Friday, 4 October 2019

Finding inspiration in two
two cathedral crosses in
Lichfield and Peterborough

‘If we have died with him, we will also live with him’ (II Timothy 2: 11) … Frank Roper’s ‘Crucifixion’ in the centre of the nave of Peterborough Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I spent a lot of time this week preparing preaching and liturgical resources to go online next Monday [7 October 2019] as resources for priests and readers preparing for the following Sunday [13 October 2019].

In these weekly postings, I also try to provide appropriate illustrations relevant to each reading that can be used for PowerPoint presentations, service sheets and in parish notices and newsletters.

To illustrate the epistle reading for Sunday week, I chose the verse ‘If we have died with him, we will also live with him’ (II Timothy 2: 11), and used photographs of two Cathedral crosses that have caught my imagination this year.

The first cross is Frank Roper’s ‘Crucifixion’ in Peterborough Cathedral, where it is suspended from the ceiling in the centre of the nave, where it has a commanding and striking presence behind the main nave altar platform.

This cross is 15 ft high and weighs more than half a ton. The wooden cross, painted red with intricate interwoven gold decoration on the back, carries a more than life-size crucified Christ.

The image changes depending on the angle from which it is viewed. From one point, the figure is full and enfleshed; from another, he is thin and emaciated, almost flattened. His eyes are hollow, but again how these appear depends on where you are standing. At times they have a presence and a depth as if you are gazing through them into the mystery of the divine, an effect created by the lozenge shapes in the roof being visible through the eye openings.

Frank Roper (1914-2000) was a versatile and prolific sculptor. He became the vice-principal at Cardiff College of Art in 1947, and he stayed there until he retired in 1973.

His work included surreal beasts, fantastical machines and important church commissions, including his lettered panel for the tomb of Bede at Durham Cathedral (1970), the lady chapel screen at Saint David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire (1973) and his Crucifixion at Peterborough Cathedral (1974).

In the 1950s Frank Roper became interested in casting aluminium and a number of his pieces use gilding. Perhaps his most exciting period was his collaboration through the 1960s with the architect George Pace, which resulted in a series of commissions for the bombed Llandaff Cathedral, alongside Jacob Epstein and John Piper. He was the subject of two BBC films, Mind Into Metal (1964), and a programme in the documentary series Look, Stranger (1976).

From the 1960s, he collaborated with George Pace, who was also the cathedral architect in Peterborough, and his Crucifix there is the result of their working together.

He has been described as ‘a man of entrancing contradictions: a modernist whose work absorbed tradition, deeply conservative but a vivid individualist.’ These traits can be seen in his Crucifix in the central position in the nave of Peterborough Cathedral.

Ian Black, writing in the Peterborough Cathedral Friends’ Journal in 2016, says the Crucifix was the gift of Revd William Elborne, a long-standing friend of the cathedral, in memory of his wife, Gwendoline Constance Edith Elborne. At the service of dedication on 13 September 1975 the choir sang an ‘Obsecration before the Crucifix’, set to music by the donor.

When the Crucifix was first proposed in 1972, Ian Black recalls, William Elborne was opposed to a ‘hanging rood.’ George Pace was sent to discuss it with him, and he came around to the idea.

At first, it seem, the plan was to position the cross on the East side of the crossing. This did not appeal to the chapter and its present location was agreed after experiments with a full-size cardboard model. The cost rose from the original estimate of £1,500 in 1973 to £2,505 a year later.

Later, William Elborne’s cremated ashes were buried in a vault beneath the Crucifix with an inscribed ledger stone.

The Latin phrase on the Crucifix reads: Stat Crux Dum Volvitur Orbis, ‘The Cross stands still while the world turns.’ This the motto of the Carthusian Order, meaning the cross is the still and static place while the world is turbulent and revolving.

The new icon cross in Lichfield Cathedral, ‘Christ Crucified, Risen and Lord of All,’ hangs at the east end of the nave, suspended from the roof above the nave altar. It was dedicated by Bishop Michael Ipgrave of Lichfield last year on the Feast of the Holy Cross [14 September 2018].

The Lichfield icon cross is the work of the icon writer Ian Knowles and the associate staff members, Lee Harvey and Hanna Ward, both of whom teach from time to time at the Bethlehem Icon School and Lichfield Cathedral supported the Icon School by facilitating the participation of the students.

The work was completed by Ian Knowles, Lee Harvey and Hanna Ward, and the students under their close supervision. Ian Knowles says, ‘I feel this is my most important work, apart for the icon of Our Lady Who Brings Down Walls.’

This icon completes a triptych of icons in Lichfield Cathedral. It was planned as the cathedral’s lasting memorial to the centenary of the end of World War I and an invitation for all to appreciate the path through sin, violence and destructiveness that Christ has taken to redeem our evil and win us the everlasting peace and life of God’s Kingdom.

The icon measures 3 metres x 2.55 metres and takes its inspiration from the shape of the Saint Chad Cross. The only adaptation is the lengthening and broadening of the central panels.

The cross depicts the dying and rising of Christ, the paschal mystery, with two faces. On the west-facing panel, we see Christ nailed to the Cross. The cross is blossoming, symbolising the new beginning Christ’s death wins for the world. From his side, water and blood flow, streams of new life. We think of the water of re-birth in baptism and the blood of his body brought to us by the wine of the Eucharist.

The east-facing panel depicts the Risen Christ, his face serene, one hand raised in blessing, the other holding the Gospels, the good news he sends out into the world through the Holy Spirit.

‘Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David – that is my gospel’ (II Timothy 2: 8) … one side of the icon cross in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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