Ship of Fools: Ely Cathedral, England


imageShip of Fools: Ely Cathedral, England

Formal, well-choreographed Epiphany service 'moved expeditiously'

Read the full Mystery Worshipper report here


Comments

  • I love the idea of the Cathedral using the Wesleyan Covenant. Some folk may not know that this is said (or supposed to be!) in all Methodist churches on the first Sunday of the year. It is quite challenging!
  • Here's the statue of Our Lady which is referred to in the Report:
    https://c8.alamy.com/comp/DBEB6P/ely-cathedral-lady-chapel-virgin-mary-statue-modern-statue-by-david-DBEB6P.jpg

    Personally, I'd call it 'striking', rather than 'outrageous', but YMMV.
  • Certainly not to my taste! And - quite apart from the white-skinned golden-haired blue-robed stereotyping (she was Jewish, not Norwegian) - it looks as if she getting herself ready to jump ...
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    Thanks for the pic. You really need to see it in position to get the full effect. It is very large and very bright. It completely dominates a very striking room.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    I've only just seen the statue is by David Wynne, my least favourite sculptor. I honestly didn't know that when I called an abomination. If it had been by Nicholas Stone, I'd have said the same.
  • Well, as I said, mileages vary!

    I'm not sure as to why Our Lady is portrayed in this way - to me, she looks Very Cross, and as if she's about to shout sweary-words...

    A Norty Thort - maybe the Annunciation is taking place, and things are happening, or being said, that St Luke has seen fit not to tell us?
    :cold_sweat:
  • PortolaPortola Shipmate Posts: 24
    Thank you, Bishop's finger, for the link to the Mary statue.
    I have several connotations when I look at her.
    Her upraised arms are a perfect copy of the upraised arms of a referee signaling a touchdown or field goal in American Football. If I were sitting in a service in Ely cathedral I would not be able to shake off this association.
    She is not the typical meek and mild Mary that is presented in medieval works of art. In Germany we would call this Mary a "Powerfrau", a strong-willed woman who knows how to assert herself. Apparently, the sculptor wanted to present the powerful effect which Mary has had on history by consenting to be the mother of the Lord.
    Her royal blue dress and gold hair and belt imply the royalty which she has as mother of the Messiah-King.
    However, Mary traditionally wears a blue cloak in Christian art because she is the equivalent of the Arc of the Covenant - the dwelling place of Divine Presence - which was covered by a blue cloth during the Desert Sojourn of Israel. Christian art is heavily influenced by the symbolism contained in the story of Israel.
    But when all is said and done, I would not like to have this Mary in my home church; she would be a big distraction for me.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    She looks more like a milkmaid than a handmaiden of the Lord.
  • :lol:

    Yes, a rather angry milkmaid...who perhaps has just accidentally kicked over a bucket...

    But thanks, @Portola, for your thoughts and explanations. She certainly looks like a 'Powerfrau'!

    I guess the purpose of the statue was to get people away from the traditional image of Mary, and, indeed, to shock.
  • Box PewBox Pew Shipmate
    edited January 14
    I suppose Wynne thinks he is showing BVM uttering the words of the magnificat—which is, given her taciturn historical record, a potentially interesting idea. But Wynne is not the artist to pull this off - and boy, does he fall short.

    One wonder how this got through the Chapter and the Fabric Advisory Committee...
  • Magnificat? Yes, maybe.

    I still think she looks Cross, though.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    I had got 'Magnificat' too. And if it does shock that's no bad thing. To me it is just so bad it would get thrown out of Disneyland.
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    edited January 15
    Just ugly. Reminds me of a Beryl Cooke painting
    https://sr.gallerix.ru/C/965973421/1380106576.jpg
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    Hey, that's actually quite good! Reminds me of Fernando Botero, whose works I like. But then again, Miss Amanda has been called odd (and worse) by more than one righteous soul.
  • Certainly not to my taste! And - quite apart from the white-skinned golden-haired blue-robed stereotyping (she was Jewish, not Norwegian) - it looks as if she getting herself ready to jump ...
    Actually, it doesn't look white-skinned European to me. the gold hair notwithstanding. The facial features strike me as more African (or African American), Western Hemisphere Hispanic or west Asian. And the gold hair is so golden that I can't help thinking it should be seen more as a halo than as natural hair.

    I'll admit, my initial reaction was similar to others here, but each time I look at it, it grows on me a little. Whether it is in the right place is a whole 'nother question.

  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited January 15
    I hadn't spotted the non-European facial features, but I agree - it does improve (?) upon further examination.

    Is it in the right place? Possibly not, but a friend of our Madam Sacristan lives in Ely, and is a member of the Cathedral congregation.

    When she (the friend, that is, not Our Blessed Lady) next comes to visit, I'll try to remember to ask her what local opinion might be - though (as has been intimated earlier) the Dean & Chapter, and the rest of TPTB, must have thought it a Good Idea.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    If it grew on me I'd have it amputated.
    Moving it would help. Even unblocking the window behind it would be a gesture in the direction of appreciating the building, rather than imposing our own taste on it.
  • So was there a window behind it that’s been closed up? It’s hard to tell from the picture.
  • PDRPDR Shipmate
    The statute reminds me a lot of my wife when she is pissed off - except she would never where that colour.
  • @PDR, you are Saint Joseph, and I claim my £5!
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    So was there a window behind it that’s been closed up? It’s hard to tell from the picture.

    It does indeed look as though there is a blocked-up window behind the statue, but it may have been filled in long before the statue was installed. Perhaps a local-ish Shipmate - if such there be - might know more?

  • There are pictures on the Internet (eg: https://tinyurl.com/shv2m46) which show the statue in place with the window not blocked up - of course the light comes from behind and leaves the statue in silhouette. (Other pictures show that odd shape of the top of the window predates the installation of said monstrosity, sorry statue.)
  • Portola wrote: »
    Thank you, Bishop's finger, for the link to the Mary statue.
    However, Mary traditionally wears a blue cloak in Christian art because she is the equivalent of the Arc of the Covenant - the dwelling place of Divine Presence - which was covered by a blue cloth during the Desert Sojourn of Israel. Christian art is heavily influenced by the symbolism contained in the story of Israel.
    But when all is said and done, I would not like to have this Mary in my home church; she would be a big distraction for me.
    Historically giving Mary that kind of striking blue colour for her outfit in a painting was also a sign that the donor was not short of a bob or two: azure paint being made from lapis lazuli which came from the east via trading routes. It was reserved for Our Lady and similar characters as a sign of their importance. For a similar reason she often is often wearing red as well in stained glass (generally a red dress under a blue cloak) as traditional red glass is made using small amounts of gold.
  • There are pictures on the Internet (eg: https://tinyurl.com/shv2m46) which show the statue in place with the window not blocked up - of course the light comes from behind and leaves the statue in silhouette. (Other pictures show that odd shape of the top of the window predates the installation of said monstrosity, sorry statue.)

    That picture does give a much better idea of the statue, in context, than the one to which I linked.

    I now have an image of the clergy at the altar - whether they face east or west - shrinking somewhat from the fear of whatever Our Lady is throwing landing on their head(s)...

  • There are pictures on the Internet (eg: https://tinyurl.com/shv2m46) which show the statue in place with the window not blocked up - of course the light comes from behind and leaves the statue in silhouette. (Other pictures show that odd shape of the top of the window predates the installation of said monstrosity, sorry statue.)

    That picture does give a much better idea of the statue, in context, than the one to which I linked.
    Yes, it does. And seeing it in context, the growing on me has stopped and, indeed, shifted into reverse. Just wrong in all kinds of ways.

    I now have an image of the clergy at the altar - whether they face east or west - shrinking somewhat from the fear of whatever Our Lady is throwing landing on their head(s)...
    :lol:

    I suppose her hands and arms are supposed to be in an orans position. But yeah.

  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited January 17
    I suppose the question is WHY is it in the Cathedral, anyway?

    IIRC, Ely (which is a tad off the beaten track, away in the wilds of the Fen country) has a bit of a reputation for providing a home for artworks of various types. Not that that is a Bad Thing per se.

    Is the statue of Our Lady a permanent fixture, or has it only a temporary home here?
  • It's apparently been there since 2000, when it was unveiled by no less Personage than Prince Charles. This article is quite entertaining, especially the final sentence: https://tinyurl.com/ty5sugy
  • O well - just because I said it was 'striking' doesn't mean to say that it's good art!

    I didn't realise it had been there for 20 years, though, so it can hardly be classed as a 'temporary' exhibit...
  • I quite liked it, when I saw it several years back....
  • AmosAmos Shipmate
    It's known locally as 'Charlie Dimmock' after a buxom blonde TV gardening show presenter.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    Come off it. Charlie Dimmock, in her youth, was beautiful.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    I don't think her face is the anatomical feature at issue.
  • Quite.

    And she's put on a bit of weight in late years...but yes, at the time of her appearances on TV, she was not unlike the statue...or t'other way around...
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    I first saw this statue a few years ago. Bad sculpture. Bad art. Bad theology. It looks like a rather keck-handed attempt to sculpt a young woman from Downham Market in town for a Saturday night disco. Even if that was what it was, it wouldn't be very successful. The sculptor has merely managed to give her rather a bovine expression. As it's supposed to represent the most Blessed Theotokos, it's being provocative just because he can be.

    If it's supposed to represent the moment of the Magnificat, it doesn't, to me, express any appreciation that what makes the most Blessed Theotokos special is that she is chosen to be the mother of Jesus and to fulfil her role in the Incarnation. It seems to be interested only in her, separately. Whether that's because the sculptor isn't able enough to express any more than that, or whether that was his intention, who can say? So I suppose one could argue that it leaves it open to question whether this is predominantly bad art or bad theology.

    That's what I think, anyway.

    "Where are the iconoclasts now that we really need them?"
    I wish I'd said that.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    An aside, but in contrast - the chapel at my college, which was at the time run by the Marist Brothers, featured stained glass windows that depicted Mary at the various stages of her life that have come to be called the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. A young Jewish model was employed to sit for the craftsman, and the resulting windows, while stunning, were criticized by many as being too distracting for the celibate Brothers. They were eventually replaced with windows of abstract design.
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate
    I have to say I do see what David Wynne was aiming at. (The fact that he is a lousy sculptor is neither here nor there) The tension between the Incarnation and the Otherworld is a real problem for Christianity.
  • Box PewBox Pew Shipmate
    edited January 21
    Well, voyagers on the Ship of Fools cant muster much support for Wynne's BVM. There is, however, a modern sculpture at Ely (I hope it is still there) commissioned decades ago (in the early 1980s I think) by Bishop Peter Walker. It was sculpted by Hans Feibusch and is a life-size half figure, Christos, resurrected and offering his wounded hands to view. It is unobtrusive in the scale of the great nave of the cathedral, but once you encounter it, as many visitors do inside the West doors, very startling in a good way. I think it pulls off a similar artistic/theological strategy to that which Wynne attempted with such dire results. Wynne might have studied the Fiebusch more carefully.
  • PDRPDR Shipmate
    I think I would glad put most of that lot outside for the pigeons to poop on.
  • Amanda B ReckondwythAmanda B Reckondwyth 8th Day Host, Mystery Worship Editor
    Did they round up a homeless guy begging on the street corner to pose for the statue of the resurrected Christ?
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    Did they round up a homeless guy begging on the street corner to pose for the statue of the resurrected Christ?

    "The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head."
  • UrgandaUrganda Shipmate

    I now know a bit more about the statue of the Virgin. It was designed by David Wynne and carved by Derek Carr. The same combination produced the Christ on the West front of Wells, after which they gave up the whole idea of replacing the worn statues with new work.
    I am coming round more and more to the Islamic idea of doing without the human form in religious art.
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