It's usually very peaceful in Southwell Minster. Wander in on a grey afternoon and you will find a polite, helpful but un-intrusive welcome. There's often an interesting art exhibition in situ and I was not disappointed last Thursday. An hour to spare between appointments on a wettish afternoon presented me with an unexpected opportunity to drop in and I was delighted to find, as so often, an exhibition that chimed in with the season, stimulated the imagination and raised all sorts of questions about familiar stories and beliefs.
The artist Ian McKillop currently has an exhibition of paintings in the Chapter House entitled Transforming Pain Into Hope. It consists of two series, 'The Seven Last Words from the Cross' and 'The Seven Songs of Resurrection.' The extraordinary thing about McKillop's paintings is the extent to which, at times, he places the viewer alongside and very close to Christ so that you are looking at the scene almost from Christ's perspective. This is theologically very powerful and achieves Mckillop's expressed aim of helping the viewer explore what it means for the Divine to enter the world through the Christ event. McKillop's 'Seven Last Words from the Cross' challenge the viewer to think about the Divine response to persecution and violence and about the yearning for reconciliation that lies at the heart of the Godhead - sometimes uncomfortably as we see that love and forgiveness are bestowed universally and not confined by human notions of justice.
The 'Seven Songs of Resurrection' were astonishing, I thought, for their portrayal of the Spirit of the Risen Christ being unleashed and gradually transfigured into the Spirit that enters the lives of all believers. The sense of Divine power pervading the world through transformed lives was palpable. 'These paintings are...conceived as memorial to innocent lives taken as a result of war in all nations.... Destructivity, terrorism or warfare is not Christ's way to solve political or social problems. The images ask us to learn new ways, following Christ's loving, self-sacrificing, forgiving, non-recriminatory, peace-bringing example. We are asked to pray and work for peace.' These paintings were inspired by a visit to Wurzburg, a city devastated in 1945 and rebuilt preserving and creating as much art work as possible.
The exhibition closes on 22nd March so hurry! For more information about the artist and a preview of his work, go to McKillop's website here
It was hard not just to stay with the impressions and thoughts created by these wonderful paintings on the nature of forgiveness. However, I couldn't resist a small pilgrimage round to the south side of the Minster to see one of my favourite works of art. Jonathan Clarke's 'Stations of the Cross' have been at Southwell for a number of years. Portrayed in aluminium and oak, Clarke's stations have two very distinctive features. Firstly, you are invited to touch and to walk along the Via Dolorosa through tactile experience. Secondly, the size of the cross changes as you progress along the route. It becomes larger as its burden becomes heavier and, at the point of crucifixion, it fills the visual field. Uniquely, you are then invited to move beyond the cross, turn, and look back toward Golgotha from the perspective of the deposition and tomb; as you do so, the size and impact of the cross diminish.
You can see an image of Clarke's Stations in the gallery on his website here (in date order under 1999.)
A great deal of food for thought, imagination and prayer.
Thank you, Southwell Minster!