11 June: The Holy Trinity – still a bone of contention!

Something from my Chichester Days posted on the Agnellus Mirror blog for Trinity Sunday today

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In an earlier post about the art at Chichester, I discussed some of oldest works in the Cathedral – the Romanesque reliefs depicting scenes from the raising of Lazarus. This post brings us forward, to the twentieth century, and a work which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last year – the tapestry by John Piper at the high altar. A photograph of the piece is available on the Cathedral’s website.

Known simply as ‘the Piper Tapestry’, this piece was commissioned by Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester (1955-77). As parish priest at St Matthew’s in Northampton, and then as Dean of Chichester, Hussey was a great champion of the arts in the round – commissioning works of art and musical compositions, and inviting figures such as writers to give sermons.

The Piper Tapestry was part of a reordering of the quire in the 1960s. Hussey decided that an injection of colour was…

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Farewell to the Palace

This week between Christmas and New Year tends to feel something of a limbo, but this year that feeling is greater for me as I’m between jobs and homes.

I finished work as Bishop Otter Scholar in Chichester just before Christmas, and so have moved out of my flat in the Palace — I doubt I will ever have such a grand address again!

In January I start a new job as a research fellow at the University of Manchester (more on the new research to follow), where I may have a more humble home address, although I will have the joy of working in the gorgeous John Rylands Library.

In the meantime, here are some highlights from my time living at the Palace (if you are on twitter, you will find more photos, videos and anecdotes on #palatialproblems).

 

Wildlife in the garden:

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Fireworks in the garden (a suitably secure open space to set off public displays):

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Gorgeous autumn foliage:

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And some spectacular skies:

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A new old name

Followers may or may not have noticed that I haven’t posted much over the past few months, apart from re-posting material from my other blog, associated with my work in the Diocese of Chichester. In part, that blog has absorbed some of what I might previously have written here.

But my lack of other writing here also reflects my uncertainty about what to do with this blog. I started it whilst writing my PhD on Blake in Manchester; its title, ‘Tortures of Doubt and Despair’, quoted Blake’s words about Manchester, and reflected my feelings at certain moments in the research process.

Having finished the PhD and relocated, I wondered what to do with this blog. Should I scrap it altogether? Should I rename it, and if so, to what?

As you will see, in the end I decided simply to rename the blog with my own name – at least, my initials and surname. I have also changed the url to naibillingsley.wordpress.com

As ever, I look upon this blog really as my own space to write down various different kinds of musings with no expectation that they will be of use or interest to the wider world. If they are, much the better!

Expect more repostings from my Bishop Otter Scholar blog, and other occasional bits of writing and ephemera. Thanks for reading!

David Jones in Sussex

Bishop Otter Scholar

In his late twenties, the artist David Jones spent two years (1922-24) living in the village of Ditchling, East Sussex, with the community of Catholic craftsmen founded by Eric Gill. Ninety-odd years later, Sussex hosts two celebrations of David Jones’ work in concurrent exhibitions at Pallant House Gallery, in Chichester, and at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft.

These are excellent opportunities to see the work of one of (to my mind) Britain’s great Christian artists (let’s leave discussing what that term means for another post).

The Pallant House exhibition offers an overview of Jones’ career, whilst the display at Ditchling focuses on Jones’ depictions of animals. In both there are plenty of examples of traditional Christian subjects, but beyond these, Jones’ work is infused with a sense of the visionary and spiritual in the every day, in landscapes, and so on.

Like Blake, whom he much admired, Jones was a painter…

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A little update

Tomorrow I (with my friend and colleague Scott) am running a workshop on using social media in academia. One of the platforms we’ll be discussing is blogging, which reminded me that it’s been a long time since I wrote anything here, so I am not setting the best example of good blogging practice.

It’s been a busy few months, which have included handing in my thesis, starting two new jobs, and relocating to Sussex. Accordingly, I’ve just updated my ‘About’ page:

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This blog was created whilst I was working on my PhD as a means of reflecting upon some of the experiences along the way, as well as various other projects and interests. It’s not a research blog, nor a guide to how to survive a PhD; primarily it’s somewhere for me to write up miscellaneous musings but which is open to anyone who wishes to read these thoughts.

My thesis, undertaken at the University of Manchester, was on the figure of Christ in the visual works of the poet-painter-prophet William Blake (1757-1827). The title of the blog is taken from Blake’s words about Manchester in his epic poem Jerusalem; the city is “…in tortures of Doubt & Despair” (Jerusalem, Plate 21). I suppose it evoked for him “dark Satanic mills,” but contrary to local legend, there’s no evidence to suggest he ever got much further north than Hampstead Heath. Whatever Manchester was like then, I wouldn’t describe it in such bleak terms today. However, Blake’s words about Manchester are an apt description of certain moments in the PhD experience; trying to understand Blake is a daunting and occasionally torturous experience, but there is excitement in the challenge and delight in the moments of insight.

I handed in my thesis in September 2015, and have since moved to work for the Diocese of Chichester, doing research related to art in churches in Sussex. Chichester is not far from Felpham, where Blake lived for three years, and although it’s where Blake was put on trial for sedition, he described it as “lovely mild & gentle” (Jerusalem, Plate 36) — first impressions suggest that these words ring more true than his damning assessment about Manchester.

So perhaps I need a new blog, with a new title, but between the new job and keeping thoughts about the PhD alive in preparation for the viva, I haven’t had chance to decide, so watch this space.

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I will probably be starting a new blog associated with my role in Chichester, but notes on a postcard about the future of my personal blogging are welcome!