26 November 2023

‘The Space Between’:
an Irish sculptor’s work
on permanent display
in Milton Keynes

‘The Space Between’ by the Irish sculptor Eilis O’Connell in Exchange Square, Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The public sculptures in Milton Keynes, and among the works I visited on a recent November afternoon is ‘The Space Between,’ a sculpture by the Irish sculptor Eilis O’Connell. It is on permanent display in Exchange Square, the open plaza in front of the Holiday Inn at the corner of Saxon Gate and Midsummer Boulevard.

Eilis O’Connell’s ‘The Space Between’ was placed in Exchange Square to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Milton Keynes (1967-1992). This work is in patinated bronze with fibre optic elements and was made by in 1992.

Eilis O’Connell is one of Ireland’s leading sculptors, and I have already seen some of her works in Ireland. She says ‘The Space Between’ is based on ancient Celtic boundary markers and the Ogham stones of pre-Christian Ireland. The artist describes the relationship between the space and her sculpture: ‘Exchange Square is a perfectly proportioned square composed of right angles and straight lines. To contrast with this rectilinearity, the sculpture is made up of curved forms.’

The sculptor was born in Derry in 1953 and studied sculpture at the Crawford School of Art, Cork, and the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, in the 1970s.

She received research fellowships at the British School in Rome (1983-1984) and at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York (1987-1988). A two-year residency at Delfina Studios in London in 1988 resulted in her move to London. She returned to live in Ireland in 2002, but continues to exhibit abroad and works on commissions for both public and private locations.

She is a founder director of the National Sculpture Factory in Cork, a former member of the Arts Council of Ireland, a member of Aosdána, and a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. Her honours include the Art & Work Award from Wapping Arts Trust, and the Royal Society of Arts Award (1998).

She has shown at the Veni Biennale, the Biennale de Paris (1982) and the São Paulo Art Biennial (1985) and her small sculptures have been shown at the Guggenheim Museum in Venice. Her outdoor sculptures were shown in 2018 at E1027, the home designed by Eileen Grey in Cap Martin, France.

‘The Great Wall of Kinsale’ (1988) has been described as ‘one of the most contentious public artworks ever erected in Ireland.’ It is composed of several sections and forms, and at 179 ft it is also the longest sculpture in Ireland.

The large rusted steel sculpture drew protest, concerns of safety, an attempt to deinstall it, and criticism of its appearance. Eventually, the rusty metal was painted, a water feature was added, and barriers were placed around it without her permission, so that she considers the work to have been ‘destroyed.’

Her work can be seen in several public locations in London, Cardiff, Newcastle, Bristol, Wolverhampton, Southampton, Milton Keynes, Dublin, Belfast, Dundalk, Mallow and Cork. Her ‘Under & Over’ is a bronze sculpture commissioned for Lismore Castle, Co Waterford.

Other privately commissioned works can be seen at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in Dublin, the Cass Sculpture Foundation, Chatsworth Houe and Antony House in England, and in private gardens in France and Spain. Her work has also been exhibited in Chester Cathedral and Gloucester Cathedral.

‘Chroma’ (2014) was commissioned by University College Dublin for the New Science Building, in UCD, Dublin. ‘Atoms & Apples’ (2013) was commissioned by Trinity College Dublin to commemorate the life and work of Ernest Walton (1903-1995), who jointly received the Nobel Prize for splitting the atom with Sir John Cockcroft in 1951.

‘Atoms & Apples’ (2013) by Eilis O’Connell was commissioned by Trinity College Dublin to commemorate the life and work of Ernest Walton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (22) 26 November 2023

With ‘Scouser’ humour, Liverpool’s Roman Catholic Cathedral is sometimes known as ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. Today is the Feast of Christ the King and the Sunday next before Advent (26 November 2023).

Many of us may remember this Sunday from our childhood as ‘Stir-up Sunday.’ It was a play on words: the traditional collect in the Book of Common Prayer on this Sunday, the last Sunday in the Church Year, invited us to pray:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

This was, of course, the time of the year that mothers and families began to stir-up the mixture for Christmas cakes and puddings, ‘stirring up’ the mixture that played on those words about ‘the fruit’ as they went about their good works.

Later this morning, I hope to be at the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton. But, before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Throughout this week, I am reflecting on Christ the King, as seen in churches and cathedrals I know or I have visited. My reflections are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on Christ the King;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The four bells at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool have been named locally as John, George, Paul and Ringo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool:

It is twelve years since the then Dean of Liverpool, now Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, invited me to preach at the Judges’ Service in Liverpool Cathedral (16 October 2011). During that visit, I also visited the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King is about half a mile north of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. Once nick-named ‘Paddy’s Wigwam,’ it was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd (1908-1984).

Earlier designs for a Roman Catholic cathedral in Liverpool had been proposed by AWN Pugin’s son, Edward Welby Pugin, by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who is buried in the crypt, and by Adrian Gilbert Scott, brother of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of the city’s Anglican cathedral.

Gibberd designed a circular building with the altar at its centre. Construction began in 1962 and the cathedral was completed in 1967.

The cathedral is built in concrete with a Portland stone cladding and an aluminium covering to the roof. It has a circular plan, with a diameter of 59 metres (195 feet), with 13 chapels around the perimeter. The cathedral is conical in shape, and it is surmounted by a tower in the shape of a truncated cone. The building is supported by 16 boomerang-shaped concrete trusses, held together by two ring beams. Flying buttresses are attached to the trusses, giving the cathedral its tent-like appearance.

A lantern tower rising from the upper ring beam has windows of stained glass, and there is a crown of pinnacles at its peak.

The entrance is at the top of a wide flight of steps leading up from Hope Street. Above the entrance is a large wedge-shaped structure that acts as a bell tower, with four bells mounted in rectangular orifices towards the top of the tower. Below is a geometric relief sculpture, designed by William Mitchell, with three crosses. To the sides of the entrance doors are four reliefs in fibreglass by Mitchell, representing the four evangelists.

The altar is made of white marble from Skopje in Northern Macedonia, and is 3 metres (10 ft) long. Above the altar, the tower has large areas of stained glass designed by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens in three colours, yellow, blue and red, representing the Trinity.

There is a series of chapels around the perimeter. Each chapel contains works of art and devotion by contemporary artists.

The two cathedrals are linked by Hope Street, named after William Hope, a Liverpool merchant whose house stood on the site now occupied by the Philharmonic Hall and the street was named long before the two cathedrals were built.

Half-way between the two cathedrals on Hope Street, Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock in 2005 unveiled a 15 ft bronze statue by the sculptor Stephen Broadbent. The statue, honouring the work of the two Church leaders in Liverpool, was commissioned by the Liverpool Echo and paid for by the people of Liverpool.

William Mitchell’s geometric relief sculpture of Saint John … one of a series with the symbols of the four evangelists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 25: 31-46 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Inside the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 26 November 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Preventing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission.’ This theme is introduced today:

USPG has supported the Anglican Church of Tanzania (ACT) in its preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) programme since it began in 2014. The programme is now in its second three-year phase and is based at Mvumi Hospital: a mission hospital in Dodoma Rural District, central Tanzania.

Tanzania is one of the African countries most severely affected by HIV/ AIDS, and the transmission of the virus from mothers to their babies during pregnancy, birth or whilst breastfeeding is by far the most common means by which children become infected. The PMTCT programme aims to help bring the number of new HIV infections among Tanzanian children down to fewer than 20,000 by 2020. Along with this, it is also committed to ensuring that 95% of pregnant women living with HIV are receiving lifelong HIV treatment.

One side effect of the programme is that the stigma that often surrounds people with HIV is going away. Men used to be reluctant to accompany their partners to HIV clinics, but now more men are accompanying their partners to reproductive and child health services.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (26 November 2023, Christ the King, the Sunday next before Advent) invites us to pray in these words:

O God, who spoke through the prophets,
telling forth against the evils of society.
Inspire your church today to stand up, speak out
and bring in your kingdom of justice, peace and inclusion.

The tower above the altar has large areas of stained glass by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens in three colours – yellow, blue and red – representing the Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This Post Communion Prayer may be used as the Collect at Morning and Evening Prayer during this week.

Additional Collect

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow (Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar)

‘Abraham, our Father in Faith,’ by the Liverpool sculptor Sean Rice (1931-1997), in the west apse of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Stephen Broadbent’s statue of Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock on Hope Street, half-way between the two cathedrals (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)