Don’t deface or take away monuments in church buildings
In the choir of Aldeburgh Parish Church there is a piece of carpet on which when I went to communion during the festival last year, I felt the strong temptation to step pretty hard.
Under this particular area of the carpet is a black ledger plate (decorated with a bend between two toads that are rampant and scary an impaled eagle) that commemorates the life and death of Captain Thomas Johnson. On January 24, 1644, he monitored the demolition of "twenty cherubim" from the roof ends of the nave and the smashing of all medieval stained glass of the church, of which not a single pane has survived.
Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of Captain Johnson's purity campaign. Two years later, he was the driving force to bring two witch hunters to Aldeburgh. Matthew Hopkins and Mary Phillips were installed at the Lion Inn, where they both made substantial cash bills and identified seven witches – Widow Wade, Widow Gardner and five unnamed others – who were properly convicted, sentenced and hanged for the "entertaining ghosts" crime.
If the Church of England were to follow the call to remove, or at least put into context, some of the ones it reminded of (News, June 19), Captain Johnson's toad-encrusted plate could be an obvious candidate for this treatment be .
But how should that be done? Is the best way to respond to past crimes by defacing an old monument or indulging in a retrospective witch hunt? Roger WagnerIn Aldeburgh Parish Church, a plate commemorates Captain Thomas Johnson, who brought witch-finders to the districtShould we contextualize Captain Johnson's misdeeds by following in his footsteps?
In his poem "An Arundel Tomb" Philip Larkin describes how time has changed. . . into Falsehood ”by Richard Fitzalan and Eleanor of Lancaster in Chichester Cathedral. Her clasped hands, "The stone loyalty that you hardly meant", he suggests, "her last coat of arms", which proves that "our almost instinct is almost true: what will survive of us is love. "
In fact, it is not just time, but Larkin's own poem that caused this transfiguration. By diverting our attention from the “joint armor” and military capabilities commemorating the touching hand-lock of the husband and wife, he has changed and expanded the context in which we see them.
Could this be a model for how the images and monuments in churches could be “put into context”? Not by hanging dark notes next to statues of the dead, cataloging their crimes and crimes, but by commissioning works of art that place them in a larger redeeming context.
A good example of this are Tom Denny's Redemption Windows, which were commissioned to surround Richard III's new tomb in Leicester Cathedral (Features, May 19, 2017). The windows do not shy away from the tragedy and chaos that surrounded this most controversial monarch, but rather place these events in the biblical story of salvation.
Integrating the events of our lives into the history of salvation is certainly the purpose of the art and architecture of churches and can be remarkably effective.
On the way to communion in Aldeburgh, my instinct to shape Captain Johnson's monument was satisfied by my trip to the altar. "Who are you judging someone else's servant?" "Why do you see the mote in your brother's eye and don't look at the beam in your own?" When I thought of these and similar texts, I began to take a closer look at Johnson.
He had returned to Aldeburgh in the middle of a thunderstorm in 1642 and found a panicky city awaiting the apocalypse. A meteor shower "discharging like a weapon on a minefield" was thought to be an upcoming judgment, and when economic hardship, plague and smallpox hit the city, it seemed that something had to be done. (Is it a coincidence that the iconoclasm and witch hunt follow in the footsteps of the plague?)
No doubt the captain, like contemporary iconoclasts and witch hunters, was convinced that his actions were correct; and the city dwellers, for whom he was bailiff seven times and who gave his monument a place of honor in the church, might have agreed.
Today we see it differently. But if the captain, despite his terrible deeds, was a man who trusted in Christ to get his salvation, we still cannot hope that widow Wade, widow Gardner and the others have long argued with Johnson and are all happy together the cherubim while waiting for their resurrection?
When I got back from communion, I began to wonder if a new window on the south side (the Victorian glass that was blown out there during the war) could put these sad events in a redeeming context. Or could we be more ambitious? Why not advertise that Captain Johnson falls from his place in the choir, that the 20 cherubim get up again and take their old places in the roof beams of the nave?
Roger Wagner is an artist, painter and poet.