Churches in the dark

Jun 19th, 2007 | By | Category: Spirituality

“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”.

I remember in my student days that those were considered the worst words that anyone could possibly utter. If you didn’t know about art you couldn’t possibly know what you liked and you would do better to keep quiet and not display your ignorance.

The bigotry and prejudice of the arts group in the student community made the intolerance of the Communists look mild. If we said something that the Communist students disagreed with it was due to the “false consciousness” that arose from our indoctrination by the capitalist system and we could be educated out of such opinions; if we said something that arts students disagreed with, it was because we were stupid and we had no right to express any opinion on the matter.

Being uncouth and a rustic, I naturally assume that I am also stupid and steer well clear of any discussions of art. I like Vermeer and went to see his work in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Mauritshuis in Den Haag, four years ago. I have no idea why I like Vermeer other than that I think they are nice pictures. I like Monet and went to see his work in Giverny, the Musee d’Orsay and the Musee Marmottan-Monet last year. What it is about Monet I like, I’m not sure, but I was delighted when a religious sister I know sent me a card last month with a picture of Monet’s painting of the bridge at Giverny.

In Ireland, I am very fond of the work of Jim Manley; praise that poor Jim would probably rather not have. I am proud of two Manley paintings I was given by the parishioners and the community of Killough in Co Down when I left the parish in 1996.

Both paintings, one of Bright Church and one of Killough Church, are moonlit scenes, and have today been put up in the drawing room of our new Rectory. I often wondered about the moonlight quality of the pictures, sometimes thinking they would be better in a more prosaic daylight. But, while Jim would disavow any religious interpretation, for me there is a spiritual quality in the darkness. The moonlight recalls Saint Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13, ‘now we see through a glass darkly’, the moonlight is a reminder that this life is a foreshadowing of a clearer vision of reality lived in a land of true light.

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