Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Gift of Chagall Windows in a Country Church

All Saints Tudeley 
We were visiting my daugher's inlaws in Tunbridge Wells, about an hour outside of London, and after lunch the first day the talk turned (not surprisingly) to art in churches. Did you know, said someone, that there is a little country church with a full set of Chagall windows just a few minutes from here? No, we said, much surprised, we had no idea! So, after breakfast the next morning, four of us piled into the car and soon, just as advertised, we were standing outside of a tiny, 14th century church surrounded by a graveyard with ancient headstones and soggy, wet fields for miles around.

Interior showing two of the windows
The church is called All Saints Tudeley, and is said to be the only church in the world to have all its twelve windows designed by Marc Chagall. You can read about it at http://www.tudeley.org/allsaintstudeley.htm but there is no substitute for coming in out of the cold, damp wind into this tiny, neat, church that probably seats no more than forty or fifty people. Its footings were laid before the Norman conquest, and in the nearly one thousand years since, it has been changed and restored many times. As their website says
"A list of incumbents hanging in the church begins in 1251, but most of the structure that can be seen today is from the 18th century. The brick tower dates from around 1765, as does the delicately marbled ceiling; the North aisle was added in 1871." 
The church was remodeled again in the 1960s when a prominent family commissioned the windows in memory of their daughter, who had died in a boating accident at the age of 22. 

The Chagall windows are startling in such an otherwise traditional setting. Nearly all of them are at eye level, so close that parishioners can lose themselves in the details during a long sermon or an extended period of silence. The bright blues and yellows sing, especially when contrasted with the grey, cloudy sky outdoors and the heavy stonework that surrounds them. The shapes and gestures that are familiar from Chagall's other work come alive in a new way in the living intimacy of this worship space. Unlike his windows in the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, which I saw many years ago, these windows are for a very specific congregation that worships together week after week. 

It was a privilege to see these windows, especially today, on Christmas Eve. Like Christmas itself, they proclaim that the love of God extends even beyond death. I give thanks for this unexpected gift of art, and for the chance to sing "Joy to the World" tonight at midnight, although I am thousands of miles away from my home. 

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