18 May 2024

‘Then suddenly we woke,
aflame with love dynamic
as life-giving breath’:
Pentecost in Leicester

‘The Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost’ … a painting by Iain McKillop in his ‘Hope and Tragedy’ exhibition in Leicester Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Tomorrow is the Day of Pentecost (19 May 2024), celebrating the fulfilment of all the promises of the Easter, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the ‘birthday of the Church.’ I am looking forward to the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford, when I am reading one of the lessons and leading the intercessions.

Earlier this week, I was in Leicester for the first time in 13 years. This time it was just a one-day visit, but I visited Leicester Cathedral for the first time, including the current exhibition in the north aisle of ‘Hope and Tragedy’, a collection of ‘Stations of the Resurrection’ by Iain McKillop. The Easter exhibition opened on the Wednesday in Easter Week (3 April 2024) and continues until next Monday (20 May 2024).

The Revd Iain McKillop is a priest, painter, art historian and academic who works mainly in the field of religious art. He also produces paintings of architectural history and related subjects, and he has exhibited works in many cathedrals and churches, including Bradford, Exeter, Gloucester, Guildford, Leicester, Lichfield, St Edmundsbury, Saint Paul’s, Westminster and Worcester cathedrals. He gives talks and retreats on issues of faith, art and art history.

The Stations of the Cross are a tradition inherited from the early Church. The traditional Stations of the Cross end with the burial of Christ, but in the late 20th century it became popular to add the Resurrection as Stations 15.

The Stations of the Resurrection are a modern development, but the idea dates back to early Church murals and sequences found in illustrated mediaeval manuscripts, and in works by Duccio, Giotto and Fra Angelico.

Father Sabino Palumbieri, a Salesian priest in Rome, developed a series of Resurrection Stations in 1994 in ‘The Way of Light’ (Via Lucis) to complement ‘The Way of the Cross’ (Via Crucis), for the Easter season of the 50 days from Easter to Pentecost. ‘The Way of Light’ has developed since then, and in 2006 the Church of England included Stations of the Resurrection in Common Worship: Times and Seasons for Easter, selecting 19 Stations, with the Conversion of Saul as the last Station in an unusual way of ending the sequence.

Iain McKillop initially produced 20 paintings for his ‘Stations of the Resurrection’ theme over 20 months of near isolation during the Covid 19 pandemic. They were first shown in Guildford Cathedral in 2022, and he hopes to exhibit them in cathedrals throughout England as ‘a memorial to all who were affected by the pandemic.’

During the pandemic, he realised he needed ‘to work on creating something that would raise both my own spirits and those of others, when we would eventually be able to meet, exhibit work and visit churches again.’

The series commemorates all who died or have been affected by the pandemic. They are dedicated to his friend and mentor the Revd Alan Elkins who died of cancer in 2021. He also says he wanted to paint a substantial and significant subject in personal gratitude to Archbishop Rowan Williams ‘for the inspiration and encouragement I had gained through his ministry, guided retreats and writings.’

Iain McKillop’s panels follow the Resurrection stories in the Gospels from Christ’s Resurrection through to the Ascension and Pentecost. The New Testament writers record 19 resurrection appearances, from the first encounter with Mary Magdalene on Easter morning to Saint Paul’s life-changing experience on the road to Damascus.

The artist realised how idifficult it is to arrange the resurrection accounts into a clearly unified chronology. He added two larger Resurrection and Pentecostpaintings as introductions and conclusions to the series – an ‘Introit’ and ‘Postlude’ to encourage viewers to prepare spiritually for the journey and end with reflection on the Spirit’s presence in our lives.

His complete series of 26 images now contains all the themes in the Anglican and Roman Catholic stations, including the additional subjects in Times and Seasons.

The series is accompanied by a series of short written meditations. A book linked to the exhibition, Stations of the Resurrection: Encounters with the Risen Christ, was published earlier this year (January 2024 ). It includes copies of the pictures in this series, with texts by Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani of Chelmsford and sonnets by the Cambridge priest poet Malcolm Guite.

Over 40 years or so, Iain McKillop has used drawing and painting as ways of thinking through the meaning and relevance of scripture. These Stations of the Resurrection involved three years of studying commentaries and theological writings, including re-exploring and reconsidering what we believe about the spiritual mysteries and hope offered by Christ’s resurrection. He sees the creative process as ‘rather like a form of Lectio Divina, using sketchbooks, paint, study, meditation, contemplation and prayer.’

He says: ‘The work strengthened my own belief that there are truths within the resurrection stories which offer strong foundations on which to build a trusting faith. I hope these ideas and images may help others to … offer people hope and to help to transform our suffering, often corrupted world into a better place that Jesus intended God’s Kingdom to become. To do this, it is important to strengthen confidence in the grounds of our faith.’

One of the concluding images in the exhibition in Leicester Cathedral is ‘The Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost.’ A citation below the painting is inspired by Acts 2: 1-42 and Mark 16: 20: ‘Then suddenly we woke, aflame with love dynamic as life-giving breath … knew truths and surged with memories and thoughts of God; found understanding, powers, persuasive words. Of course we were afraid, but none could hide behind closed doors. We dashed into the streets: Enthusiasts, we sang with confidence of love and future life empowered by you.’

Iain McKillop’s exhibition in Leicester Cathedral ends on Monday 20 May (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

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