HERE) where he stayed until 1928 ( when he move to Prinknash and later Farnborough – from 1947) . In 1922 he went to Paris and spent some time studying with Georges Desvallières and Maurice Denis at their famous Ateliers d’Art Sacré. (See HERE) The following year, 1923, he returned to Caldey and was ordained in 1927. Whilst at Caldey, Bailey produced a number of impressive stained glass windows. It was one of these I discovered whilst paying a recent visit to Pembrokeshire. I have been to the 'Holy Name' in Fishguard before – but never really noticed the stained glass window. Which just goes to show how blind I was to the Sacred Heart until this icon project. But now it seems that I see the Sacred Heart in all things and places! I had come to Pembrokeshire with an eye to making a visit to the Cathedral at St. David’s and generally to explore the ‘Holy Land’ of Wales. I was not really looking for the Sacred Heart, but it seemed to find me and led me to new paths and avenues to explore, and prompted me to re-trace some old ones.
The window has an ‘iconic’ feel to it - well that is what I immediately thought when I saw it and is clearly operating on a more symbolic level than the usual image of the Sacred Heart – there were a number of the usual sort in the church. High in the apse of the church, directly above the tabernacle, the window is a powerful focal point for the congregation and you are naturally drawn to it- sadly a huge cross as been erected one side and rather detracts from the window. Pity really. The detail is such that it is only when you study a photograph of the window that it is possible to appreciate the considerable artistry of Dom Theodore, and marvel at the way in which he has chosen to represent the Sacred Heart. Considering the fact that in was produced in the 1920s, when there was so much awful sentimentalized stuff around - precisely the kind of stuff Teilhard disliked - it is a truly an outstanding piece of modern sacred art and shows how much the young monk had learnt from his studies in Paris.
The face has none of the characteristic kitchness associated with the traditional type of Sacred Heart. Christ is not looking up to heaven as is often the case in images of the Sacred Heart or looking at us in the way in which He is normally portrayed. It is a strong and powerful face. The kind of face we see in icons, rather than Catholic traditional representations. He is wearing the crown of thorns and his garments are purple in part to signify His universal kingship. ( The feast of Christ the King had been instituted by Pius XI, in 1925.) His hands show his wounds and do not point to his heart. The heart itself is a simple red centre surrounded by a golden light or glow. Christ does not look up to heaven because he is in heaven – as represented by the blue glass. Neither is he looking at us. What we see instead is Christ whose eyes are closed as if in a state of prayer or meditation. Perhaps in this he was influenced by the Sacred Heart of another French symbolist (we explored earlier in this blog) who had died in 1916 - Odilon Redon. In his Sacred Heart Jesus’s eyes are also closed in a very ‘eastern’ way: as if in deep meditation. One of his teachers in Paris (Maurice Denis) evidently knew Redon – indeed Redon painted his portrait in 1903 – so it is not inconceivable that that Dom Theodore would have known of Redon’s Sacred Heart. Denis himself had painted several pictures of the Sacred Heart, and in the period when Dom Theodore was in Paris, he designed the windows in the Notre Dame du Raincy – designed by Auguste Perret. One of these depicts the Sacred Heart. Earlier Denis he had pained a picture of the Sacred Heart Crucified (1894) with a ‘golden glow’. George Desvallières ( a third order Dominican, like Felix Ville) had also painted pictures of the Scared Heart in 1903 and 1919 and painted several others in later years. However, what is common in all their Sacred Heart works is, like Theodore Baily’s window, Jesus does not have that (rather effeminate) ‘look’ we associate with the standard image. That comes across very clearly when we compare the face of Christ in this window with those of his teachers in the Ateliers d’Art Sacre. I will deal with this in another post.
Together Denis and Desvallières set out to challenge ‘l'art St. Sulpice’. So, the decision by Theodore Bailey to study with them was quite a radical move by the young Benedictine. The more we look at the window and understand the influence of his experience in Paris in the Ateliers d’Art Sacre, the more significant becomes this beautiful window. It deserves to be much better known.
The lower half of the window is suggestive of so many thoughts and ideas. It provides so much material upon which we can reflect and I wonder how over the years this window has served to aid the prayer of the faithful who have gathered underneath its gaze. The artist employs two symbols which are not usually associated with the Sacred Heart: fearns and flowers.
Ferns are symbols of humility. Is Dom Theodore’s window asking us to understand that, if we are to be one with the heart of the Saviour, we too must be meek and humble of heart? If we are to grow and unfold as Christians we have to learn from the humble fern. The fern, of course, grows in the shade and under the protection of great trees. Is Christ in this window the great tree of life: the crucified one who hung upon a tree at Calvary? And we are, perhaps, the unfurling fronds: the signs of new life awakening in Christ? The ferns are, it appears, growing towards the light of the world. It is significant that the artist uses small newly emerging fearns – all tight little spirals that will grow and complete themselves is this new light glowing at the centre of the window. Here the Sacred Heart is a centre which is calling to our centre: calling us to unfurl and evolve.
The flowers are more of a problem. I am not sure what flowers they are supposed to represent. At first hey brought to mind the lines in Mathew 6.26: is the artist asking us to remember the flowers of the fields who sow not neither do they spin? To be one with the heart of Jesus we have to trust God wholly and completely? In which case is the window asking us to reflecting on the prayers so much associated with the Sacred Heart: “Jesus meek and humble of heart make my heart like unto yours.”. And: ‘ Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you’. On other hand, they do look rather like sunflowers. Reflecting on these I thought that perhaps the artist is using the sunflower as symbol of the soul which, like the sunflower always turns and seeks out the light of the sun? Is the Sacred Heart the great sun towards which we must grow if we are to realize the fullness of our humanity in Christ? The Heart of Jesus’ our light and salvation’.
Yet another interpretation suggest itself. As the litany to the Sacred Heart expresses it: the heart of Jesus as the ‘gate of heaven’. Perhaps what we are asked to consider is Christ as the gate into the heavenly garden which awaits the humble and the meek of heart who have trusted in God’s infinite mercy and love? And perhaps the window asks us to read the symbols as Christ Omega ( like our icon): here Jesus is gathering all creation to himself. In this sense the young fronds represent the new creation unfolding and becoming one in Christ in the new heaven and new earth? However we interpret the images and symbols, it is ( I think) obvious that Dom Theodore is inviting us to reflect upon the fern and the (sun) flower. By using these symbols the artist is clearly – to my mind - calling us to think and reflect upon the Sacred Heart in terms of flora: two powerful symbols of growth and life nourished by the living water which springs from the heart of the Son of God and the light and fire which emanates from the ‘burning furnace of charity’ in the centre of the window.
In short, I found myself reacting to this image in an iconic way. That is, the artist requires us to read this image: it asks us to do some work and exercise our mind and heart. It is a window through which we have to see the Sacred Heart afresh and anew. His image, like those of his teachers is attempting to go beyond the traditional image and bring it into the twentieth century.
Given this, I was interested when I came across some comments by Dom Aidan Bellenger (HERE) who noted of Dom Theodore that:
‘His was a spiritual and withdrawn disposition and there was nowhere he liked to be better that the two-roomed cottage hermitage at Caldey known as Sambuca. His interests encompassed the English mystics. and the spirituality of the East... Baily’s milieu was rather Eastern Christianity. This was reflected in the artistic work which engaged his energy and imagination; his paintings are suffused with an iconic Byzantine style’
A little more research revealed that this interest in the iconic and Byzantine style in to be found in a more explicit form in his other work. This can been seen in several works: as in the Virgin and Child ( left ) and two windows in Caldey (above right). What we see in the Sacred Heart window in the Holy Name is a kind of fusion between his interest in icons and what he had learnt or taken from his time in Paris. Whatever the actual influences, the window itself is exceptional and repays careful and considered reading.