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For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Then Comes The Light

Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), was a physician and poet, and avowed imitator of George Herbert; opinions differ on who was the greater poet and indeed the deeper. Vaughan added this piece, Vain Wits and Eyes, to the dedication in his 1655 edition of Silex Scintillans, a work that marked his conversion to a "serious and devout life", as William Law would have it, following sickness and the expectation of his own death. The "fire" of the poem is Vaughan's inspiration; the "tears" are the reader's answer.

The reference in the poem must surely be St. John the Divine's message to the lukewarm Laodiceans in the Apocalypse 3:14-22. "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see."

VAIN wits and eyes
Leave, and be wise :
Abuse not, shun not holy fire,
But with true tears wash off your mire.
Tears and these flames will soon grow kind,
And mix an eye-salve for the blind.
Tears cleanse and supple without fail,
And fire will purge your callous veil,
Then comes the light! which when you spy,
And see your nakedness thereby,
Praise Him, Who dealt His gifts so free
In tears to you, in fire to me.

Something I like in Vaughan here is his self-assurance that his poetic inspiration is holy and powerful. The piece would not survive if one wasn't sure that he means what he is saying; but nor would it survive if one had any doubt about his God-given purpose - to put his finger on one's sins, and say: Repent. If I had to judge, I would say that in Vaughan the poet meets the prophet more closely than in Herbert. Herbert feels more like a gentle Sage, winning one along the straight and narrow; Vaughan points, and frightens.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Sgraffito and St. Agatha

Sgraffito was a word I came across first on Monday past, on a visit to Portsmouth to see Nelson's Victory. It was in an Ordinariate place of worship after a morning Mass that I met the term, whilst being shown around by its very welcoming parish priest, Fr. John Maunder. St Agatha's, a typically unassuming red-brick Victorian church on the outside, among its other graces and glories - its roof beams; its row of small Roman windows high above the nave, reminiscent of a paleo-Christian basilica in Rome; its series of votive altars in the aisles, from the humble to the magnificent - has an apse adorned with sgraffito. If you are as ignorant as I was, may I inform you that this is an art similar to fresco, except that one uses coloured plaster for the technique rather than painting the plaster when it is wet. The impression it makes is more muted and sober than fresco, and it appears to lend itself to a more stylised treatment of its subject. An analogy that comes to mind is unglazed ceramic is to porcelain as sgraffito is to fresco; but in a building like St Agatha's it is more appropriate.

The workmanship, by a disciple of William Morris, you can see for yourself in this shot:



And in its setting within the apse in the photo below:


This is a unique church in the Ordinariate in that it was originally Anglican, but fell on hard times with the bombing and destruction of the homes close to Portsmouth's historic docks, following hard on the Great Depression and the Great War. The worshippers were part of the Traditional Anglican Communion until the Ordinariate was erected, and as such they have an English Missal rather than a modern Roman Rite churchmanship. It is true, and I mean to write about this soon, but significant variations in churchmanship do exist in the Ordinariate - unsurprisingly, if one considers the fact that there are big variations in style and ritual within Anglo-Catholicism.

Along the south aisle, St. Agatha the Virgin and Martyr stands beside her altar, crowned, and clothed in this photograph in blood red for the patronal festival.


Apparently they have a new website coming soon, but there are more pictures here. The next big event taking place there is the Solemn High Mass on Saturday 27th September at 11 a.m., for Our Lady of Walsingham's feast.