso took. The show also has a precursor of the post-war classicising, the Kimbell’s ‘Nude combing her hair’ (Fernande Olivier again, but unrecognisable compared to her pre-Cubist portrait) which is at least a response to Matisse and Cezanne and the tradition of Venus Anadyomene. 

And to say that is just to scratch the surface of this show. There is so much here that there is probably something for everybody and, for those so inclined, much to argue about. As my tutor used to say, you can’t write history in the nineteenth century, there’s just too much to see, you can only be a journalist. Perhaps Coquiot is smiling because he has come into his own.

Owen Higgs





Robert Banks

Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2022

ISBN 9781666731187


As reflected in the book’s title, Banks’ aim in this book is to encourage Christians in the workplace to see their paid employment not merely as that which enables vocation in other spheres of life (family and church), but as part of the believer’s vocation itself. It is not enough, Banks avers, for faith and work to be complementary: we ought to see them – and live them – as interconnected. In essence, Banks’ thesis is a twenty-first century restatement of Martin Luther’s doctrine of vocation: all of life is holy, the arena for living out love for God and neighbour; all believers are priests, whether or not they hold office in the church; all work is ministry collaborating with God in kingdom-building, not just those engaged in missions. Thinking of work this way will make not only a speculative but a practical difference.

Banks’ book is composed of three sections, each of which had a previous life in other publications (though appearing here newly together and in an extended and revised format). The first part (‘Why do we engage in work?’) is the most theological and, for this reader, the most interesting. Three chapters outline, respectively, a biblical theology of work, an exploration of God-as-worker (and human beings in his image), and a fascinating historical overview of the place of work in Christian thought from the early church to the present day. The middle third of the book (‘What difference does vocation make?’) comprises an introductory chapter of how various professions might be described in a less mundane and more Christian-vocational manner, followed by seven autobiographical case-studies of how different Christian workers approach their work as part of their God-given vocation. The final section (‘How can we be faithful to our calling?’), over the course of three chapters outlines how Christians in the workplace might identify their vocation, reflects on how changes in work patterns presents new challenges to the Christian worker, and wrestles with the tension between integrity and compromise in business and industry. Finally, an epilogue gives a positive (though also, to my mind, slightly ambivalent) answer to the question, ‘Does our work have any eternal value?’

The case-studies in the middle third were pleasant enough to read, and the reflection questions at the end of each chapter are generally excellent – well generalised and well applied. But there’s a huge disconnect between the thesis of the overall book (every worker has a Christian vocation in the workplace) and the selection of case-studies. Of the seven contributors, six are very senior executives or business-owners; the one employee featured is in the rather atypical profession of television journalist. No delivery driver, teacher, production-line worker, engineer, secretary, or nurse explores the concept of vocation from within a large organisation in which one has extremely limited capacity personally to shape the culture. Can daily work be transformed into divine vocation only for well-paid white-collar leaders? Certainly it’s much easier to reflect on how a sense of calling can shape one’s work life when one calls the shots at work. It is a pity that we don’t see the principle being worked out in situations that more closely resemble the circumstances of the vast majority of Christian workers.

The final section contains helpful and practical reflections on work-as-vocation in the context of a changing labour market, the particular pressures of casual work, and the tensions a Christian in business will have to negotiate. Some of these final chapters’ prescriptions, however, require considerable cultural transposition for contexts other than big-church, evangelical, American/Australian settings. Not every church has a network of highly-committed, biblically-literate small groups in which people would be comfortable to share their struggles and seek counsel in the context of open prayer. How could smaller, more reserved, and more liturgical churches better foster a sense of every member’s workplace vocation and support workers? We’ll have to work it out for ourselves!

The book’s most provocative insight concerns the way in which the meaning of work in secular thinking has changed. It is no longer merely about earning to support one’s family: now work is imbued (or burdened?) with self-actualisation, a sense of community, and purpose. Generation Y (millennials) need to feel that their work is engaging their personal gifts and interests, fulfilling their deep desires, and contributing to something greater. Is this a recovery of the Reformation concept of the vocation of every believer (not just the clergy)? Or is it evidence of a post-Christian search for identity without God, purpose without providence, and fellowship without church? An interesting and fertile question.

Overall, Banks makes his case for work as vocation clearly, theologically, and persuasively. The book’s shortcomings for a British readership are typical of those which comment on social and cultural phenomena from across oceans. But the exploration of the meaning, significance, and conduct of work through the prism of Christian vocation has much to contribute to our thinking about the place of our weekday lives in God’s purposes.

Tom Woolford 


The Shaping of a Soul: 

A life taken by surprise

Richard Harries

John Hunt Publishing, 2023

ISBN 9781803411620


The poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins contrasts the conversion of St Paul and St Augustine:


‘Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,

Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,

Make mercy in all of us, out of us all



Richard Harries was a sporty army officer, hardly practising C of E. He attributes his own conversion to a mixture of influences but the call came as dramatically as for St Paul and he tells the tale well. This is not a full autobiography although there is enough description of his upbringing to give one clues about formation of character. What did three years’ separation from parents serving abroad do to him? There is a hint of army discipline in his life of work, prayer and creative relaxation. 

Richard Harries has given distinguished service in Church and society, to this day writing, broadcasting and an active member of the House of Lords, where he speaks up for neglected causes such as the people of West Papua. He takes us through the different periods of his life. We learn how his love of theatre and the arts came about. Nuggets of theology nestle into the personal story – about prayer ‘unanswered’, about objective truth such as of the empty tomb, and about the difficulty of speaking about God and religious language generally. ‘Poets and novelists can give depth and freshness to a Christian language which has become stale and meaningless.’

After his account of fifteen years in parochial ministry interspersed with three teaching in theological college, we come to his time as Dean of Kings College, London and then nearly twenty years as Bishop of Oxford. He outlines his guiding principles as a bishop, making key appointments carefully, cherishing a team and trusting colleagues, Here the book is increasingly about the challenges of the day as he encounters them in an astonishing range, the status of the human embryo, nuclear deterrence, reform of the House of Lords, debt relief for the developing nations, the promotion of the interests of stakeholders in the ethics of business. We are indebted to him for taking the lead on ethical investment, now a commonplace but not then. Courageously he took the Church Commissioners to court. The trigger was their failure to engage creatively about investment in apartheid South Africa. It led to a judgment which set much wider boundaries within which trustees operate when investing. The Commissioners are now actively ethical investors. 

The book is lightened by encounters with the great and the good, pen-portraits of archbishops he has known and descriptions of journeys undertaken such as to Russia and Georgia. There is also his own account of the attempted appointment of Fr Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading and reflections on same-sex relationships. 

  Richard Harries has been described as our ‘foremost apologist’, with over 30 books published and 50 years of broadcasting. His appreciation of sermons which are ‘short, deeply thought through and carefully crafted’ are a good description of his talks on ‘Thought for the Day’ that have reached millions. ‘Apologetics is about trying to recognise where God is present in the culture and questions of our time.’ He shows us how we may do this in a secular environment over a range of subjects, aesthetic, moral, political and inter-faith. He lucidly summarises complex arguments, including many of his previous books. It is useful to have these all in one place as a starting point for one’s own musing, and so a book which could be given to those on the fringe of the Church, not because we agree with all that is written but because it seeks to see where God may be revealed and does not shrink away from facing difficult questions. ‘Christians are in the truth business and that may mean facing very uncomfortable truths.’ Noting thar the ‘case against God is strong’, he is orthodox in essentials because only the Christian story in its fullness makes a reasoned faith possible.

The thankfulness with which Richard Harries begins and ends the book suggests a life rooted in the eucharist and prayer that God ‘may make mercy in all of us’. We have a couple of his beautifully composed prayers and a hint of his faithfully saying the offices where the psalms are ‘the voice in Christ crying out to humanity’. He concludes with a moving account of life as he and his wife Jo now live, leading to an appreciation of old age and the benefits of a long life, the story of one person’s astonishing call to serve in the Church for which he has hope. This is a testament of age, the witness of ‘a hopeful realist’.

Peter Wheatley



The Struggle for True Religion

Simon Lewis 

Oxford University Press, 2021

ISBN 9780192855756


Anglican reform movement or schismatic separatists with their own parallel organisation? No, not Gafcon, not ACNA, not the Tractarians, but eighteenth-century Methodists. In this scholarly but readable short monograph based on his Oxford D.Phil. dissertation, Simon Lewis explores the polemical attacks of the 1730s and 1740s on George Whitefield and John Wesley in their contemporary theological context seeing Methodism ‘as part of the Church of England’s continuing struggle to define itself theologically’ (p. 1), a struggle which somehow never seems to have ended. And many of the talented theologians on whose writings Simon Lewis draws – Daniel Waterland, Henry Stebbing, Joseph Trapp, among them – fully merit receovery and notice. For there were real theological objections to Methodism, and their articulation reflected the still under-estimated theological vitality of the Georgian clergy.

Given the torrent of criticism levelled at it from every direction, it is remarkable that Methodism was not stifled early on. But Wesley and Whitefield were nothing if not stubborn and persistent, both educated men capable of giving as good as they got in controversy, and convinced that their mission and ministry were divinely directed. While they saw themselves as restorers, their opponents saw them leading a regression to dark times. That was to simplify (the better to cast aspersions) for there was from the beginning a varied spectrum of religious traditions within Methodism, yet it suited some of their adversaries mistakenly to conflate the divergent theologies of Wesley and Whitefield. 

Methodism was widely perceived as a serious challenge to the ecclesiological and theological status quo, and it had an extraordinary capacity to generate responses very early in its history. Lewis never sufficiently or explicitly indicates why that was but would likely want the reader (and here lies his real achievement) to understand anti-Methodism within the wider theological picture, not see the nascent movement in isolation. And in their field preaching, the importance attached to female penitents, their emphasis on the working of the Spirit, and their religious ‘enthusiasm’, there were plenty of targets for their detractors aiming for a lay audience to make them wary of the revivalists. In plays, poems, and prints, Methodist morality was ridiculed, ‘love feasts’ and suchlike ceremonies depicted as both pagan and prurient, and preachers presented as sexual predators: all often done with a bawdy backnote intended to tempt the potential reader. Itinerant preachers, ‘Ringleaders of the Rabble’ as one journal dubbed them in 1739, were another popular target because their lack of a guaranteed income rendered them potentially destitute and a burden on the Poor rates.

It was perhaps, above all, their religious ‘enthusiasm’ resting on private spiritual assurance (Samuel Johnson defined ‘enthusiasm’ as a ‘vain belief of private revelation…founded neither on reason nor divine revelation’) that most infuriated the majority of the clergy who wrote against the Methodists. Theirs was not a quiet commitment to a Christian life but an irrational emphasis on supernatural experiences, such as bodily agitations and prophecies. It was a kind of madness that to the average Anglican brought to mind Puritans puffed up with spiritual pride who had brought chaos and civil war in their wake (the attempted abolition of the monarchy and episcopacy was less than a century previously). Methodists were thus both modern schismatics and likely political rebels who would bring in popery by the back door. Even John Wesley’s father, the High Church Lincolnshire vicar, Samuel, in his Advice to a Young Clergyman (1735) drew that link. Old heresies were recalled: some called them Montanists who claimed to be in special receipt of divine revelation; they were Donatist separatists claimed one 1741 author, Zachary Grey, conceited men ready to lambast the established clergy, as he alleged Whitefield did, as ‘Wolves in Sheeps’ clothing’.

Wesley and Whitefield tried to respect the bishops but it was on their own terms. On the face of it either courageous or presumptuous for two unbeneficied clerics barely into their thirties. And Whitefield especially could be remarkably provocative. In his Pastoral Letter (1739) the Bishop of London, Edmund Gibson, condemned Whitefield for his numerous accounts of being ‘guided in an extarordinary Manner, by immediate Impulses and Impressions of the Spirit of God’. He was undeterred, happy to slay such contemporary Anglican sacred cows such as Richard Allestree’s  ‘The Whole Duty of Man’, and the highly respected latitudinarian Archbishop of Canterbury (1691-4), John Tillotson, who, Whitefield asserted, had reduced the faith to ‘a System of Moral Ethicks’ and knew no more ‘of true Christianity than Mahomet.’ Little wonder perhaps that a bishop like George Lavington of Exeter devoted so much of his episcopate to writing against Methodists.

Simon Lewis constantly shows the inter-connection of writings against early Methodism with other perceived threats to Church life such as the deist controversy, at its peak around this time. Methodists and deists could both be presented as  ‘enthusiasts’ with a penchant for melancholy and delusion puffed up with pride. And Lewis, picking his way adroitly, shows how complicated and various were the attitude of Anglican apologists to the miraculous so that no one position on miracles unified anti-Methodist Anglicans. And he rightly insists on the fallacy of viewing orthodox attacks on Methodism simply as onslaughts against mystery. For the sheer range and divergent angles of these controversies proves emphatically how much Methodism at its inception meant different things to different people, how much it was ‘a hybrid of several religious traditions’ (p. 168).

What comes across so strongly – and so strangely – nearly three centuries on, is the theological literacy of all parties and the public interest in and appetite for what they had to say. There was a common recognition that religious revival was more than brands, strap lines, colourful logos, and ‘new ways of doing church.’ And that it could all too easily get out of hand and escape the control of the usual authorities in the Church as popular Jansenism in France was doing at much the same time. Revival is fine, but whose revival?

Nigel Aston



365 daily readings in the company of G.K.Chesterton’s priest detective

Edited by Stephen Poxon

Darton, Longman & Todd, 2022.

ISBN 9781915412065

A whole year? With Father Brown? That’s some lockdown, 365 days following in the slow flat footsteps of the clerical snooper as he dawdles in the streets of 1920s England like one of today’s Anglican curates with not enough to do. I did wonder whether this would be time well spent. Daily meditations are a significant and useful genre. At the apex is The Divine Office, with its Office of Readings, and then there are any number of 12 Step lifesavers offering a page a day. My shelves are full of these daily offerings, enough to take me into the next century: A Year with John Paul II; A Year with Rilke; A Year with Thomas Merton; Daily Readings with John Main. In our March issue this year there was a review of Daily Readings with Walter Hilton (also from DLT). But Father Brown? Crossing from the reality of the lives of the spiritual giants of our time into Chesterton’s detective fiction is quite a leap. Brown is a shadowy figure, after all, loitering in shapeless clothes on the edges of crime scenes, rather creepy, despite the childlike clerical bonhomie of the television series. ‘Father Brown was very English. He had all the normal national helplessness about what to do with a serious and sincere compliment suddenly handed to him to his face in the American manner. His reply was a meaningless murmur.’
So why Father Brown? Stephen Poxon, the editor, admits in a recent interview that this book is not really about Father Brown at all. Passages have been selected to assist and develop an established routine of prayer. Wrenched from their context in the detective tales, Father Brown’s random musings on crime are intended to make sparks fly during our daily devotions. Why Father Brown? No particular reason. It’s just that Stephen Poxon is a serial editor of meditations. Readers of New Directions might have missed his 2017 classic, At the Master’s Side; 365 Meditations for Dog-Lovers, but may rest assured that his other ‘Through the Year’ books include subjects of wider interest such as Catherine Booth, William Booth, John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and John Newton. Each page for each day in ‘A Pleasant Year’ has the three part format: A Biblical text; a passage from a Father Brown story; a concluding prayer by the editor. So on April 28th we begin with Matthew 11.8: ‘What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes?’ Clearly yes, because Chesterton then introduces us to Sir Wilson Seymour. ‘His hair was silver-grey, but he did not look old; it was worn longer than the common yet he did not look effeminate; it was curly but it did not look curled. His carefully pointed beard made him look more manly and militant rather than otherwise, as it does in those old admirals of Velazquez with whose dark portraits his house was hung. His grey gloves were a shade bluer, his silver-knobbed cane a shade longer than scores of such gloves and canes flapped and flourished about the theatres and the restaurants.’ Before readers have time to search the internet for their blue-grey gloves, the Editor calls us to prayer: ‘What have I gone out to see today, Lord? In other words, what has caught my attention? Fine clothes and fancy ways? That which is expensive and commonly regarded as impressive? There’s nothing at all wrong with smartness and quality, and dignity is a fine quality, but for all that, I pray that you would keep my eyes fixed on matters of faith. The things of this world have their place, but help me to go out to see that which is of you, and of greater value.’
Daily meditations with John Paul II and Thomas Merton take us to the Cross. 365 readings with Father Brown take us into a mad unreal pre-War world of eccentric aristocrats, lady typewriters, dinner bells, quaint headgear (‘Wilfrid recognised it indeed as a light Japanese or Chinese helmet torn down from a trophy that hung in the old family hall’), the master criminal Flambeau, and dead bodies. I wished it worked, but I fear this book is a danger to mental health, building day by day the fear that the reader might be rumbled by Father Brown himself. February 24th: ‘“You see” [said Father Brown] “I suspected you when we first met. It’s the little bulge up the sleeve where you people have the spiked bracelet.” “How in Tartarus.” cried Flambeau, “did you ever hear of the spiked bracelet?” “Oh, one’s little flock, you know!” said Father Brown, arching his eyebrows rather blankly. “When I was a curate in Hartlepool, there were three of them with spiked bracelets … I’m afraid I watched you, you know.”’ It’s been a most unpleasant year.

Julian Browning



A Prayer for the King and Queen at their Coronation

by John Masefield


O GOD, the Ruler over Earth and Sea 

Grant us Thy guidance in the reign to be.


Grant that our King may make this ancient land 

A Realm of brothers, working mind and hand


To make the Life of Man a fairer thing: 

God, grant this living glory to the King.


Grant to our Queen the strength that lifts & shares 

The daily burden that a monarch bears;


Grant, to them both Thy holy help to give

The hopeless, hope, the workless, means to live:


The light to see, and skill to make men see, 

Where ways are bad, what better ways may be:


And grace, to give to working minds the zest 

To reach excelling things beyond their best:


Grant to them Peace, and Thy diviner Peace, 

The joy of making human wars to cease.


Make wise the councils of the men who sway 

The Britain here, the Britain far away:


And grant to all, that every rightness willed 

In this beginning reign may be fulfilled.


(May 1937)


© Estate of John Masefield


Discovered in 2014, this is one of three poems by the former Poet Laureate John Masefield (1878-1967), written out by hand and presented to George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother) as a personal gift. They were put on display at the Palace of Holyroodhouse for the Royal Collection Trust’s Poetry for the Palace: Poets Laureate from Dryden to Duffy exhibition in 2014 and, being unpublished, are the only versions known to exist.

A popular author, particularly known for The Box of Delights, Masefield’s tenure as poet laureate from 1930-1967 covered four monarchs. No laureate since has held the post for so long and his life spanned the reigns of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. As such, there is a formality to his work, often classical in terms of style and metre, but equally able to surprise with modern touches and gestures. His was an unmistakably English voice with themes of valour, honour, enterprise, endeavour, and nature. This poem for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in rhyming couplets, arguably the easiest form, springs from line to line with a vocabulary that is recognisably religious, in one sense recalling an antiphon and in another bringing in echoes of Scripture, psalm and hymn. Titled ‘A Prayer’, it addresses the Almighty and is also mindful of social concerns (‘the workless’) and the now controversial concept of empire. It is a possible that Masefield rethought this line as a recording of him reading the piece aloud has ‘the Britain here’ and then plural – ‘the Britains far away’ or perhaps even ‘Britons’. Throughout, it displays Masefield’s gift for an elegant, memorable phrase, lifting the everyday concerns of humankind to the throne of grace, divinely personified and promulgated in the earthly reign of kings.


The Sacred Nature of Monarchy


In his new book, Ian Bradley surveys the primal, biblical basis of sacred kingship, the history of Christian monarchy in Britain, and the roles and responsibilities that traditionally go with it – crystallised, concentrated and expressed in richly symbolic form in the coronation service…


The king who will be crowned and anointed on 6 May 2023 has a deep interest in religion and a profound sense of the sacred. Throughout his adult life he has manifested his passionate concern for the spiritual through ways as various as his attachment to the Book of Common Prayer and Authorized Version of the Bible, his engagement with Orthodox Christianity and Islam, his creation of a sacred space known as The Sanctuary in the garden of his home at Highgrove, Gloucestershire, and his public championing of organic and sustainable agriculture, holistic medicine and classical architecture. He has pursued a personal crusade against the rising tide of secular materialism and scientific reductionism.

Although official photographs often show him clad, like previous princes, in military uniform or doublebreasted suit, he has also been caught on camera garlanded while visiting a Hindu temple, dressed in native fashion singing an eco-anthem in Guyana or striding across a Hebridean island with a huge shepherd’s crook like a latter-day Columba.

In some ways this takes us back to the early medieval model of king as philosopher and wise man. Like Alfred, Charles has surrounded himself with advisers and spiritual counsellors and has a vision of spearheading national spiritual revival. In projects like the Prince’s Trust and the revival of Dumfries House he has followed the more recent philanthropic tradition of welfare monarchy and emulated Prince Albert with his thirst for social improvement and determination to put his reforming principles into practice. At a deeper level, he harks back to a more primal understanding of the monarch as representing order and taking on the forces of chaos and, indeed, to the tragic, sacrificial dimension of royalty. A troubled and vulnerable figure, he has spoken often of the deep disintegration of the modern world and the need for it to be rebalanced and reordered. He himself has movingly expressed thisdriving passion in his life: 


I have gradually come to realise that my entire life so far has been motivated by a desire to heal – to heal the dismembered landscape and the poisoned soil; the cruelly shattered townscape, where harmony has been replaced by a cacophony; to heal the divisions between intuitive and rational thought, between mind, body and soul, so that the temple of our humanity can once again be lit by a sacred flame;to level the monstrous artificial barrier erected between tradition and modernity and, above all, to heal the mortally wounded soul that, alone, can give us warning of the folly of playing God and of believing that knowledge on its own is a substitute of wisdom.


It is no coincidence that while Prince of Wales Charles made frequent appeals in his speeches to the concepts of wisdom and order so strongly associated with sacred kingship and Christian monarchy. In his 2000 Reith Lecture the word ‘wisdom’ figured seven times, coupled variously with the adjectives ‘ancient’, ‘instinctive’, ‘practical’ and ‘intuitive’. He came back to this theme in 2109 at the time of the canonization of John Henry Newman, which he attended in Rome, praising the sense of harmony conveyed in Newman’s poem, ‘The Dream of Gerontius’. The appeal to order is very evident in a speech he made in 1996 extolling the virtues of tradition:


Tradition is not a man-made element in our lives – it is a God-given awareness of the natural rhythms and of the fundamental harmony engendered by the paradoxical opposites in every aspect of nature. Tradition reflects the timeless order, and yet disorder, of the cosmos, and anchors us into a harmonious relationship with the great mysteries of the universe.


For King Charles restoring order and harmony to our disintegrated world involves re-finding and reasserting a sense of the sacred. In 1996 he chose to speak to an audience of businessmen ‘about a subject which I suspect is not often discussed on occasions like this – the importance of the sacred in the modern world’. His speech went on to lament the separation of science from religion and the separation of the natural world from God, ‘with the result that it has fragmented the cosmos and placed the sacred into a separate, and secondary, compartment of our understanding, divorced from the practical day to day world of man’. The need to rediscover a sense of the sacred in dealing with the natural world surfaced again in his reflection on the 2000 Reith Lectures which had explored the theme of sustainable development: 


If literally nothing is held sacred any more – because it is considered synonymous with superstition, or in some way ‘irrational’ – what is there to prevent us treating our entire world as some ‘great laboratory of life’, with potentially disastrous long-term consequences? Fundamentally, an understanding of the sacred helps us to acknowledge that there are bounds of balance, order and harmony in the natural world which set limits to our ambitions and define the parameters of sustainable development.


Charles’s ‘Thought for the Day’, broadcast on Radio 4 on 1 January 2000, made a heartfelt plea that ‘in the new millennium we will begin to rediscover a sense of the sacred in all that surrounds us’ and included a characteristic observation that ‘it is a sacred thing to compose harmony out of opposites’ as well as a commendation of the teaching of ‘our Lord Jesus Christ … that this life is but one passing phase of our existence’.  The fact that it was the heir to the throne rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury or some other church leader whom the BBC invited to give the first ‘Thought for the Day’ of the new millennium on the Today programme could be taken to indicate a recognition both of the continuing sacred dimension of monarchy and of Charles’ particular religious interests. He also found himself nominated in a poll carried out for a Channel 4 programme in March 2001 as the third most powerful religious figure in Britain.

A striking example of this focus on the sacred has been the way in which Charles based his opposition to the genetic modification of plants on theological rather than scientific grounds.


I happen to believe that this kind of genetic modification takes mankind into realms that belong to God, and to God alone…We live in an age of rights – it seems to me that it is time our Creator had some rights too.


The columnist and broadcaster Libby Purves commented that many people would 


be outraged by the shameless fundamentalist way that the Prince brings God into the argument… Fashionably agnostic thinkers will be horribly annoyed that a pragmatic, rational argument should be defaced by this embarrassing mention of a creator with a capital ‘C’. I was rather struck by it.


Several academics did, indeed, object to the Prince’s theological emphasis when dealing with what they took to be essentially neutral scientific topics. David Voas, a geographer at Liverpool University, complained that ‘listening to the Prince of Wales is like going to church; having avoided it for a time you forget how dreadful it can be’, and dismissed the heir to the throne as ‘a self-indulgent preacher’.

The late Roman Catholic columnist, William Oddie, by contrast, saw the Prince’s intervention in the GM debate as a welcome reassertion of royalty’s traditional role ‘as having an authority which was in some sense spiritual as well as temporal’.


The reason why Prince Charles is listened to on moral issues is twofold. Not only is the monarchy a more spiritual institution than we have come to suppose: we for our part are a more spiritual people.


In a letter to The Times I concurred with this analysis and took it further:


At a time when its constitutional role is coming increasingly into question, I suspect that the spiritual dimension of monarchy may come to assume increasing importance. In his stand against genetically modified crops, Prince Charles has shown himself not so much the defender of faiths as the supreme exponent of an essentially religious perspective on life in the prevailing climate of secular and scientific rationalism.


The strongly spiritual perspective introduced by Charles as Prince of Wales into discussions about contemporary issues had a greater appeal abroad than it did to church leaders at home. On a visit to Guyana in 2000, he was singled out for commendation by the mayor of Georgetown who prayed: ‘I ask the Creator to give you the strength and wisdom to remain in the vanguard helping keep the world safe, clean, good and green’. In 2002 a statue was erected in the Brazilian town of Palmas in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest depicting him as an angel and, in the words of the local state governor ‘saving the world.’ It shows the prince, with wings outstretched, hovering over a sea of humanity with his arms in open embrace. For leaders of the Church of England, by contrast, his attitudes were rather confused. As Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie apparently found him a mass of confusions and contradictions in respect of religion, one moment extolling the ‘epic language of the Prayer Book’ and the next ‘exploring Hinduism with people in the inner cities.’

As king, Charles will not have the same freedom to speak out on issues about which he feels passionately as he did while heir to the throne and he has indicated that he understands the constraints of monarchy in this regard. It seems unlikely, however, that he will lose his commitment to the sacred and his lifelong spiritual quest. In contrast to the more sure, settled and measured faith of his late mother, he has a restless, questing spirituality combined with a love of tradition, while sharing her emphasis on harmony, forgiveness and reconciliation. In this, he is close to what a lot of people in Britain feel. This was well expressed in comments made to the Washington Post by Andi Britt, who came with his wife to place flowers in front of Buckingham Palace in memory of Queen Elizabeth following her death: ‘He represents those people who perhaps don’t have a vibrant faith, but have a sense that there is a loving God. He represents a faith and a God who welcomes people, regardless of how close they feel. I think he represents many people who are just not as sure, or who don’t have such strong convictions — people of faith, different faiths, or no faith.’


God Save the King: The Sacred Nature of the Monarchy by Ian Bradley is published by Darton, Longman & Tod.


Church Crawling: Vierges Noires – 15

La Chapelle Geneste


The iconography of crowns impresses Simon Cotton


Deep in the Haute-Loire, it is easy to overlook the hamlet of la Chapelle Geneste, 6km to the north of La Chaise-Dieu, whose population is scarcely a hundred. Legend says that the settlement results from the discovery of a statue of the Virgin, which led to the building of a church here (which came under the Abbey of La Chaise-Dieu). The present building can be traced back to the 12th century; it is a simple church (1), a square western belltower (given a new top in 1902-3, replacing a hexagonal spire); short aisled nave; and a stone-vaulted chancel (2).

Apart from the chapel of the Virgin, there are chapels of the Sacred Heart and Saint Roch. The latter is the secondary patron of the parish, with a pilgrimage on August 16th celebrating relief from plague – he was widely invoked against la peste in the later Middle Ages. The statue of the saint (3) shows him wearing a very broad-brimmed hat – as well as his plague sore and his faithful dog, of course.

The Renaissance Black Virgin (4) from the 16th c is at the centre of a slightly later retable in the chapel of the Virgin; she is seated, as usual, sitting below a crown borne by several putti, maybe as late as the 18th c. Jesus is seated on her lap, both facing forwards. Compared with the traditional Romanesque statues of the Virgin and child, The Renaissance Black Virgin here has a warmer expression and is in a relaxed posture, with her legs slightly apart, leading to her golden dress hanging naturally, not to mention her more lifelike hair. Her deep black face contrasts with her red lips. It is the work of an artist who was familiar with the established conventional style of the Romanesque Virgins of the Auvergne, but interpreted it in the light of the Renaissance norms.