Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Divine Is In the Detail

One of the things that characterized the medieval Gothic style was a theologically driven attention to detail. The Gothic mason not only wanted those details that people could see to be beautiful and structurally sound, but also the hidden structural details of the buttresses, for example, would be created according to principles of harmonic proportion. It would not occur to the illuminator or mason not to create even the smallest or hidden aspect beautifully, for to the Gothic artist, beauty had a utility. Beauty is the outward sign that a thing is suited to its purpose, and that that purpose is good. When we behold it, it’s influence is to direct our spirits to God. To create beautiful art elevates the work of the artist to a virtue that benefits the artist, who is content to try to please God with his work, as well as anyone who sees his art, to the degree that it is good and beautiful.

Shrewsbury Catholic Cathedral in Shropshire, England, has been undergoing a renovation under the patronage of Bishop Mark Davies. This is a 19th century, Puginesque English Gothic style; an article on the restoration in process, with comments by Fr Edmund Montgomery, the cathedral administrator, was published here at the end of March.

In the spirit of this Gothic love of detail, a piece of embroidered art in the style of the School of St Albans - that is, 21st-century English Gothic - is to be displayed permanently at Shrewsbury Cathedral. The piece will be framed and hung in the confessional on the priest’s side at the request of Fr Edmund. Stylistically, this is fully in keeping with the overall artistic schema of the cathedral.

The creator of this piece, Alix Murray, lives in Shrewsbury, and tells me that she was inspired by images from St Albans Psalter and the Bury Bible made in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, England, both of the 12th century. She is a student of Pontifex University’s Master of Sacred Arts program.

Here is a picture of the interior of the cathedral.
This is the second piece of work to come out of a collaboration of PU students via a student Facebook group. I have had no personal input in this group - the ideas are generated amongst themselves. We showed a similar embroidered image by another PU student, Kathryn Laffrey, was published a few weeks ago, which resulted in her getting a commission for an embroidered chalice pall from an American cathedral.

Alix told me:
Our agreement was to use the materials we had available to us. I used a bedsheet for the canvas and embroidery floss (untangled with tremendous effort) from my daughters’ craft drawer. In the end, I had to order more floss as I was so limited for colours. I was inspired by two 12-century English illuminated manuscripts and the homeschooling group I am a member of is trying to organize a British history curriculum, so I used particularly English Catholic sources as my inspiration.
There is a saying that the devil is in the detail. However, if we care to make it so, the divine can be in the detail too. This is a detail that will be seen by only the priests in confessional. It’s potential for spiritual impact, without the glorification of the artist, is great. The influence of its beauty first on the confessor, and then in turn, indirectly, on the penitent, has the potential to affect many for the good in the diocese. Beauty will save the world!

Here is an original illumination from the Bury Bible created by an artist known as Master Hugo.

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