Sunday, 22 April 2012

In a Country Churchyard....


I know I've not written anything for a while. Nothing to write about really. After all, if I'm going to be bored writing a post, then there's a fair chance that anyone reading it will be bored as well! But a couple of weeks ago, I was allowed out.....



And this is where I went. St Michael and All Angels church, Berwick, East Sussex. From the outside, quite conventional looking, but the inside is the real attraction......

Christ in Majesty, by Duncan Grant 1942.

We've been planning to visit Berwick church for a while. It's famous for it's murals, painted during the last war by the Bloomsbury artists Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Quentin Bell. Incidentally, Vanessa Bell was the sister of the novelist Virginia Woolf, herself a resident of Rodmell, near Lewes. The Bloomsbury group were based at Charleston Farmhouse, a couple of miles down the road, and have become famous for their bohemian, unconventional lifestyle as well as their art. When you consider that Grant was a conscientious objector (during the first world war); it's difficult to know what the locals in this (predominately rural) area made of them. A quick look around any churchyard reveals many families who sent sons off to the Second World War, only for them never to return. Bearing this in mind, it seems an extraordinarily brave decision by Bishop Bell (no relation), to commission these murals in the first place. 

The Victory of Calvary, by Duncan Grant 1944.

In the original drawings for this mural, Jesus is shown naked, which was probably a step too far for even the most progressive bishop! He's shown here as a more effeminate figure than perhaps we're used to seeing.

The Nativity, by Vanessa Bell 1942.

In the above mural, Joseph was Mr Peter Durrant, a local farm worker, who had lost his left arm in an accident. The children were also local, and seem to be in their school clothes. By the time Vanessa Bell was painting this, her sister (Virginia Woolf) had taken her own life, and her son had been killed in Spain. 

Detail from Christ in Majesty.

In this photo, instead of the usual cherubs or angels, we have all three armed services represented; a reminder of the wartime backdrop to these murals.

Detail from Christ in Majesty.

And this one shows the Reverend George Mitchell, the Rector of Berwick at the time, and in the foreground Bishop Bell, the man responsible for the commissioning.

The last picture is taken looking south from the churchyard; perhaps the view is a clue to why the artists settled here in the first place. 



Apologies for the standard of one or two of the photos. For some reason, it feels a little wrong to take photos in a church, so I was reduced to frantically snapping away when no-one was looking! Not that the church seems to mind, it cheerfully exploits it's Bloomsbury connections. Should you want to know more, there's a terrific website here.






9 comments:

  1. A beautiful place to just...be

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  2. Well Martin, I'm glad you chose to visit this church. The murals, though relatively moden, remind me of some of those in the National Gallery, where the donors ensure that they are represented in the painting.

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    1. I must admit, I've never been to the National Gallery. I grew up going to Catholic schools, so I've set foot in a few churches in my life. What struck me, was the relatively modern dress and that the people in them were 'ordinary' people. I suppose it appealed to Bishop Bell to put himself in a corner of one of the murals; apparently he sat three or four times for the artist.

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  3. Fascinating, Martin. I've certainly learnt something from this post which is, by-the-way, anything but boring. Looking forward to reading you more regularly in the weeks and months ahead.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it Martin. Here's hoping....

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  4. Absolutely beautiful. I'm glad the church's artist recognized the military.

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    1. It makes a change for the military to be represented inside the church and not just in the graveyard.
      Thank you for visiting...

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  5. I'm a little late with my comment, but it's very much my neck-of-the-woods so I have to applaud your admiration. I kinda grew up with all things 'Bloomsbury and Charlston'.

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