Medieval Frescoes Tell Easter Story

The St Mary’s, West Chiltington, 13th century medieval cycle of Easter frescoes

Amongst the frescoes at St Mary’s parish church in West Chiltington, Sussex is the Easter story. They were uncovered in 1882. Contemporary 19th century records note their excellent colour. Conservation work was not undertaken until the 1930s.

Frescoes are wall paintings painted directly on to the plaster while it is still wet. The artist has to work quickly and as the plaster dries the pigments and image are fixed. This technique was used throughout the Renaissance in Italy and elsewhere.

Amongst the earliest paintings at St Mary’s is the cross motif formed from an endless rope knot. This beautiful cross is easily missed and forms part of a circular medallion in the recess over the east end of the South Aisle. Such crosses are known in Roman mosaics and wall paintings. In Sussex the pavement at Fishbourne Roman Villa contains a similar emblem. However, its significance at West Chiltington, for the moment, remains unknown. There are trumpeting angels depicted on the arch below which overlay censing angels offering thanks and praise to God.

The St Mary’s, West Chiltington, 12th century cross

On the north side of the arcade in the nave is a cycle of frescoes which tell the Easter story from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds lay palm leaves before him, to his resurrection on the first Easter Day. Illustrated here are depictions of the Last Supper, Christ washing the feet of his disciples, the betrayal of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane by Judas Iscariot’s kiss, the flagellation of Christ, the carrying of the Cross and the Crucifixion. The scenes are portrayed within a series of three painted lobed arches resting on slender columns and capitals. The influence of the Gothic can be seen in the figures whose fluidity convey genuine humanity. Compassion and suffering are clearly discernable in the depictions of Christ and contrasts with the expressions on the faces of his tormentors. The directness of these paintings still powerfully communicate these familiar Gospel narratives even in their now faded hues.

They reside in a working building at the heart of its community for some 800 years and speak of a narrative common to us all. St Mary’s, West Chiltington is open every day – a generous place to find a punctuation mark and pray in a busy day. Easter services will be held at 2.00pm on Good Friday with Holy Communion on Easter Sunday at 8.00am and 10.00am all are welcome. For more information go to

Love Celebrated at Christmas

The Lady Chapel at St Mary’s, Storrington

They say that you can journey far by remaining in the same place and since I was nine years old St Mary’s Parish Church in Storrington has been my spiritual home. My Dad used to take me and my brother to the 8 o’clock Communion.

The Lady Chapel at St Mary’s is, for me, one of the most precious spaces in all England with a beauty all of its own. My heart misses a beat every time I enter church and glimpse it.

The banner by the artist W. Lawson sets the Christmas story in the folds of the Sussex Downs.

As you read this I and tens of millions of Christians across the country will be preparing to celebrate that very first Christmas when God came among us as a baby in a manger. Mary’s loving response to God’s calling is inspiring.

It is shared memories both of joys and sorrows which unite families, friends, communities and nations. Part of the common narrative of our nation is the Christian Christmas story.

Once again families will join with me and others at St Mary’s Parish Church in Storrington at 4pm on Christmas Eve to sing Carols and receive Christingles representing the love of God expressed in the birth of Jesus, and to raise money for the Children’s Society to support their life changing work with families and young people.

The artist W. Lawson’s Madonna and Child banner at St Mary’s, Storrington

Midnight Mass starts at 11.30pm, and I will be celebrating at the 10am Christmas Day Family Service with Communion.

All are welcome.

There has been much to challenge us this year supporting the poor Ukrainians and dealing with the effects of climate change and inflation. The human cost for individuals and families has been marked. But, people’s response has been noticeably generous and hope filled.

We often talk of value in terms of the material; by this standard, Mary and Joseph had little and yet they knew that they had been richly blessed. They shared the gift of their child with the world. This gift was so precious, so valuable that even the angels rejoiced and praised God. What was being celebrated was love.

I hope that like Mary and Joseph we will be inspired to share what we have with the world through acts of generosity and kindness, especially in these times. The message of Christmas is that hope comes out of our love and care for others. It is a joyful and hope filled message.

It remains for me to wish you and those you love a very happy and blessed Christmas.

A Place of Easter Pilgrimage

The St Mary Magdalene Chapel, Chichester Cathedral, with Graham Sutherland’s ‘Noli me tangere’
The St Mary Magdalene Chapel, Chichester Cathedral, with Graham Sutherland’s ‘Noli me tangere’

As Easter approaches Chichester Cathedral will once again become a place of Easter pilgrimage.

In the St Mary Magdalene Chapel at Chichester Cathedral is Graham Sutherland’s vibrant oil on canvas ‘Noli me tangere’ of 1961. It was commissioned by The Very Revd Walter Hussey, famous as both a patron of the arts and as Dean of Chichester Cathedral. Reflecting on the first nine hundred years of the Cathedral’s history and tradition he claimed that new art work should be contemporary and not imitate the old.

Chichester Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace
Chichester Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace

The architect, Sir Basil Spence, who designed and oversaw the building of Coventry Cathedral after the Second World War, described Chichester Cathedral’s South Aisle as one of the most beautiful in Europe. Sutherland’s oil initially strikes the viewer with the quality of a distant enamel jewel. As we journey towards this work we are drawn into the intimate narrative described in chapter 20 of St John’s Gospel. Arriving at the chapel we become aware that the painting depicts the moment on that first Easter morning when Mary becomes aware that she is in the presence of her risen Lord who has just spoken her name. As she reaches out to touch him his gesture stops her. The painting holds in tension Mary’s joy and the pending separation of a different kind. The angular composition of the figures, plants and staircase allude to the Passion narratives which lead up to and include Jesus’ crucifixion. At the centre of the painting is Jesus Christ dressed in white symbolising his holiness and purity. Christ’s finger points towards God the Father symbolising His presence. Mary may not touch Jesus. This is the liminal moment where the artist invites us into the narrative so that we, like Mary, might acknowledge Jesus, our creator, teacher and friend, as advocate and redeemer of the whole world. Sutherland displays sensitivity and humility in the intimate scale of the painting which at once connects the viewer with the hope filled narrative in a very personal way and allows them rest in this sacred space. The painting is complimented by the altar designed by the then Cathedral Architect and Surveyor, Robert Potter, and sculptor Geoffrey Clarke’s candlesticks whose angular quality reflect the imagery in Sutherland’s work.

Pilgrimage spaces, whether sacred or not, can decipher or inform our perceptions of the world; they can gift us with an experience of the numinous. People are bound together by their shared experiences and there is much reflect on and to offer in prayer as we approach Easter. Chichester Cathedral is open daily – a perfect space for an Easter Pilgrimage with one of the finest collections of Modern British Art in the country. For more information about Holy Week and Easter services visit

Easter Marks, Love, Hope and Renewal

An altar laid with a Chalice and Paten by the Sussex potters Eric Mellon and Josse Davies framed by a Victorian Arts and Crafts Alms dish for an Easter Communion

It is just over a year since the first lockdown began. There has been much to celebrate in the courage and generous offering of service to the vulnerable and elderly in our communities by the men and women of our NHS, our care and essential workers – often at great personal cost. Our scientists have blessed us with hope through their remarkable endeavours and vaccines.

Nevertheless our shared story of Covid-19 is one of joys and sorrows. Intimate stories of loss and separation have reminded us how precious love is.

Easter provides a poignant, liminal moment in the year marking love, hope and renewal.

This week millions of Christians will mark Holy Week. As they process towards Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection they will reflect on the words from St John’s gospel “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.

I think it was The Revd Canon Dr Giles Fraser who said that “the Cross is the offer of love in exchange for hate, whatever the cost, whatever it takes. And that’s why the cross is the central image of Christianity. It’s the pivot on which the Christian narrative turns. A representation of love – absolutely not a celebration of death – even though death is sometimes the cost of love.”

These threads of love, hope and renewal are expressed in the Easter communion illustrated.

The cross is delicately portrayed in a universal way on the Chalice by the potter Eric Mellon, whilst the Arundel potter Josse Davies’ beautiful Paten depicts the Holy Spirit as a Dove within the Crown of Thorns.

The Victorian Arts and Crafts gilt-metal Alms dish, decorated after the Byzantine, is encrusted with semi-precious stones. It depicts Christ crucified surrounded by the apostles. Its inscription translates from the Greek as “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you for the forgiveness of your sins”, the words spoken by Jesus as he gathered his friends at the Last Supper.

St Benedict held invitation and hospitality as being central to faith in his rule of life.

I know that amongst the things I have missed this year is being able to offer invitation and hospitality – welcoming people to my home, the auction rooms and church. Boris Johnson once again had to ask us to stay away from one another, a sign of our love for one another, to keep us and others safe. But now, with the advent of spring and Easter, we are once again able to gather in groups of six, or two separate households in our gardens, outdoors, and at church. There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope that lockdown will continue to ease and you will join me in supporting our local businesses, theatres, museums, art galleries, churches and newspapers who add so richly to the life of our community.

The Meaning of Christmas defined by a Mother’s Love for her Child

Manner of Francesco Salviata (1510-1563) – Madonna and Child, 18th century oil on canvas © Toovey’s 2020

The image of the Madonna and Child is timeless and its Christmas story still speaks to us across the millennia.

The depiction of the Madonna and Child you see here is an 18th century copy of the 16th century oil on panel by the Renaissance Mannerist Francesco Salviati (1510-1563) which hangs in the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence. Salviati (also known as Francesco de’ Rossi) was born and worked in Florence. His apprenticeship concluded under the remarkable Andrea del Sarto in 1529-1530. In 1531 he left for Rome where he was reunited with his former Florentine master Baccio Bandinelli. Together they worked on the frescoes depicting the Life of John the Baptist in the Palazzo Salviati for Cardinal Giovanni Salviati whose surname Francesco took on.

In the 16th century, as in earlier times, paintings, frescoes and carvings often contained complex iconography and were frequently used as teaching tools. In this depiction, the Christ Child embraces the Virgin Mary. His right hand is raised in a symbol of blessing as his mother supports him. Mary holds in her hands a veil symbolising their innocence and obedience to God’s will. To the right in the sky above them a winged angel holds a cross alluding to God’s plan for the redemption of humankind through the Crucifixion which is to come. The stylized landscape frames the Marian blue of her cloak. The expressions and gestures of this devoted mother and her child, combined with the delicacy of line and composition, create an effect which is extraordinarily naturalistic and tender.

The painter’s scene is filled with rhythm and beauty, allowing us at once to discern love and authority. Mary’s response to God’s calling and love is acceptance, obedience and service. Her example continues to inspire us.

As you read this I and millions of other Christians across the country will be preparing to celebrate that very first Christmas when God came among us as a baby in a manger. His parents were displaced and without their home.

People over the ages have often talked of value in terms of the material; by this standard, Mary and Joseph had little and yet they knew that they had been richly blessed. They shared the gift of their child with the world. This gift was so precious, so valuable that even the heavenly host of angels rejoiced and praised God. What was being celebrated was love.

Most of us have been expectantly preparing for Christmas as we anticipate the arrival of loved ones, or journey, like Mary and Joseph, to our ancestral homes (whether grand or modest). These shared moments will be particularly precious after the separation caused by Covid-19. Our processions towards Christmas day will be different and particular this year.

As we give and receive gifts this Christmas I hope that like Mary and Joseph we will be inspired to share what we have with the world through acts of generosity, kindness and concern for the needs of others, especially the displaced and the homeless. The message of Christmas is that true value is defined by love and service to others.

It remains for me to wish you and those you love a very happy and blessed Christmas. Keep safe.