Lady Emma Barnard, The High Sheriff of West Sussex, has made it her aim to celebrate and affirm the quiet, un-sung heroes of our county. Amongst these are the wives and husbands of our clergy. We came together to celebrate their vital and often un-seen work in our communities with a pilgrimage at Chichester Cathedral.
Chichester Cathedral has one of the most important collections of Modern British Art in the country. Winston Churchill’s last ecclesiastical appointment was to install Walter Hussey as Dean of Chichester Cathedral in 1955. Hussey can be credited with commissioning most of the exemplary 20th century art found there. The works unite our human experiences with the life of Christ. Many of the artists were responding to the experience of a century of industrialised war as they sought to redefine our nation’s identity and re-articulate fresh hope in a New Jerusalem as first imagined in Sussex by William Blake.
I was blessed to lead this pilgrimage through art supported by Andrew Bernardi, Jonathan Few and Maria Marchant. This exceptional group of musicians are amongst the finest in the country and had chosen pieces to reflect the art and its stories.
As we journeyed together the threads of word and music were united with the Cathedral’s art providing a rich tapestry so that we were able to inhabit this sacred space and be moved by the stories represented.
In the South Aisle is a remarkable and profoundly moving ancient carved stone panel. It depicts Jesus heartbroken having been told of the death of his dear friend Lazarus. In this moment of the story Jesus has not yet raised Lazarus from the dead. Jonathan Few had chosen Faure’s Elegy to accompany this carving. Jonathan brought an extraordinary emotional depth to his passionate rendition of the slow rise and fall of this poignant lament complimented by Maria’s sublime interpretation on piano. Many felt moved to pray in silence for those affected by the tragic Grenfell tower block fire in West London.
The Chagall window was born of a meeting between Walter Hussey and Marc Chagall at the artist’s home in S. Paul de Vence in 1977. Hussey had arrived late. His flight had been delayed by rain and he had difficulty finding their home in the dark. He was warmly welcomed by Mme Chagall. Chagall explained that he was having trouble getting started and asked for Hussey’s thoughts. Hussey suggested as inspiration the words of Psalm 150 which speaks of everything that breathes praising the Lord with music. The vignettes and colours that Chagall employs closely follows their conversation. As we reflected on this joyful scene Andrew and Maria played Olivier Messiaen’s exquisite Praise to the Immortality of Jesus from the Quartet for the End of Time. This final movement is slow and beautiful. The breadth of tone of Andrew Bernardi’s Stradivarius Violin and the richness of Maria Marchant’s piano seemed to rise heavenwards, united in praise to the Lord as, with perfect timing, the Cathedral Bells rang out.
It was a blessed evening as we came together with Lady Emma Barnard to celebrate a remarkable group of people. The wives and husbands of Sussex clergy and their often un-seen contribution to the life of our local communities is deserving of our thanks.
By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.