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Cross Purposes

Chagall development painting for the Tudeley church window
Painting for the East Window, All Saints' Tudeley, (Chagall)

Having grown up in Paddock Wood, I was for the most part unaware that just up the road at the tiny, rural All Saints’ Church in Tudeley I would have found the only church in the world to have all its twelve windows decorated by the Russian artist Marc Chagall.

When I became a Christian in my late teens, All Saints’ became a regular place for me to pray. It is, quite simply, one of my favourite places to sit and be in the whole wide world.

The windows are just beautiful and deeply enchanting. Commissioned as a memorial tribute to Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid who died aged just 21 in a sailing accident off Rye, the main East window shows Sarah drowning in the sea while Christ crucified looks down. I don’t know much about art (or anything really) but I love the combination of honest brutality in showing Sarah’s plight in the midst of such beautiful stained glass. Sanitised Christianity this is not.

I write about this now because I had a chance this week to visit a special exhibition called Cross Purposes. Much kudos to my old mother church, St. Andrew’s Paddock Wood, who have combined with my old school and their art gallery, Mascalls Gallery, to put on a special exhibition.

In the Gallery, Cross Purposes has brought together powerful images of the crucifixion from some of the most important artists of the 20th and 21st Centuries. I was astounded to see the list of names – Stanley Spencer, Tracey Emin, Eric Gill, Maggi Hambling, Emmanuel Levy and (of course) Marc Chagall.

Shown for the first time in this country, Chagall’s original drawings and paintings for the Tudeley windows are on display. They are fascinating to see the development of his thought; not least the fact that the crucified Christ was not present in his first drafts. I was also intrigued by the fact that the painting (photographed above) has tiny, delicate pieces of fabric stuck into the painting; one to cover Christ’s loins, one pointing to Sarah, angel wings, a soldiers vesture, a mother and child, and a mourner all highlighted and picked out with these little swatches. I couldn’t find out what that was about but it intrigued me all the same.

Good Friday, 2002, Maggi Hambling
Good Friday, Maggi Hambling (2002)

In the evenings through Lent, the church is complementing the exhibition by hosting a series of Lent talks. Part of my reason for going over there this week was in order to catch Tony Watkins from the Damaris Trust talking about the cross in cinematography. Fascinating it was too; even if he hadn’t seen Son of Man (one of my favourite recent film adaptations of the Christ story).

If you find yourself near Paddock Wood before 29 May, I’d encourage you to visit the free exhibition at the Mascalls Gallery. If you find yourself in the area at any time, make sure you visit All Saints’ Tudeley and leave yourself enough time to sit, to look and to pray.

~

Just as a brief commentary to the second painting shown, Maggi Hambling creates a new painting, sculpture or drawing each year on Good Friday which focuses upon Christ’s passion. This painting (said the commentary) emphasizes Christ’s loneliness in his final moments. The vastness of the yellow-grey sky presses remorselessly down on the tiny figure who supports the weight on his bowed shoulders.

Any photograph won’t really do it justice but if you get up close and personal with the painting, you can see just how delicate the painting of Jesus is and thus how fragile his humanity. It’s really quite an incredible piece of work.

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