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Liturgical Arts

“Madonna of the Butterflies with Sts Michael and Jerome” by P J Crook (born 1945) / used without permission but a whole lot of admiration

A few words on continuity

Short of buying property in London itself—I don’t recommend even looking—the region in Gloucestershire known as The Cotswolds might run a close second in property values.

We’ve spoken of emigration to the U.K. (while it’s still “United”) but the land of the Scot is about what we can afford, and then some miles from the amenities of shops and a decent latté. I spent two weeks on Skye some years ago and learned the limits of charm and the country life. And I was considerably younger then, so the two-mile trek to the Ardvasar Lodge was fun and even the two-mile walk home by moonlight in a single-malt haze wasn’t all that bad.

So when the latest TLS arrived with this triptych on the cover, and when the photo credit informed me it had recently been installed in the church of St Michael & All Angels in Bishop’s Cleeve, Gloucestershire, I had to learn more.

Bishop’s Cleeve—think St Mary Mead Times three—is a village in Gloucestershire a few miles from Cheltenham. Rent a car, because the trains quit running there some years ago, even prior to privatization of British Rail, but it will be worth the trouble and time to see the 12th century church and its new altarpiece.

St Michael and All Angels, Bishop’s Cleeve, Gloucestershire, UK

 

The church was dedicated in 1066 but the style is Early English. I’m certain the church has elements from the entire mediæval period; that’s just the pace of building off the grid. In fact P J [Pamela June] Crook’s contribution attests to the never-finished-ness that architecture can sometimes exhibit.

Crook’s painting resonated with me because the current Agincourt exhibit includes a triptych by Philip Thompson, a 1967 work I bought from his garage sale more than thirty-five years ago. Looking around for artifacts to interpret the evolution of St Joseph the Carpenter in Agincourt, I was an idiot not to have noticed Thompson’s painting on our dining room wall. It was the perfect balance of color, size, and style, and especially “Lutheran” for Episcopalians.

Then came the long-standing need for a baptismal font—a story almost as old as the project itself. Strapped for cash early in its history and lacking a well-healed donor, the church had used a common green enamel kitchen basin for Christening until something better could be got. That came shortly after the 1898 remodeling by Proudfoot & Bird, when a beautiful embossed copper bowl was acquired from The Roycrofters (of Arts & Crafts fame) in 1910.

As we approached the 2015 exhibit and I hoped to incorporate more craft in our offerings, I searched for an artisan who works in copper but failed miserably. Oh, I found people; they just laughed at me. OK, so copper wouldn’t be our medium. What about wood?

Workers in wood were even rarer. So I modified the story line and changed medium again. Now the basin could me the contemporary replacement for the Roycrofter piece, stolen on the eve of the church’s 150th birthday. And the replacement would be ceramic, crafted (we hoped) by Richard Gruchalla and Carrin Rosetti. That, indeed, came to pass on the afternoon of the exhibit’s opening, and the group of two paintings of St Joe’s, the Thompson triptych, and the new baptismal basin were an ideal ensemble. Not quite the same as Bishop’s Cleeve, but perfect for our time and place.


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