Saturday, 30 July 2011

Heavenly Treasures

A major piece of hugely expensive Market Research has apparently revealed that you are 26% more likely to attend a cultural event if you live in London.

(A spontaneous piece of research among my nearest and dearest revealed however, that 100% of us are irritated by such patronising rubbish.)

So, my annual cultural visit to the big City, and two great exhibitions, Treasures of Heaven at the British Museum, and Devotion by Design at the National Gallery.

If you view the works in the Medieval Galleries in the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery, it is not immediately obvious what most of them are. Framed and exhibited as individual paintings, many of them were originally part of altar-pieces until subsequently broken up. This wonderful example, from the exhibition, is The Virgin and Child Enthroned, with Narrative Scenes (1260s), by Margarito of Arezzo.

Devotion by Design gives an opportunity to view a number of altar-pieces, sensitively lit, and at an appropriate height - there is even a quasi-altar, with cross and (inappropriately sized and positioned) lit candles, to put across something of the height and scale involved. Two 15th century pieces are shown in such a way that it is possible to examine the back as well as the front, to understand how they were originally put together, and how it has been possible to recreate them. An Exhibition that says as much about presentation as it does about art and meaning. Many of these works would only have been seen with any sort of clarity by the Priest standing at the Altar, or perhaps by a pious Benefactor, yet they were still painted with as much care and attention to detail as possible. Perhaps what the Exhibition is not quite able to get across, is that like the carved stonework high on a medieval Cathedral, which only the carver and the Angels would ever see, they were done for the glory of God, and that means only the best is good enough.

Although I was not wearing 'Clergyman', I noticed a clerical collar or two at both Exhibitions, and I'm sure that I wasn't the only one to quietly pause in prayer and reflection, as the spiritual and the mysterious quietly returns to public, secular, spaces. I wonder what Karl Marx would have made of a show of Reliquaries beneath the astonishing dome of the British Museum's Reading Room, the site of his creation of the Communist Manifesto!

Treasures of Heaven presents a collection of Reliquaries, and associated items, some chosen for the quality of the craftsmanship, others for what they have to say about the Christian approach to remembrance, and to the Saints over the Centuries. Hugely enjoyable, and sympathetically presented, the story continues after the dislocation caused by the Reformation, when many relics were destroyed or dispersed, and those that remained for use in devotion were scaled down and re-assessed. One case presents secondary relics of Charles I, King and Martyr, though not, sadly, the blood-stained table in the Deanery at Windsor, said to have been caused as his body was prepared for burial in St George's Chapel, and the exhibits conclude with a reflection on the Visit of the Relics of St Theresa of Avila in 2009, and with a contemporary film presentation on Remembrance. The sheer persistence of these items, regardless of what you might think about the efficacy of prayer and the saints, is a rejoinder to the secular mind-set, and, in its own way, a statement of the significance of the Spiritual.

The Reliquiary of St Baudime

This picture could have been taken in a Shop attached to a Pilgrim Shrine, as you can buy pilgrim badges, medals and pictures and both serious and popular Books on the Saints, but it is actually the British Museum's Gift Shop.


The Museum itself, outside of the Treasures Exhibits, (which you have to pay to see), was as uncomfortably packed as ever, so much so that I didn't linger for long in the Galleries, especially once I had re-acquainted myself with the Lewis Chessmen.

Most of these wonderful 12th Century figures, probably carved in Norway, but discovered off the Isle of Lewis, at Uig in 1831, are now on show here, with only a few to be found in the National Musuem of Scotland. I sense a campaign for their repatriation north of the border coming on!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Nothing for the Journey - Well Done Ben!

Sent: Saturday, 23 July 2011, 20:39

Subject: I have made it!

Hi Fr David,

I just wanted to let you know that at 5pm today I made it to Buckfast Abbey! I still cannot believe I have actually walked here from my front door. It has been an incredible journey and I have met so many new and fascinating people on the trip who are spread out all over the country. I have constantly been amazed at the kindness of strangers and I was given shelter every single night of my walk.

I really could not have done it without the prayers from Elland. There were times in my walk when I was really struggling, specifically on Wednesday when I had to walk 33 miles from Bristol to Somerton. My feet and ankle were really sore and the temptations to give in started to whisper in my head. However, with so many people praying for me I was able to find new bursts of energy and walk every single step of the journey.

Thank you so much,


P.S The next part of my summer will be my trip to Zimbabwe from 25 August until 9 September.

A message from Ben Bradshaw, an Ordinand at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, who was on placement with us in Elland during Lent 2011. Here is a reminder of what the walk was all about:

'On the 11th July I will be starting a 322 mile walk from Mirfield to Buckfast Abbey. On my walk I will experience the reality of the Gospel (Luke 9:3). I will not be taking any money at all with me on my journey; I will be completely dependent of God and the kindness of strangers. I am undertaking this challenge in aid of the refugees at Tongogara in Zimbabwe and the disabled residents of Mutemwa settlement also in Zimbabwe.

I visited both places in 2010 and was deeply moved to do something to help them. The refugees have fled from all over Africa having suffered horrific experiences, everyone I spoke to had witnessed loved ones being murdered. They told me that their faith has been the only thing that has kept them going through all of this. However, the only building at the camp that they have to worship in is too small and is falling down, meaning the refugees are unable to come together as a community to worship which is so vital to keep them going.

The refugees at Tongogara are some of the poorest people on the planet and life at the camp is very tough. They are dependent on the UN to provide them with very simple and basic food and also a small amount of schooling. The church we are building will also be used as a community centre, allowing for the children at Tongogara to get a better education and give them the best possible chance of a future. Many of the children have spent their whole lives within the refugee camp and know of no other way of life.

So far we have raised £10,000 towards the church building which has meant work is now well underway but we still need to raise more if we are to finish the church and make a massive difference to the lives of a lot of people who have been through so much and continue to go through so much.

Mutemwa settlement in Zimbabwe cares for over 60 patients who all suffer from various disabilities including leprosy. As at Tongogara, life at Mutemwa is extremely hard and money is always short. The residents are in constant need of food, medicines, medical care, clothing and shelter all of which are vital to improving the standard of life for the residents.

John Bradburne devoted the last 10 years of his life to care for the residents of Mutemwa before he gave up his life for them and was murdered in 1979. He has become the inspiration for my walk as he lived his whole life trusting in God and in the kindness of strangers. John's unusual and saintly life meant he was often called a Vagabond of God. He was neither a nurse nor a doctor; he was simply a servant of God, a man who loved the downtrodden and those rejected by society. This fundraising will allow the love and care John showed to the residents of Mutemwa to continue.

I have a big target to reach which is why I am doing such a challenging walk. However, if we can raise it, then we will have made a huge difference to the lives of some of the very poorest people on earth.

Thanks for taking the time to visit my JustGiving page. Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity and make sure Gift Aid is reclaimed on every eligible donation by a UK taxpayer. So it’s the most efficient way to donate - I raise more, whilst saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

So please dig deep and donate now.'

Monday, 11 July 2011

St Benedict

‘Prefer Absolutely Nothing to the Love of Christ’ – St Benedict

July 11th is the Feast day of St Benedict. The Church’s Kalendar describes him as the Father of Western Monasticism, and Patron of Europe. Benedict was born around 480 in what is now central Italy. As a young man he was sent to study in Rome, but seeking greater meaning in his life, he withdrew to live as a hermit at Subiaco. He quickly attracted disciples and established a number of communities. Around the year 525, after some disagreement, and surviving an attempt to poison him, (which puts our own disagreements as Christians into some perspective!), he moved to Monte Cassino with a band of loyal monks, dying there in about the year 550. Monte Cassino itself was to become the site of a very destructive battle during the Second World War.

Benedict wrote a Rule for his Monks, based on his own experience of ordinary, fallible human beings striving to live out the gospel. He would be amazed to know that his Rule, that he describes as a ‘Simple Rule for Beginners’, has influenced countless numbers throughout the Christian centuries, and continues to do so today, simply because it is so helpful. Benedictine Monks and Nuns, Oblates and Associates, who try to live out something of the Monastic way in their own homes, lives and families, ordinary Christians and even business leaders and politicians, have found solid guidance for living in the Rule of St Benedict.

Benedict is a master of keeping things in balance, of knowing that there is a need for Prayer, Work and Rest in every Life. He teaches the value of silence and simplicity, of not being afraid to confess weakness, and of serving others rather than always seeking to gratify your own personal desires. We are to listen to God with the ‘Ear of the Heart’, a lovely phrase, reminding us that the spiritual dimension of life is as real and as significant as all that we touch, taste and see.

Summer days are upon us, and whether you are planning a Holiday or not, I hope there is time for rest and renewal for each one of us. Time perhaps to pause and take stock, to consider the priorities in our lives, and to consider, like Benedict and the Rule, whether or not we are giving sufficient time to God, to listening with the ear of the heart, to scripture and to prayer. Benedict himself reminds us in this prayer not to try and travel too quickly along life’s way, but to look around and enjoy the journey:

Gracious and holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive you,
intelligence to understand you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate on you,
and a life to proclaim you;
through the power of the
Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord,

Holy Benedict, Father of Monks, Patron of Europe, pray for us!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Hepworth

For once, a Saturday afternoon without 101 things still to do before the Lord's Day begins, so the current Mrs Burrows' wish to visit the new Debenhams in Wakefield means I can finally get around to a visit to the Hepworth, centrepiece of the Waterfront regeneration project alongside the River Calder, a £35m home for the work of the locally born Sculptor and Artist Barbara Hepworth, as well as the Wakefield City Art Gallery Collection.

A great place to spend a couple of hours, perhaps what really impressed me most of all was the Gallery Building itself. It's location, even alongside a main traffic artery is stunning, well thought out, and the environs perectly complimentary. Officially, the design is 'bold and modern'; some have criticized it as brutalist, but, for me, it works - the galleries are light and airy, almost as if you were inside the Artist's Studio. Local interest is present also in a collection of prints and paintings of the nearby Chantry Chapel, also open this afternoon, and a hive of activity.