Monday, 13 August 2012

Dom Theodore Bailey's Sacred Heart in Pembrokeshire (2)

Having travelled all the way to west Wales I found myself ( mentally at least) having to return to Paris once again!  For if I was to make sense of the stained glass window by Theodore Bailey, in Wales,  we have to wrestle with the French relationship to the devotion and to the image.   As a monk Dom Theodore was a member of a Benedictine  order which had itself played an important role in the history of the devotion.

Arriving in Paris in the early 1920s Dom Theodore would have experienced a high point in the history of the devotion: the great  Basilica had been completed in 1914 and was dedicated in 1919 ( the same year as the founding of  the Ateliers d'art sacré ). George  Desvallières and Maurice Denis's mission to renew and re-vitalize sacred art had obvious implications for the image of the Sacred Heart: the most prominent of all the ‘sulpician’ kitsch art which they deplored.  Dom Theodore was to be greatly influenced by his experience in Paris, but he was not to come back with the same kind of idea or image of  the Sacred Heart as that which he would have encountered in Paris. What we see is in many respects most unlike the work of his teachers.

George Desvallières had, by the time the young man from Caldey came to Paris, executed a number of Sacred Heart pictures.  Two pictures in particular had acquired some notoriety and acclaim prior to Dom Theodore’s visit.   The first, painted in 1905 showed Christ suffering with and for humanity. Jesus is not on a cross, so much hanging, as it were in front of the Basilica which was being built at the time.   It is difficult to imagine a less sentimental representation of the Sacred Heart as Christ is ripping open his chest to expose his wounded heart.  Later in 1919 – after he had (like Henri Pinta) lost a son in the First World War  he painted another Sacred Heart which again radically departs from the traditional image and explores the same theme of the Sacred Heart as a symbol of Christ sharing in the sufferings of humanity: the’ Drapeau du Sacré-Coeur’, for the Church of Notre Dame de Verneuil.  Not much by way of sentiment here, but a powerful portrayal of a Christ who is wholly and completely sharing in the pain of humanity.

Maurice Denis had also completedseveral works on the Sacred  Heart.  These are very different to the approach taken by Desvallières, and seem to focus on the Sacred Heart as a kind of golden glow of divine love.   In this respect they are very much in keeping with the ideas we find in Teilhard, and which he believed was expressed in his Henri Pinta picture.  In his 1894 painting Sacre-Coeur Crucifi  (right) Maurice Denis depicts the Sacred Heart as a golden glow: a light illuminating the darkness.  Later, he produced various versions of the same  image of a crucified Christ with a golden glowing heart upon which rests the Blessed Virgin.  He worked on one of these designs during the time Dom Theodore was in Paris, for the art deco church by the architect Auguste Perret, Notre Dame du Raincy. An oil on canvas version is ( I think) at the Musee du Hieron at Paray le Monial.

When we compare the images of the Sacred Heart by his teachers and that we find in the Holy Name in Pembrokeshire, we see no obvious points of similarity.    Indeed, if anything what we see in Dom Theodore’s window is a reaction against both the kitsch sentimentalism of the standard image but also a reaction against the kind of emphasis on suffering we find in Denis and Desvallières.  Dom Theodore’s Sacred Heart is a very much a monk's image: it is the Sacred Heart as a loving silence.  The Sacred Heart in this window above the tabernacle is a call to enter into the silence: it is a image which tells us that for the artist we have to be meek and humble of heart.  We have to be still and listen to the sound of the Heart of Christ: it is an image which is asking us to close our eyes and be silent.  In this was we can enter into the sacred heart of creation and be open to an encounter with God.   And I think this is what we see in this window: it is a window into the centrality of silence and humility in Benedictine spirituality.   If we desire to enter into the Sacred Heart we have to cultivate stillness and silence in our lives.  Thus although in Paris he encountered the Sacred Heart in terms of suffering and light, the experience of a monastic life led him to portray the devotion  to the Sacred Heart as a devotion to finding space for silence in our lives. This is the only way to understand our own heart and the heart of  God. Be still.  Be silent. Listen. A heart is beating at the centre of creation: it is the heart of Christ.  As a Benedictine Dom Theodore knew that silence is the path which leads to the deep mystery of the heart of the Saviour. To take up this path requires us to be wholly orientated towards the glowing love of God, like the sun flowers which always turn towards the sun, and ( fern-like) ever seeking to become humble of heart.

Well, such were my thoughts.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Dom Theodore Baily's Sacred Heart in Pembrokeshire (1)

Interesting.  Since the last blog on the Benedictine tradition and the Sacred Heart, I have been in Wales and came across a beautiful and fascinating image by a Benedictine  monk, Dom Theodore Baily (1898-1966) .   Dom Theodore entered Downside Abbey in 1914, and later in 1920 went to Caldey (See 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.