Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Vision and the visual

This morning, Pauline and I picked up the font cover from St John's and drove to the village of Dilton Mark near Westbury in Wiltshire to meet Donal Channer a cabinet maker, who works occasionally on projects with painter Fleur Kelly. Fleur recently work on recreating mediaeval painitings in the church of Llandeilo Tal y Bont, rescued from dereliction in its original site in the flood plain of the river Loughor outside Pontarddulais to become a living exhibit at the National Folk Museum at St Fagans on the edge of Cardiff. The purpose of our trip was to get Donal to consider the woodworking challenge of creating eight curved triangular panels to fit the spaces presented by the font cover.

The spaces were originally filled with a beautifully open fretwork lattice. Because of its fragility two thirds of it has been destroyed over the years. Restoration of such excellent delicate craft work commonplace a century ago would not only be very expensive now, but equally impossible to protect from future damage, as the original has shown. Preliminary deliberations with our architect led us to agree that preserving the remains with a rigid covering would preserve it for posterity, but also give us an opportunity to enhance the cover in a way that would bring added value to a traditional object through paintings that would tell the story of the Parish.

The idea is that these surfaces would be filled by Fleur, an expert in mediaeval icon 'writing' (as the Greeks would say), with images of saints associated with the history of our Parish - the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist to start with, from early times, then in the nineteenth century period of expansion, St Andrew, St Alban, St Teilo, St James the Great, St Monica and St Michael the Archangel. All of the latter dedications in context represent churches and schools built to meet the pastoral needs of central Cardiff as it expanded during the coal boom town decades of the late nineteenth century. Sited adjacent to glass sliding doors planned to replace an existing modern porch which has never been a success, an enhancement to the font area would off a striking view to our multitude of visitors.

Last week, popping into St Paul's Cathedral in London, to take a look at their entrance area and visitor admission facilities, I couldn't help noticing that their font is centrally sited in a prominent location in the western end of the nave, a powerful symbol to complement the altar and pulpit - statements about those dimensions of Christian identity we all have in common. It gave me the added incentive to see if we could make this proposition work for St John's.

We succeeded in missing a turning and losing half an hour passing through the traffic nightmare which is Bath on the way over, but Donal and Fleur were waiting for us in a deep country village not far from Warminster, and we quickly came to the conclusion that what we proposed to do was practicable and worthwhile. All we have to do now is to report back to the PCC next Sunday and if all are agreeable, submit a Faculty application to obtain permission as soon after as possible.

I hope the Diocesan Advisory Committee will be sympathetic to our proposal. In many ways it is a traditional, untrendy sort of thing to do. But St John's is a flagship church welcoming at least 50,000 visitors a year, it's our mission to remind the world of our city's Christian roots. This multi-cultural multi-faith age, wouldn't exist so freely and safely the way it does without having such long Christian past. A place of beauty, rich with ancient symbolism is one of the most durable and cost effective forms of advertising who we are.

On the way home we called in at the studio of local artist Bryan Gardiner to look at paintings which we're going to be exhibiting in a fortnight's time, after the USPG photo exhibition is finished. He has drawn and painted places in Newport and Cardiff over the years and captured something special of the beauty to be found in ordinary everyday settings. His exhibition will be called 'Spirit of Place' - yet another initiative from us at St John's to encourage people to look at the world they inhabit.

Contemplation begins with turning the effort of looking at the world into one of seeing what is truly there, in all its glory.

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