Dr. O stated that walking is the best way to see London, and I’d definitely have to agree, though I’m not sure my feet do. We passed Hyde park, the site of the Tyburn Tree where Elizabethan era Catholics were slain, the marker by St. Martin in the Fields, commemorating Martin of Tours, and ate at the Crypt Café, a real café that is in the crypt of the church, a surreal but truly unique experience!
The National Gallery (not to be confused with the British Museum) is a true national treasure. Paintings from around the world and throughout history hang there, but our points of focus were from the medieval period. The two pieces we focused on were the Saints and the Cross Crucifix and the Coronation of Mary. The art here, we were reminded by dr. O, was religious in purpose, meant for a church, and now displaced. Such pieces like the crucifix, are in danger of obfuscation by modern teaching. As a student of art history, I was surprised to realize that I too was guilty of this sometimes.
My first thoughts were of the technique and the historicity of the work in this wing, my eyes flicking to the placards for context and description to determine my personal value for the work instead of approaching the piece with contemplation and Christian imagination. Instead of thinking about the piece as an evidential artifact of the iconoclastic debate and its fallout on realism as depicted by middle age art, I was reminded that the piece was telling the story of Mary’s son, the human incarnation of god made possible by his use of a young woman at a time when it could have meant her death under the law. Focus was not on the divine Jesus, but on the dying Jesus, the son of man who is the only mediator for our sin.
The Coronation was also worthy of deeper contemplation (and enjoyment!) Depicted is a multi-cultural gathering of saints, a picture of heaven and the crowning of the “queen mother” Mary by king Jesus as possibly referred to in revelation. Easy to dismiss as a depiction of an obscure medieval belief or possibly misinterpretation of scripture, it serves as a stark reminder how much has changed. I am convicted to remember that the middle ages were an era of deep devotion and seeking of holiness. The church was ingrained in the very fabric of every man’s life, and the church was not merely a community center to be picked from among many as today, but the “community’s center.” Church buildings were built across generations, money was given for future edification in the architecture and art – not current enjoyment such as to buy a new carpet or repaint the worship center. It was a literal building of the eternal kingdom of heaven. Powerful.
Honesty time. It’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around such markers, in fact until only a few days ago through the miracles of social media, I was corrected in my thinking that Lewis’ body had been moved to the poet’s corner from his grave at holy trinity church, Headington quarry. It has not moved. I must admit that it shocked me a bit to realize I stood by him and didn’t know it, thinking in my error that I was only standing by Warnie, but no, he remains there where I squatted by his marker near the kilns, and not in London as I had thought. My assumption was born out of a failure to appreciate the purpose of the marker, and this means that I will have to go back into my copy of Poet’s Corner when I get home.
We concluded our day at Westminster (Roman Catholic) Cathedral (not to be confused with the Anglican Abbey) and a sung mass, followed by dinner at “the Shakespeare” pub, which was fantastic, having just seen him at the Abbey. (Ahem, his memorial that is -- See above!) Then, half of us took the tube to the train and it was an early bed. I was glad for the following day’s lectures to rest my feet, which is why I write this entry a day late!